Terrel Howard Bell Essay

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An educator who spent much of his life working in public institutions, Terrel (Ted) Bell served as the second U.S. Secretary of Education during the first term of President Ronald Reagan (1981–1984). Although Reagan had promised to eliminate this federal department, Bell was convinced of the need for a prominent federal role in U.S. education. Stymied by bureaucratic infighting during much of the early years, Bell was able to establish a national commission in 1981 to examine the condition of U.S. education. He did so over the objections of many of Reagan’s domestic policy advisors.

In April 1983, after continued delays, the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) released its final report. A Nation at Risk decried the condition of American education, deeming it so inferior that it was literally placing the United States at risk—both economically and militarily. President Reagan embraced the tone of the report, but not the substance. Nevertheless, thanks to the report’s focus on academic excellence and alarmist tone, policy makers throughout the United States pursued various reforms hoping to improve American schools. The report also made it politically impossible for President Reagan to eliminate the Department of Education.

Bell resigned in December 1984 and returned to his native Utah, where he continued to work as a professor of education and educational consultant. He died in 1996.


  1. Bell, T. H. (1988). The thirteenth man: A Reagan cabinet memoir. New York: Free Press.
  2. Lugg, C. A. (1996). For God and country: Conservatism and American school policy. New York: Peter Lang.

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