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What is the US Secretary of Education?

The US Secretary of Education leads the Department of Education, shaping national policy for schools and ensuring equal access to quality education. This pivotal role influences funding, educational standards, and student loan management. As the educational landscape evolves, the Secretary's decisions impact millions. How might these policies affect your local schools? Join the conversation and explore the Secretary's latest initiatives.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The US Secretary of Education is the head of the Department of Education, the federal agency that oversees matters related to education in the United States, from kindergarten to colleges and universities. Because education in the United States is not highly centralized, as it is in many other nations, the scope of the secretary's duties and powers is fairly limited, and the department itself is actually rather controversial. Some conservatives believe that the Department of Education represents unreasonable interference on the part of the federal government, and they would like to see it dismantled.

ED, as it is known colloquially, was established in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter split the then-Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into two separate agencies, creating two Cabinet level positions: the US Secretary of Education, and the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. ED is the smallest cabinet-level agency, with far fewer employees and programs than other agencies at the same rank in government.

The president appoints the Secretary of Education.
The president appoints the Secretary of Education.

Each new president is responsible for appointing a Secretary of Education, with the president typically choosing someone who will support his or her goals for American education. The selection is subject to a Senate confirmation hearing, allowing senators and the people of the United States by extension a chance to reject candidates who might be perceived as unfit. As a cabinet-level official, the Secretary of Education is in line for the succession to the United States presidency, although since the position is ranked 16, it is unlikely that an Education secretary will ever be forced to step into the office.

The Department of Education sets standards for special education programs.
The Department of Education sets standards for special education programs.

As a member of the presidential cabinet, the US Secretary of Education is responsible for discussing policy matters relating to education with the president, and for proposing policies which will shape American education. He or she also keeps the president informed about issues in the American education system, ranging from dropout rates to the changing demographics of US colleges.

The US Secretary of Education is responsible for setting academic standards for public schools.
The US Secretary of Education is responsible for setting academic standards for public schools.

One of the most important roles of the Department of Education is in the keeping of statistics pertaining to education so that this data can be used to assess the state of education in the country and to identify areas that need improvement. ED also hosts the Department of Federal Student Aid, which provides financial assistance to college students, along with departments that deal with things like special education, English language learners, migrant education, and civil rights in the education field.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main responsibilities of the US Secretary of Education?

The Department of Education sets policies and standards for schooling starting in kindergarten.
The Department of Education sets policies and standards for schooling starting in kindergarten.

The US Secretary of Education is primarily responsible for overseeing the Department of Education and executing federal policies related to education. They manage federal funding for education, ensure equal access to education, and focus on improving the quality of schools. The Secretary also advises the President on education policies and can propose legislation to Congress aimed at advancing the nation's educational standards and achievements.

How is the US Secretary of Education selected?

The US Secretary of Education is responsible for making sure minority children have access to the same education as other students.
The US Secretary of Education is responsible for making sure minority children have access to the same education as other students.

The US Secretary of Education is appointed by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by the Senate. This process involves a nomination by the President, followed by hearings and a vote in the Senate. The Secretary serves at the pleasure of the President and is part of the President's Cabinet, which is a group of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government.

What qualifications are typically required for the US Secretary of Education?

The US Secretary of Education sets the standards of expectations for teachers.
The US Secretary of Education sets the standards of expectations for teachers.

While there are no specific qualifications mandated by law for the US Secretary of Education, the position typically requires a deep understanding of the American education system, experience in educational leadership or policy, and the ability to manage a large federal agency. Past Secretaries have often held advanced degrees and have had significant experience either as educators, administrators, or policy makers in the field of education.

Can the US Secretary of Education influence local school curricula?

The US Secretary of Education does not have direct authority to dictate local school curricula, as education in the United States is largely decentralized with primary control resting at the state and local levels. However, through federal funding and regulatory measures, the Department of Education can incentivize states and school districts to adopt certain educational standards or programs that align with federal objectives.

What has been a significant initiative led by the US Secretary of Education?

A significant initiative led by the US Secretary of Education was the "Race to the Top" program, launched during the Obama administration under Secretary Arne Duncan. This competitive grant program encouraged states to adopt educational reforms in areas such as increasing teacher effectiveness, implementing rigorous standards, and using data to inform decisions. It awarded $4.35 billion in grants and was a key part of the administration's education strategy, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon220413

The driving force behind America's lag in education is a social issue. Until we can eradicate the staggering social inequalities our students face, enforcing school "reform" will not bring about the changes we want to see. Children living in poverty have so many needs that are not met on a daily basis, and when we work to meet those needs, they will be in a better position to do well in school.

Did you know that the strongest predictor of high SAT scores is family income? Enforcing more and more standardized testing is only going hurt the kids we need to be helping most.

PinkLady4

We really ought to take a good hard look at the educational systems in other countries, where education policies are determined by the central government. Countries like Japan, Finland and Germany, have become tops in the world, and their educational systems are much more centralized than the U.S.

We should do some serious research on how other countries approach education. Why are they so far ahead of us? We wouldn't need to adopt every aspect of their system - just adapt them to our philosophy of education. They must have some clue as to what works.

B707

I gather from reading this article that the Secretary of Education and the Department of Education have very little power as far as educational policy and instituting reforms is concerned.

Our educational system is in dire need of reform. The states are just kind of floundering, trying this and that.

There have been some attempts to try out reforms in school districts. Many of these have been financed by private citizens, like Bill and Melinda Gates and have had positive results.

I would like to see the Department of Education be given more power to set up some criteria to improve education nationwide. There's more to it than testing - we need the best teachers, even if that means letting some go - so teacher evaluation is important.

KaBoom

@ceilingcat - I agree that we need to do something about our education system, but giving some bureaucrat in the government more power just isn't the answer.

Usually the federal government thinks the answer to educational reform is more testing. This is a very bad idea. I remember when they instituted some standardized tests in elementary schools awhile back they found that teachers were "teaching to the test" instead of actually teaching the students what they really need to know.

I think these matters should be left in the hands of the states. I think it would be easier to enact some educational reforms on a smaller scale than on a larger, federal scale.

ceilingcat

I really don't understand why conservatives have such a problem with the Department of Education. If anything, we should be worried about how we lag behind the rest of the world in math and science.

I think we need to give the US Secretary of Education more power. We really need to enact some reforms in our educational system so that our country can keep up in the science and technology sectors.

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    • The president appoints the Secretary of Education.
      By: sborisov
      The president appoints the Secretary of Education.
    • The Department of Education sets standards for special education programs.
      By: Jaren Wicklund
      The Department of Education sets standards for special education programs.
    • The US Secretary of Education is responsible for setting academic standards for public schools.
      By: libyphhoto
      The US Secretary of Education is responsible for setting academic standards for public schools.
    • The Department of Education sets policies and standards for schooling starting in kindergarten.
      By: micromonkey
      The Department of Education sets policies and standards for schooling starting in kindergarten.
    • The US Secretary of Education is responsible for making sure minority children have access to the same education as other students.
      By: Prod. Numérik
      The US Secretary of Education is responsible for making sure minority children have access to the same education as other students.
    • The US Secretary of Education sets the standards of expectations for teachers.
      By: Monkey Business
      The US Secretary of Education sets the standards of expectations for teachers.