Policy Diffusion


Policy Diffusion EPS 9610

September 29, 2020


The National Landscape


Why is there variation in educational policies/practices across the 50 states?

To what extent has that variation increased/decreased in the last 20-30 years? Why?

Does policy diffusion lead to better practices/outcomes across entities (i.e., states & districts)?

1 federal government

50 states & DC

~13,600 school districts


Innovation & Diffusion

Internal determinants – innovation when political, economic, & social environments are favorable

Regional diffusion – more likely to adopt after regional bell-weather states adopt

Interstate competition

Convenience and efficiency

Policy networks

An innovation is defined as a policy that is perceived as new to the unit (e.g., state) adopting it regardless of its age, whether it exists elsewhere, or how many other units have adopted it (Berry & Berry, 1990; Gray, 1973, 1994; Walker, 1969). New ideas diffuse, spreading from one unit to another.

Competition – economic competition as well as normative (don’t want to be left behind)


Policy Learning


Mediated by ideology & prior beliefs

Political party

Weigh policy effects and political effects

Learning can be defined as a process whereby policy makers change their beliefs about the effects of policies (Dobbin, Simmons, and Garrett 2007, 460). When these beliefs are adapted by taking into account the experience of others, learning can be understood as a mechanism of diffusion, that is, an explanation of why and how policy choices in one country (or other relevant unit) are influenced by prior decisions in other countries (or other relevant units).

Not all policymakers learn “equally” and there are significant differences between “policy learning” and “politics learning”.

Therefore, recent theoretical work on learning suggests that ideological positions and prior …