The U.S. Department of Education (ED) was established in the late 1970s after the splitting of the department responsible for education, people’s health, and social welfare simultaneously. As of now, the department’s primary purpose is to coordinate and control the relationships between the government and different levels of the country’s educational system. It fulfills this purpose by being responsible for a variety of tasks, including establishing policy for federal aid to the education system and administering it, coordinating federal assistance to schools, enforcing federal laws that prohibit discrimination in access to educational services and protect students’ privacy, and so on. The department is also involved in data collection to evaluate the national situation with educational services.
To understand the way of how the educational system operates, it is pivotal to take into account the organizational principles related to the ED and its collaboration with state-level and local educational organizations. The avoidance of too much power in one person’s or organization’s hands is among the leading political principles in the U.S. (“Framework for democracy – a question of sovereignty,” 2002; “The law,” 1995).
It also finds reflection in education since the ED, despite its power to enforce federal laws, is not supposed to establish specific and universal educational standards and have the final say in curriculum determination. State education agencies and local school districts have more power in this regard (Darrow, 2016). For instance, states are sometimes supposed to come up with their interpretation of terms included in federal acts, such as “unqualified teachers” (Horsford et al., 2017). What the ED actually does is collaborating with state-level agencies and local school districts to ensure the absence of inequality in education and provide federal support, but the largest part of school financing still comes from non-federal sources, which highlights the great role of states and local organizations.
As for me, the existence of the ED does not really benefit K-12 education. On the one hand, the ED can provide local organizations and states with additional financial support in case of critical situations, thus acting as an emergency reserve, but this fact does not justify the costs of having the department. Today, the key responsibility for K-12 education, including financial issues and funding, still lies on the states, not the federal government, which probably makes the ED’s role questionable.
At the same time, the fact that some part of the K-12 money comes from federal sources can probably make it more challenging for common citizens to react to situations involving conflicts and demand for improvements. Basically, it is valid to suppose that the absence of the ED would decrease unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication in the educational system, including K-12 education, by simplifying the system and allowing for analysis and comparisons between the states.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law more than four years ago is aimed at limiting the role of the federal government in the primary and secondary education systems and defining the responsibilities of states and local school districts. As for me, such responsibilities of educational agencies align with the ED’s key mission and help to achieve it. To begin with, in contrast to provisions related to progress measurement under the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB), ESSA of 2015 makes states responsible for coming up with their definitions of academic progress and determining the best approaches to measuring it (Darrow, 2016).
Despite affecting standardization in education, this measure allows the states to consider their socio-economic situations, the unique ethnic and religious compositions, and similar factors to decide on progress measurement principles. Considering cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity in the United States, such requirements enable the states to foster excellence by setting realistic and attainable expectations and taking state-specific issues into account.
To continue, it is important that state-level authorities’ responsibilities under the act are related to the ways of how to prevent differences between children from impacting their opportunities and academic outcomes. In particular, the act can help to reduce inequality in access to opportunities since it contains rules and requirements to make sure that counseling and career planning services are available to underachieving students and those from low-income backgrounds (Darrow, 2016).
Moreover, under the act in question, states are required to develop bullying prevention programs and plans to minimize the unnecessary use of disciplinary practices, as well as report on the use of federal funds to support gifted students (Darrow, 2016). These responsibilities can promote student achievement and equality by creating favorable circumstances for students on both ends of the ability spectrum.
It is possible to find connections between the aspects of the U.S. Constitution and ESSA in spite of an ongoing debate related to how to interpret the country’s main law (Perry, 2004). To start with, the supreme law of the United States supports equal rights and prohibits different types of discrimination in the equal protection clause (“Built to last? Constitution USA with Peter Sagal,” 2013). The ESSA supports this principle by requiring the states to plan on how to eliminate the sources of discrimination (classroom punishments or bullying) that disproportionately affect school students with disabilities (Darrow, 2016).
To continue, the decision to replace NCLB with ESSA of 2015 grants more decision-making power to the states when it comes to standards and progress measurement in education (Darrow, 2016). This change aligns with the constitutional principles of federalism and the distribution of power between the federal and state governments (Darrow, 2016; Lambright, 2015).
Built to last? Constitution USA with Peter Sagal. (2013). Web.
Darrow, A. A. (2016). The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What it means for students with disabilities and music educators. General Music Today, 30(1), 41-44.
Framework for democracy – a question of sovereignty. (2002). Web.
Horsford, S. D., Jean-Marie, G., Tran, N., Carpenter, B., Adams, C., Schares, D., & Sanders, K. N. (2017). Special issue introduction: School leadership and the Every Student Succeeds Act: Dilemmas and possibilities in an era of inequality. Journal of School Leadership, 27(5), 618-621.
Lambright, D. (2015). Man, morality, and the United States Constitution. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 17, 1487-1514.
Perry, B. A. (2004). Original intent or evolving constitution? Two competing views on interpretation. Insights on Law & Society, 5(1), 4-6.
The law. (1995). Web.