The congressional struggle to create a separate department of education, 1918-1930

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Cox, Charles W. (Charles Wesley), 1936-
Rosenberg, Morton M. (Morton Mervin), 1930-
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During the period 1918 to 1930 the National Education Association actively campaigned to convince the Congress of the United States that the nation needed a federal department of education. The purpose of this study was to determine, in view of historical evidence, what factors prevented the ascendancy of education to cabinet rank during the 1920's.The method employed in this study was historical analysis; i.e., the systematic investigation and interpretation of the data relevant to the problem under consideration. The writer relied heavily on primary source materials, especially manuscript collections and government documents. Other sources consulted included the publications of professional organizations, the periodical literature of the 1920's, and general works on American educational history.This report concentrated on four specific topics: (1) the work of the United States Bureau of Education prior to 1920, (2) the condition of American education at the termination of World War I, (3) the positions espoused by those individuals who either supported or opposed the cabinet movement, and (4) the reaction of Congress to the legislative proposals that advocated the creation of a separate department of education.A perusal of the literature written during the period 1918 to 1930 clearly indicated that opposition to a secretary of education came primarily from Catholic and Lutheran religious organizations, congressional figures who were imbued with the doctrine of states' rights, and key individuals in the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations. Moreover, the Republican Chief Executives of the decade opposed the elevation of education to cabinet status and used the power and prestige of the presidency to delay congressional consideration of the department of education bills.A second factor that contributed to the demise of the department of education movement in the 1920's was the general social climate of the decade. Nativist organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, were instrumental in the passage of such anti-parochial school legislation as the Oregon School Act of 1922. Parochial school officials, responding to a real or imagined threat to their educational system, resisted all reform measures that they considered inimical to religious instruction.Tradition also played a major role in the defeat of the portion of the American people, including the major spokesmen for the reform program itself, considered the realm of education to be a state and local, rather than federal, prerogative. Indeed, the opponents of the cabinet movement used with devastating effect the department of education campaign. During the 1920's a substantial argument that the reformers' platform, especially the federal aid clauses contained in the pre-1925 bills, represented a reversal of traditional education practices.In 1931 the National Advisory Committee on Education, an organization created by President Herbert Hoover to study the role of the federal government in the nation's educational affairs, submitted its report to the Congress. The Advisory Committee recommended that Congress establish a department of education, transfer to the department those federal agencies whose primary function involved the investigation and presentation of educational information, and deny all organizations engaged in educational endeavors the power to force compliance with federal acts. Congress, however, refused to heed the recommendations of the Committee.Immediately following President Richard Nixon's "State of the Union" message in 1970, which called for a reorganization of the executive branch of the national government, the National Education Association again appealed to Congress to grant education separate cabinet status. This action on the part of the NEA has reopened the question of whether or not the United States needs a federal department of education.