Political Science 390I-01
The Politics of Policy Implementation
Professor Andrew Rudalevige
Denny Hall 316 (245-1716; email@example.com)
Office Hours: Monday, 2-3; Thursday 10:30-12; Friday 9:30-10:30;
or by appointment
This seminar will examine the politics of policy implementation––what
happens after a bill becomes a law? This homepage provides a list
of readings and course requirements, along with links to on-line readings.
If a reading is not here (if it is marked with an (#) on the syllabus),
you should access it using the Library E-Reserves system via Blackboard.
• Attendance and participation (20%). Each student will be part
of a team responsible for taking the lead in discussion in one class session
(excluding the Harrisburg sessions). This means leading your classmates
through the issues raised by the readings that week. It does not
mean verbatim recital of a detailed summary of each assigned piece.
The fact that it is not “your” week, of course, does not exempt you
from being prepared for class. This is a senior seminar and the reading
load (especially towards the start of the semester) reflects the high expectations
I have of advanced Dickinson students.
If you cannot be present for a given class session you must notify
me in advance. More than one unexcused absence will have a negative
effect on your grade.
• Short response papers and questions for outside speakers (30%).
Discussion topics will be distributed in advance of each class session,
along with a question to which students should respond using the readings
in a brief (≈2 pages) essay. For sessions involving outside speakers,
this will normally include developing questions, based on the readings, for
You may “pass” on two weeks during the semester (thus you will write
ten response papers during the semester, graded on a check-minus/check/check-plus
basis). Papers are due in my mailbox (or via email) by 10:15 a.m.
the day of class. For more details see http://www.dickinson.edu/~rudaleva/resppapers.htm/
• Research paper (50%) of 18-20 pages on an approved topic of policy
implementation, to be due FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16, 5 p.m. This is a
very open topic, obviously, and you should start thinking about it early
in the semester. Since we will be studying education policy in class,
you may want to expand upon one of the topics we can, of necessity, only
touch on in that broad area. But you are welcome to select a different
issue-area. We have no plenary class session on October 13; instead
I will meet with students individually that week to discuss paper topics
While you do not need to do primary research you do need a to construct
a clear hypothesis, think of appropriate means for testing that hypothesis,
and outline relevant data for conducting that test. Each member
of the class will provide a 5-7 minute presentation on their topic in class
during our December 8 session.
Finally – and here I should be restating the obvious – in all written
work, you must abide by the most stringent rules of citation. Plagiarism
is grounds not only for a failing grade on a given assignment, but for
the course – and, potentially, for dismissal from the College. Please
refer to the student handbook to remind yourself how Dickinson defines plagiarism
(strictly, is the short answer), and to the Writing Center (or my homepage)
for references that detail proper citation.
The United States
Allison, “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” American
Political Science Review 63 (September 1969): 689-718
National Commission on Excellence in Education, "A Nation at Risk" and
from A Nation at Risk (1983)
Brown v. Board of
Susan Snyder, “New
Charter Will Focus on Boys Only,” Philadelphia Inquirer (August 14,
National Conference of State Legislatures, Task Force on No Child Left
Report (February 2005), Ch. XX
Rudalevige, “Reform or Seance? Seeking the ‘Spirit’
of NCLB,” Teachers College Record (August 10, 2005)
Antionio School District v. Rodriguez (1973)
USA v. NRDC (1984)
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Act
72 of 2004
PA Dept. of Education: Education Empowerment
Gov. Mark Schweiker, Philadelphia
School District takeover plan
Schweiker and Mayor John Street,
Reform Commission plan
Barbara Mantel, "No Child
Left Behind: Is the Law Improving Student Performance?” CQ Researcher
15 (May 27, 2005)
West and Joseph Cooper, “Legislative Oversight v. Presidential Dominance:
Competing Models of Bureaucratic Control,” Political Science Quarterly
104 (Winter 1989-90), 581-606.
Walker, General Accounting Office, “Effective Oversight and Budget
Discipline are Essential,” testimony before the Senate Budget Committee
(February 2000), pp. 1-24
Michael Rebell, “Educational
Adequacy, Democracy, and the Courts,” in Timothy Ready et al, eds.,
Achieving High Educational Standards for All (National Research Council,
Jeff Archer, “Connecticut Files Long-Awaited Lawsuit,” Education Week
(August 22, 2005) -- NOTE: instead of this, read any of the readily available
quick discussions of the case (Google something like "Connecticut lawsuit
No Child Left Behind" and then take a quick look at the lawsuit itself, which
is now available here.
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002)
Robert Strauss, “Edison Awarded 2 More Philadelphia Schools,” Washington
Post (May 16, 2005), A3
David Caruso, “ Pennsylvania's First Major School Privatization Effort
Collapses,” Associated Press wire report (May 31, 2005).
The 36th Annual
Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the
Public Schools,” August 2005
Paul Peterson, “An Immodest Proposal,” The Brookings Review (Winter
Reform, or Séance?
Seeking the “Spirit” of No Child Left Behind
by Andrew Rudalevige
As recent state critiques of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) make clear,
the states and federal government are far apart in their understanding of
how the spirit of NCLB might continue to take tangible form. This brief
article lays out some of the major divides and their implications and urges
that the two sides work in good faith to bridge them.
It comes as little surprise that the consensus forged around the No Child
Left Behind Act (NCLB) back in 2001 has begun to unravel. The surprise
was that such a consensus was achieved at the time—and doing so required,
besides hard work, an appeal to ambiguity during the legislative process
that could not be sustained once implementation of the law began. Once
the Department of Education, states, and districts had to tangle with the
tangible requirements of (among other things) setting standards, creating
tests, hiring highly qualified teachers, and providing supplemental tutoring,
the widely supported ideal of “accountability” was bound to give way to a
series of definitional disputes.
Three-plus years after President Bush triumphantly signed NCLB into law,
the question of what accountability was to mean in practice has come to a
head. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of controversy over implementation
issues. The state of Connecticut has announced that it will sue the federal
government over NCLB’s funding levels; scattered school districts, along
with the National Education Association (NEA), already have. Utah legislators
have directed their education department to ignore portions of the law where
it conflicts with state policy or requires additional state spending; Texas
has been doing likewise largely without such prompting.
What does all this suggest for the future of NCLB? The final report
of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Task Force on No
Child Left Behind, released this February, provides a useful summary of the
range of critiques aimed at NCLB and a jumping off point for considering
their significance for the evolution of the law. NCSL’s main themes
are that education is essentially a state function (thus NCLB oversteps the
10th amendment); that the law provides nowhere near enough new money to persuade
the states to ignore that transgression (thus NCLB is, de facto, an unfunded
mandate); and, most of all, that the federal government must allow far more
flexibility to the unique needs of specific states and districts (thus NCLB
is “one size fits all,” when states and districts vary wildly.) Secretary
of Education Margaret Spellings is urged to waive a wide array of provisions
of the law, from those dealing with special education and teacher qualification
to the measurement and attainment of adequate yearly progress (AYP).
NCSL, in short, wants more money and more freedom to spend it. “Ultimately,”
says the report (NCSL, 2005), “states should be allowed to develop any system
they choose as long as it meets the spirit of NCLB” (p. vii).
Skeptics might wonder whether the states would prefer to meet that spirit
via séance—happy to invoke it, but ready to flee should it take material
form. After all, it was not until the spring of 2002 that all states
were in compliance not with NCLB but with the education reauthorization passed
in 1994, and even then only through a generous interpretation of compliance.
NCSL’s defensive tone, repeatedly asserting the states’ commitment to quality
education for all, is thus natural enough: the very fact of NCLB indicts
state performance on that score. And certainly doubters remain.
But one doesn’t have to posit bad faith to worry about bad outcomes.
The NCSL report reveals a huge disconnect between state and federal actors
that must be bridged if NCLB is to be changed—and preserved—in the ways it
needs to be. Most obvious, perhaps, is the funding gap. NCSL
suggests that as much as $140 billion in new annual spending might be required
to achieve standards-based proficiency; by contrast, total federal spending
on NCLB in the president’s FY2006 budget proposal is $25.3 billion.
The Department of Education, far from apologizing for that figure, touts massive
increases in Title I funding since the start of the Bush administration (NCSL,
2005, p. 48; Department of Education, 2005, February). And in fact
the divide is even greater than those figures suggest. To truly attain
proficiency, NCSL argues, would require solving the challenges to educational
achievement posed by “impoverished communities, fragmented families, poor
health care and unstable housing conditions.”
No one would say that poverty helps children learn. But the suggestion
that educational progress awaits the coming of policy heaven to earth implies
a psychological gap even wider than the fiscal one. Likewise, NCSL
urges that Congress shift the law’s “focus from processes and requirements
to outcomes and results.” Yet this is exactly what Congress thought
it was doing in 2001. The metaphors (from sports to livestock care)
that threaded congressional debate centered on how one could tell whether
children were in fact learning more. “Accountability is the centerpiece,”
proclaimed House education chair John Boehner’s fact sheet on NCLB.
“States have accepted billions in federal education aid but have never been
held accountable for improving student achievement. Until now.”
A focus on measurable results remains key to the administration.
“If you don’t measure,” President Bush recently asked, “how do you know whether
or not you’ve got a problem in a classroom?” States would largely accept
this, probably, but only if they get to define “measurement.” Indeed,
another wide disconnect opens when considering who ought to be measured (and
how, and when). Does measurement require annual testing in grades 3–8
(plus earlier requirements for a high school test) for at least 95 percent
of all subsets of students? The president and Congress answered these
questions in the affirmative in 2001. But states say no: They want far
more flexibility in excluding students from testing, especially for those
with special education needs; at least some don’t want to test annually; and
NCSL dislikes standardized tests generally. In the end, NSCL begs to
differ even with the titular goal of NCLB: Attaining 100 percent proficiency,
the report demurs, is “admirable” but “in practice… unattainable” (Office
of the White House, 2005; Department of Education, 2005, April; NCSL, 2005,
p. 48). On April 7, Secretary Spellings announced a “new approach” to
NCLB implementation that promised “additional alternatives and flexibility.”
Few details are yet available; it seems likely, however, given their importance
to the president, that universality, annual testing, and disaggregation are
not on the table. On April 28, the president reiterated his support
for NCLB, stating that “I will do everything I can to prevent people from
unwinding it.” Signals have circulated on Capitol Hill that NCLB will
under no circumstance be reopened before its required reauthorization date.
And so the sides continue to talk past each other. But neither can
“win,” in any real sense. On the one hand, it is unlikely that NCLB will
go away by judicial fiat; its mandates may be discomfiting but they are not
unconstitutional, given that states can opt out of its requirements if they
will forego a healthy chunk of cash. On the other, the federal government
is, as Bush aide Sandy Kress once put it, a “seven percent investor” in education—it
must rely on the talents, good will, and funding decisions of state and district-level
personnel to make NCLB work (Rudalevige, 2003, p. 25). Thus the two
sides need to move forward in partnership if the gaps noted here are to be
Doing so will require recognizing that the legislative process that created
NCLB bequeathed statutory language that met the needs of an odd coalition
wedded to diverging priorities, but not always the needs of those doing the
implementing. For example, President Bush promised “freedom in exchange
for achievement” during the 2000 campaign. Even though centrist Democrats
joined Bush (indeed, arguably prompted him) to urge a drastic reduction
in the regulatory underbrush of Title I, in the end this too fell victim
to the needs of coalition building and the number of required programs was
reduced only slightly (Rudalevige, 2003, pp.31-36). NCLB demanded strict
state standards, but created incentives for states to dumb down those standards
(which is not punished) so that they could avoid lagging in AYP (which is
punished). Local autonomy was demanded, but the use of national testing
as a consequential national check on state results was forbidden—even though
doing so would allow for additional local flexibility by creating a way
to consistently vet results without Department of Education micromanagement.
Further, in some places legislators’ concerns about noncompliance painted
the law black and white where nuance might have worked. AYP was strictly
linked to comparisons at the same grade level each year, not to the “value
added” by schools to the achievement of a specific group of children.
Further, the flags indicating school underperformance are raised to the same
height whether the school’s problem is testing just 94 percent of students
in a subgroup or consistent failure to teach students to read. The point,
of course, should not be to have everyone pass, but rather to focus resources
where they are most needed—and to give educators, administrators, and parents
additional, actionable information about school and student achievement.
(In this area, the law has clearly taken hold: Recent Century 21 commercials
take credit for providing NCLB’s “report card” data to prospective homebuyers.)
The most encouraging sign for NCLB’s future is that all sides of the policy
community are beginning to converge around the need for reform—around the
feasibility and desirability, for instance, of a “growth” model of student
achievement variants of which have been touted not just by NCSL but by analysts
like Checker Finn and Rick Hess. The least encouraging is that, as
the divides noted here suggest, there is as yet little agreement on the specifics
of those reforms and startlingly little agreement even on the basic facts
that must underlie those efforts (the dispute over NCLB funding is one obvious
Thus, what is needed now is dialogue and consistency. Secretary
Spellings’ recent commitment to both is welcome but needs more detail, sooner
rather than later. The states, in turn, must stop blaming NCLB for
every shortcoming in their own educational establishments.
In short, to be true to the “spirit” of NCLB, all involved need to commit
to explication rather than exorcism. If the finger pointing continues, NCLB
may well stay on the books—but present in classrooms only as a none too friendly
ghost, with the potential to haunt America’s future for generations to come.
Department of Education. (2005, February 27). President’s FY 2006 budget
focuses resources on students who need them the most.
Department of Education. (2005, April 7). Secretary Spellings announces
more workable, ‘common sense’ approach to implement no child left behind
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2005, February). Final report
of the task force on no child left behind. Retrieved May 5, 2005, from http://www.ncsl.org/programs/educ/nclb_report.htm
Office of the White House Press Secretary. (2005, April 28). Press conference
of the president.
Rudalevige, A. (2003). No child left behind forging a congressional compromise.
In E. Peterson, & M. R. West (Ed.), No child left behind? The politics
and practice of school accountability. Washington, DC: Brookings.
Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August