Although the Department is a relative newcomer among Cabinet-level agencies, its origins goes back to 1867, when President Andrew Johnson signed legislation creating the first Department of Education. Its main purpose was to collect information and statistics about the nation’s schools. However, due to concern that the Department would exercise too much control over local schools, the new Department was demoted to an Office of Education in 1868.
Over the years, the office remained relatively small, operating under different titles and housed in various agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior and the former U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services).
Beginning in the 1950s, political and social changes resulted in expanded federal funding for education. The successful launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik in 1957 spurred nationwide concern that led to increased aid for science education programs. The 1960s saw even more expansion of federal education funding: President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” called for the creation of many programs to improve education for poor students at all levels—early childhood through postsecondary. This expansion continued in the 1970s with national efforts to help racial minorities, women, people with disabilities and non-English speaking students gain equal access to education. In October 1979, Congress passed the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88). Created by combining offices from several federal agencies, the Department began operations in May 1980.
In the 1860s, a budget of $15,000 and four employees handled education fact-finding. By 1965, the Office of Education had more than 2,100 employees and a budget of $1.5 billion. As of mid-2010, the Department has nearly 4,300 employees and a budget of about $60 billion.
In 1868, there was concern that the DoE would exert too much control over local schools, so it was demoted to an “Office of Education” with four employees and a budget of $15,000. It was made into a cabinet level department in 1979, under Jimmy Carter. Since then, it has grown to 4,300 employees and a $60 billion budget. It now issue orders to local schools encompassing everything from curriculum to what they must serve for lunch. I would say that the fears of “too much control over local schools” was well founded.
It’s well past time to get rid of the Department of Education. There is no reason for this bloated department to make decisions for each state and how it will run its schools. You can’t say that test scores are any better or worse, because it is impossible to know. There is no way to measure performance of students in 1979 and compare it to now. Tests that were taken by students have been changed several times over the years, so that it is impossible to determine whether or not students today are any better or worse off than counterparts from other time periods.