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JPAM Featured Article: "Presidential Prescriptions for State Policy: Obama's Race to the Top Initiative"

March 8, 2017 08:00 AM

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: William Howell, Ph.D. and Asya Magazinnik

What was the genesis of the idea for your research/paper?
 
Asya and I have long been interested in the ways in which presidents advance policy change outside of a strictly legislative setting. Sometimes presidents work around Congress by issuing executive orders, proclamations, and memoranda. In other instances, they do so through administrative rulemaking. In Obama's Race to the Top initiative, however, we see something altogether different: namely, a president who, in turning away from Congress, and in recognizing the limits of his own unilateral powers, seeks to effect policy change within the states. We wanted to take inventory of how the president structured this work and what effects it had on policy around the nation. 
 
What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is your main takeaway?)
 
The Race to the Top competitions focused on a very specific set of education policies that, in many instances, confronted sharp political resistance. Nonetheless, by leveraging a reasonably small amount of money, Obama managed to stimulate a considerable amount of policy-making around the nation. Policy adoptions increased markedly after the competitions; and the patterns of such adoptions suggest that Race to the Top, and not some ancillary factor, was primarily responsible for the surge.  
 
What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions did you find in the process of bringing this together?
 
The most striking finding, perhaps, is just how pervasive and widespread the effects of Race to the Top turned out to be. The largest effects, as one might expect, were observed among states that actually won the competition. But in their efforts to improve their chances of securing federal funds, other states adopted many of the policies championed by Race to the Top. Moreover, the forces of policy diffusion further amplified the initiative's effect. The sheer magnitude and breadth of policy returns achieved by this initiative were startling.
 
 
Authors' Bios
 
William_HowellWilliam Howell (@ProfWillHowell) is the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago Harris and a professor in the Department of Political Science and the College. He has written widely on separation-of-powers issues and American political institutions, especially the presidency. He currently is working on research projects on Obama's education initiatives, distributive politics and the normative foundations of executive power. William also is a principal author of an introductory American politics textbook series and editor of additional volumes on the presidency and education politics. William has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In 2000, he received a PhD in political science from Stanford University.
 
Asya_MagazinnikAsya Magazinnik (@asyamagazinnik) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. She specializes in American political institutions and quantitative methodology, with particular interests in democratic representation, polarization, and the policymaking process in the modern American federalist system. Her current work includes methods to improve the measurement of legislative ideology and the detection of gerrymandering, as well as a study of the causal effects of electoral rules on minority representation in local politics. She holds an M.P.P. from the University of Chicago Harris School and has previously worked on experimental evaluations of policy reforms for low-income populations.
 
 

Check out this and other Journal of Policy Analysis and Management articles online.

 

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