Education in the U.S.



Education in the United States is highly decentralized. Each state has authority to make and implement education policy within its jurisdiction so long as such policy does not violate the provisions of the U.S. Constitution or federal law.

The Role of State Government

State Legislatures

Generally, state legislatures delegate a significant amount of policy-making authority to the state board of education. State boards of education are bodies of citizens appointed by the legislature or governor, or popularly elected, depending on the state. The state board is responsible for approving statewide educational policies and determining budget priorities.

State Departments of Education

Most states have a state department of education that serves as the executive agency for education. A chief state school officer is generally responsible for overseeing the state department of education and reporting periodically to the state board of education, the legislature and the governor. Most chief state school officers are appointed by the state board of education or the governor, while some are popularly elected.

The Role of Local Government

Local School Districts

Although state governments have ultimate authority over education, most states delegate some decision-making powers and the operation of public elementary and secondary schools to local education agencies, or school districts. There are approximately 15,000 school districts in the United States, each overseeing its jurisdiction's public schools. Most states give districts considerable authority to determine school budgets and to implement curriculum.

Local School Boards

Each school district is governed by a local school board, whose policies must generally conform to the regulations of the state school board and the statutes of the state legislature. The school board selects and hires the district superintendent, who is responsible for implementing policy and managing the day-to-day operations of the school district.

The Role of The Federal Government

U.S. Congress

The Congress is the supreme lawmaking body of the country and has passed numerous laws directly and indirectly affecting education. For example, in late 2001 the Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The NCLB Act - signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002 - contains the most significant changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it was enacted in 1965. NCLB alters the federal government's role in elementary and secondary education by requiring states and schools to measure success in terms of student performance. The act contains the following four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work through rigorous scientific research.

U. S. Department of Education

The federal Department of Education is the primary agency of the federal government that implements the laws that the Congress enacts to support education at the federal level. In doing so, the Department establishes policy for, administers and coordinates much of the federal financial assistance for education, in accordance with these laws. Its stated mission is "to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation."

The Department carries out its mission in two major ways. First, the Secretary and the Department play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve education for all students. Second, the Department pursues its twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research.

- Abridged from State Dept. Publications and other U.S. government materials
Online Documents
Research and Development Statistics
Web sites

[Last Updated: 9/14/2010]
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