The secretary of education arranged the program, and the way Jimmy Carter told it to a thousand guests last night, she wanted him to be responsible for the weather.

Shirley Hufstedler's program was a stunning success. Jimmy Carter's weather was a flop.

In fact, it rained out a party planned on the South Lawn of the White House, forcing the 1,000 guests there celebrating Education Day to seek cover in DAR Constitution Hall three blocks away.

It was all part of the festivities surrounding the creation of the new Department of Education. Last night's portion focused on a half-dozen famous achievers paying tribute to the teachers they felt had the greatest influence on their lives.

"Teachers have a special place in life, particularly in a democratic society," President Carter told his guests after they reassembled at Dar Hall.

They had formed a somewhat bedraggled parade as they filed out of the White House onto 17th Street for the walk to the concert hall. Most had no umbrellas, and many were in long gowns.

White House social secretary Gretchen Poston, who checked with the weather bureau throughout the day, decided by 8:10 p.m. not to risk presenting the hour-long program on the outdoor stage.

Once the exodus was over, however, the program proceeded without a hitch. Participants were pianist Byron Janis, with his teacher Adele Marcus; singer Robert Merrill, paying tribute to his teacher in absentia, Samuel Margolis; sculptor Louise Nevelson and her posthumous tribute to Kenneth Hayes Miller; ballet dancer-choreographer Arthur Mitchell and his teacher Karel Shook; author and poet Richard Wilbur and his teacher G. Armour Craig; country music singer Loretta Lynn and her teacher, and mother, Clara Butcher.

"I suppose you're all wondering, 'what in the world is Loretta Lynn doing here on an education program?'" said Loretta Lynn, a fourth-grade dropout looking out from the stage into the cavernous hall filled with movers from the nation's education community. "Well, I'm wondering the same thing."

She added, "I don't think all education comes from books. I think you have to live a lot of it."

Secretary Hufstedler was one who wasn't wondering.

"These are artists and teachers for all seasons -- that's true whether or not the president got some slight misdirections. The applause," she said with a laugh, "came from heaven above, before rather than after."

But the "diversity of gifts and the history packed into the evening," Hufstedler continued, ranged from "a dancer who fell in love with the classics and found not only an enthusiastic audience but a life's work" to a poet of ideas "who speaks a spare and eloquent language" to a coal miner's daughter and her mother "who has music in her very soul.

"As we honor teachers tonight" said the secretary, "we honor teachers everywhere."

Then it was over and the Carters, with Amy, were up on stage urging everyone, in Rosalynn's words, "o come home with us." The Carters rode, of course, in their shiny white limousine while everyone else walked. But by then it was no longer raining, and when they reached the White House strawberry shortcake and champagne awaited them.

The afternoon ceremony had all the makings of an old fashioned school commencement: a band playing "Pomp and Circumstance," a school chorus singing "America, the Beautiful," a couple of rousing speakers and a whole lawnful of proud parents.

"Because of you," one of the speakers -- President Carter -- told the crowd of more than 1,200, "there is today a full-fledged, Cabinet-level Department of Education and a chair in the White House, in the Cabinet Room, marked 'Secretary of Education.'"

And just as parents have been doing for more than 200 years in auditoriums and on lawns across the country, everybody beamed knowingly and sat back to let the praise be heaped on the idol of their eyes.

In this case, however, the idol was "Ed," the 13th Cabinet agency to be created by law. The $14-billion U.S. Department of Education came to life early this week and since then, in a series of events called "Salute to Learning," has been the toast of the nation's education community.

Yesterday, not only the president of the United States paid tribute but so did Hufstedler, vowing that the department would strive "unceasingly for the highest possible quality at every level of the educational process.

"It will be a department," Hufstedler said, "that understands the 200-year success story of American education and knows that while federal structures may come and go, the homes and communities of the nation will continue to be the front line of education."

Accompanying the president and Secretary Hufstedler were Rosalynn Carter and daughter Amy, whose task it was to unveil the department's new flag, a design showing a majestic oak silhouetted against a sun radiating rays of light. As a backdrop on the outdoor stage where they presided was an oversized version of the postage stamp commemorating the new department.

"I wish he could have seen this day," said Anni Albers, 83, of Orange, Conn. She is the widow of the influential Bauhaus artist Joseph Albers, whose abstract painting titled "Glow" had been chosen for the stamp.

In the crowd were teachers, administrators, members of school boards, parents, children, members of Congress and others who helped wage the battles leading up to the department's creation.

Oh, yes, and there was the new assistant secretary of education for public affairs, known in her earlier White House incarnation as staff director to Lady Bird Johnson -- Liz Carpenter.

"Everybody in the world will know that a Department of Education has been born this day," said Carpenter with typical enthusiasm few would have dreamed of doubting.

Earlier, she said the "Salute to Learning" festivities would be paid for out of "a bare-bones budget" costing "well less than $100,000." Private donations amounting to $22,000 are helping defray some of the expenses which include the costs of designing theflag and logos for the new department.

Also in the crowd was Lori Cohen. 7-month-old daughter of Dr. Allan S. Cohen, who was chairman of the ad hoc committee which coordinated the 150 education groups around the country that supported the new department Lori was born the week the education bill was passed, her mother, Ellen Cohen, remembered.

"Everyone was kidding us that we could call her Ed or Bill," said Cohen.