An Overview of the U.S. Department of Education
September 2010

What Is Not Part of the Department of Education’s Role?

In creating the Department of Education, Congress specified that:

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law. (Section 103[b], Public Law 96-88)

Thus, the Department does not

  • establish schools and colleges;
  • develop curricula;
  • set requirements for enrollment and graduation;
  • determine state education standards; or
  • develop or implement testing to measure whether states are meeting their education standards.*

These are responsibilities handled by the various states and districts as well as by public and private organizations of all kinds, not by the U.S. Department of Education.

* Since 1969, the Department's National Center for Education Statistics has conducted the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what American students know and can do in major academic subjects and provides a wealth of data about the condition of education in the U.S. NAEP is not the same as testing done by each state to measure how well its students meet the state's academic standards; however, a large discrepancy between children's proficiency on a state's test and their performance on NAEP may suggest the state needs to take a closer look at its standards and assessments and consider making improvements.

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Last Modified: 05/14/2018