Federal Explainer

At a Glance: U.S. Secretaries of Education

The U.S. Department of Education has had 12 secretaries since its birth as a Cabinet-level department in 1980. Some have served for an entire presidential administration, others for less than a year. They’ve used their perch at the helm of the Education Department to push a broad basket of policy priorities, from standardized testing and broader civil rights enforcement to a rollback of the federal footprint in K-12. And they’ve come from a range of backgrounds, including that of former governor, federal judiciary, state schools chief, big-city superintendent, and outspoken policy advocate.

Check out these pages for a deep look at each secretary’s tenure, challenges, and accomplishments.

Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 23, 2020.
Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, speaks after being put forward for the position by then-President-elect Joe Biden in December 2020.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Federal Explainer Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education: Background and Achievements
Education Week Library, March 1, 2021
2 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, waits on stage to be introduced before addressing staff at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 8, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, waits on stage to be introduced before addressing staff at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 8, 2017.
T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week
Federal Explainer Betsy DeVos, Eleventh U.S. Education Secretary: Background and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
6 min read
Education Secretary John B. King Jr. speaks at the White House in Washington in this Sept. 29, 2016 file photo.
Education Secretary John B. King Jr. speaks at the White House in Washington in this Sept. 29, 2016 file photo.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Federal Explainer John B. King Jr., Tenth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
3 min read
President-elect Barack Obama looks on as his Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan speaks during a news conference in Chicago in this Dec. 16, 2008 file photo.
President-elect Barack Obama looks on as his Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan speaks during a news conference in Chicago in this Dec. 16, 2008 file photo.
AP-File
Federal Explainer Arne Duncan, Ninth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
3 min read
President George W. Bush, left, participates in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, center, at the U.S. Dept. of Education on Jan. 31, 2005 in Washington. On the far right holding a bible is her husband Robert Spellings.
President George W. Bush, left, participates in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, center, at the U.S. Dept. of Education on Jan. 31, 2005 in Washington. On the far right holding a bible is her husband Robert Spellings.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Federal Explainer Margaret Spellings, Eighth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
2 min read
President Bush's Secretary of Education Rod Paige, 67, smiles after his swearing in ceremony at the Department of Education in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2001.
President Bush's Secretary of Education Rod Paige, 67, smiles after his swearing in ceremony at the Department of Education in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2001.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Federal Explainer Rod Paige, Seventh U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
3 min read
Pres. Bill Clinton, right, talks to Education Secretary-designate Richard Riley, center, on the viewing stand, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 1993, Washington, D.C.
Pres. Bill Clinton, right, talks to Education Secretary-designate Richard Riley, center, on the viewing stand, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 1993, Washington, D.C.
AP Photo/Dennis Cook
Federal Explainer Richard W. Riley, Sixth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
5 min read
U.S. President George H. Bush glances toward his choices for two Cabinet positions during a White House press briefing, Monday, Dec. 18, 1990 in Washington. At left is former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, the President's pick for education secretary.
U.S. President George H. Bush glances toward his choices for two Cabinet positions during a White House press briefing, Monday, Dec. 18, 1990 in Washington. At left is former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, the President's pick for education secretary.
Marcy Nighswander/AP Photo
Federal Explainer Lamar Alexander, Fifth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
4 min read
President-elect George H. Bush addresses an Education Department forum, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 1989 in Washington as Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos listens.
President-elect George H. Bush addresses an Education Department forum, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 1989 in Washington as Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos listens.
AP Photo/Scott Applewhite
Federal Explainer Lauro F. Cavazos, Fourth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
3 min read
President Ronald Reagan looks on as Attorney General William French Smith swears-in three new secretaries, including Secretary of Education William Bennett (left) at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 7, 1985 in Washington.
President Ronald Reagan looks on as Attorney General William French Smith swears-in three new secretaries, including Secretary of Education William Bennett (left) at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 7, 1985 in Washington.
AP Photo/Dennis Cook
Federal Explainer William J. Bennett, Third U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
3 min read
President Ronald Reagan is flanked by Education Secretary Terrel Bell, left, White House Policy director, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room in Washington, Feb. 23, 1984 where they discussed school discipline.
President Ronald Reagan is flanked by Education Secretary Terrel Bell, left, White House Policy director, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room in Washington, Feb. 23, 1984 where they discussed school discipline.
AP-File
Federal Explainer Terrel H. Bell, Second U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
2 min read
Shirley M. Hufstedler is sworn in as the nation's first Secretary of Education by Chief Justice Warren Burger, right, while her husband, Seth, holds a Bible, on Dec. 6, 1979. President Jimmy Carter looks on at left.
Shirley M. Hufstedler is sworn in as the nation's first Secretary of Education by Chief Justice Warren Burger, right, while her husband, Seth, holds a Bible, on Dec. 6, 1979. President Jimmy Carter looks on at left.
AP-File
Federal Explainer Shirley Hufstedler, First U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements
Education Week Library, August 18, 2017
2 min read