California's 1849 Constitution provided for the election of a state Superintendent of Public Instruction and for a system of common schools. Supervision of California's educational system was carried out by the State Board of Education with the Superintendent of Public Instruction acting as its executive officer. The first foundations of a State Department of Education were laid in 1913 when the Legislature provided for the appointment of three commissioners (in elementary, secondary, and vocational education) to assist the Superintendent ( Stats. 1913, ch. 694). An official Department of Education was created by law in 1921 succeeding to the powers and duties of the State Board of Education ( Stats. 1921, ch. 605). The State Board continued on as a governing body with the Superintendent acting as Director of Education. Initially the Department included Divisions of Elementary Schools, Secondary Schools, Physical Education, Normal and Special Schools, Immigrant Education, Statistics, Credentials, Attendance, and a Legal Division.
As a result of two studies commissioned by the Legislature, the Mills Report of 1944 and the Strayer Report of 1945, the Department carried out a major reorganization consolidating twenty-two divisions into six: Divisions of Departmental Administration, Special Schools and Services, Instruction, Libraries, Public School Administration, and State Colleges and Teacher Education.
The Department's activities greatly expanded as federal appropriations increased with the passage of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The California State Legislature appropriated more funds for new education programs with the Miller-Unruh Basic Reading Act of 1965, the McAteer Act of 1963, S.B. 1302 of 1972 (early childhood education), and the Bilingual Education Act of 1972.
In 1972 the Department attempted an innovative reorganization, the Education Program Matrix, to improve service to local education agencies, to coordinate the Department's various educational programs, and to improve departmental communications. (See EDUCATION PROGRAM MATRIX.) The Matrix was dissolved in 1975 and replaced by Education Program Management.
From the guide to the Department of Education Records, (California State Archives)