Commissioner of Education

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The Commissioner of Education was the title given to the head of the federal Office of Education, which was historically a unit within the Department of the Interior in the United States. The position was created on March 2, 1867, when an Act to establish the Office of Education took effect.[1]

The Commissioner was the U.S. government's highest education official from 1867 until 1972, when the office of Assistant Secretary for Education was established within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.[1] Ultimately, the United States Secretary of Education became a Cabinet-level position in 1979.


The Commissioner was responsible for:[2]

  • Formulating educational policy
  • Administering the various functions of the Office of Education
  • Coordinating educational activities at the national level

The Commissioner also served as an ex officio member of the District of Columbia Commission on Licensure, the Board of Foreign Scholarships and served as the governmental representative on the US National Commission for UNESCO.[3]


The independent federal Office of Education was created on March 2, 1867.[1] It became part of the Department of the Interior on July 1, 1889.[1] The office was included in the Interior Department's Federal Security Agency when it was established on July 1, 1939.[1] The office was moved into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953.[1]

In 1972, Public Law 92-318 provided the repeal of a part of the law which had created the office of Commissioner of Education. The repeal took effect on July 1, 1972. The Office of Education ceased to exist. Although the Assistant Secretary of Education then became the highest federal education position, the office of Commissioner of Education continued to exist in the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare until 1980, when the post was phased out due to the creation of the Cabinet-level Department of Education.[1][4]

List of Commissioners of Education[edit]

Commissioner Term
Henry Barnard March 11, 1867–1870
John Eaton 1870–1886
Nathaniel H. R. Dawson 1886–1889
William T. Harris 1889–1906
Elmer E. Brown 1906–1911
Philander P. Claxton 1911–1921
John J. Tigert 1921–1928
William John Cooper 1929–1933
George F. Zook 1933–1934
John W. Studebaker 1934–1948
Earl James McGrath 1949–1953
Lee M. Thurston 1953 - 1953
Samuel Miller Brownell 1953–1956
Lawrence Gridley Derthick 1956–1961
Sterling M. McMurrin 1961–1962
Francis C. Keppel 1962–1965
Harold Howe II 1965–1968
James E. Allen, Jr. 1969–1970
Sidney P. Marland, Jr. 1970–1973
John R. Ottina 1973–1974
Terrel H. Bell 1974–1976
Edward Aguirre 1976–1977
Ernest L. Boyer 1977–1979
William L. Smith 1980


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Federal Education Policymakers, 1941-2009". States' Impact on Federal Education Policy Project. 2009. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  2. ^ Knezevich, Stephen J. (1969), Administration of Public Education (2 ed.), New York: Harper & Row, p. 237, OCLC 12690 
  3. ^ Knezevich, Stephen J. (1969), Administration of Public Education (2 ed.), New York: Harper & Row, p. 238, OCLC 12690 
  4. ^ "Education", The Encyclopedia Americana 9, Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 2000, p. 740, OCLC 43838093 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.