30 years ago, Ronald Reagan called for the termination of the Department of Education. But instead of disappearing, the Jimmy Carter creation has become a federal leviathan with no signs of abating in growth.
Reagan’s Secretary of Education Terrell H. Bell thwarted Reagan’s and the Christian right’s plan to do away with the cabinet level bureau. Bell, an educator by profession, was instrumental in publishing a report on the national status of our schools. Bell had the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which he created in 1981, prepare a document in 1983 called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.”
Like a small pebble tossed into a pond sends out many ripples, A Nation at Risk–through fear-inducing rhetoric and a call for more government intervention into traditional states’ rights–set off a movement in education which could not be stopped. Whether Bell took this action to save his job, or whether he differed ideologically with Reagan doesn’t matter now. The genie was let out of the bottle and we’ve paid a high price for allowing the Department of Education to have too much power.