Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 32
Does the U.S. Department of Education
Need to Be Restructured?
By Gary Beach
eing necessary to
and the happiness of mankind,
schools and the
means of education shall forever
With those words, the Northwest Ordinance,
a body of law passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 13, 1787, firmly established education as a regional responsibility.
In fact, 9 1/2 weeks later, when the delegates
signed the first draft of the U.S. Constitution,
they would not see "education" or "educate"
among the document's 3,500 words.
But 80 years later, in 1867, disheartened
by rampant illiteracy and the decrepit condition of public schools in America's 37 states
during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era,
President Andrew Johnson saw a role for the
federal government in education. Through
an act of Congress, he established the first
federal Department of Education and gave
its four-person staff the mandate of "collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the
condition and progress of education in the
several States and Territories." The department's commissioner was ordered to report
its findings to Congress annually.
Only two reports were ever filed. Concerned the data gathered by the department
would give the federal government "controlling power over the school systems of the
states," Congress promptly downgraded it to
the Office of Education in 1868, and for the
next 111 years, federal education efforts were
orphaned from one federal agency to another.
The U.S. Department of Education finally
found a home during the Jimmy Carter administration. In his campaign for the White
House, Carter formed a political alliance
with the National Education Association and
promised to elevate the Office of Education to
Cabinet status. This alliance is described in
detail in a 46-page memo chief of staff Hamilton Jordan wrote to the president in July
1978, in which he bluntly offered this advice:
"I would strongly recommend that you support the creation of a separate Department
of Education for the following reasons: Your
unequivocal promise in the campaign to do
so. The teachers of this country have been our
political friends in the past and can be our
valuable political allies in the future."
While much of the Department of Education's public notoriety since it began operations in the spring of 1980 has focused on
reauthorizations of the 1965 Elementary
and Secondary Education Act, its seminal
contribution to the country continues to be
quite Johnsonian: an unwavering commitment to collect and report, in an unbiased
manner, data on the "condition and progress of education in the several States and
The Department of Education's 1983 report
"A Nation at Risk" warned against "a rising
tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." Thirty-three
years later, the "condition and progress of education in the United States" remains mired
in mediocrity. That is a reasonable conclusion
one can make after reviewing the 2016 results
of Education Week's Quality Counts annual
report this past January, which ran with this
headline for its national summary report online: "Nation Earns a C on Quality Counts Report Card." When Education Week's results are
factored in with the poor performance for U.S.
15-year-old students in the 2012 Program for
International Student Assessment, or PISA,
it is difficult to find fault with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's comment,
"We can quibble, or we can face the brutal
truth that we're being out-educated."
So here's an idea.
Harken back to the regional educational
mandate of the Northwest Ordinance and
the federal big-data mandate of the Andrew
Johnson administration. Why not restructure
the U.S. Department of Education as the Federal Education Board? And then segment it
into 12 regions that align with the 12-district
structure of the Federal Reserve Board.
Led by a chairperson appointed by the
president to a six-year term, the Federal Education Board would then report to Congress,
just like President Andrew Johnson's original
mandate for the Department of Education.
Each education region would be managed by
a president elected to a 10-year term by the
region's chief state school officers. The key responsibilities for regional presidents would
be to (1) collaborate with the regional state
chiefs to fashion educate-to-employ policies
that map to the primary economic activity of
the region, like manufacturing in the Midwest, computer science on the West Coast,
or biopharma in the Northeast; and (2) work
closely with the chairperson of the Federal
Education Board to manage the distribution
of ESEA funding within the region.
Every quarter, the Federal Education
Board would meet in Washington, D.C., to
discuss the Johnsonian mandate of reviewing the "condition and progress" of the overall
American education system. At the conclusion of this meeting, the Federal Education
Board would release a letter-grade report for
each region on teacher quality, infrastructure,
technology, student performance, digital curricula, public-private partnerships, and job
In this new alignment, the statistics-gathering efforts of the National Center for Education Statistics would be moved into the 12
regions. And eight times a year, similar to the
Beige Books released by Federal Reserve districts, regions would be mandated to release
statistical reports about education quality in
Is a Federal Education Board, and 12 regional "Baby Ed.s," the answer to the plethora of challenges facing public education in
America? That is not the key question to ask.
A more important two-part question is this:
Is America content with the current public
education system we have in place? And
does our nation believe we need a serious,
bipartisan, national discussion, and subsequent long-term strategy that transcends
presidential-election cycles on what changes
must be made to the American public education system?
The answer to these questions will determine the future trajectory of our nation's economy, the global employability of Americans,
and the strength of our national security. n
GARY BEACH is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal's
CIO Journal. He is also author of The U.S.Technology
Skills Gap (John Wiley and Sons, 2013), a 100-year
review of STEM education in America.
content with the
we have in
| INSIDE |
TO DECENTRALIZE OR NOT?
IS THAT EVEN THE
32 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 16, 2016 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 16, 2016
Education Week - November 16, 2016
Few Women Run School Districts. Why?
Trump’s Lesson Plan Awaited
A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
News in Brief
States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Proposed ESSA Spending Rules Encounter Stiff Resistance
Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Governors and Schools Chiefs Results
Ed. Policy on Simmer as GOP Holds Congress
GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
State Ballot Measures
In Mass., Voters Shun More Charter Schools
Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Department May Again Find Itself in GOP Cross Hairs
Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 10
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 11
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 13
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 14
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - State Ballot Measures
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 21
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Senate/House Results
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 29
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 30
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 31
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW1
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW4