Principal pay-for-performance as state policy
Duffy, Ann Louise
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This research documents how three winning states responded to Race to the Top (RTTT), a federal competitive grant program, and explores how they aligned state strategies with federal expectations. Focusing on the specific policy of principal pay-for-performance, also known as “merit pay,” the study traces the evolution of that policy in the politically diverse states of Delaware, Massachusetts and Tennessee. The research documents how the policy was developed and how it plans to be implemented both at state and district levels. This study utilizes a case study methodology to understand the complexities of the policy process and the alignment between state and district practices within a specific state policy context. The development of state policies in the context of a federal grant program is explored using a cross-case analysis of multiple state cases. Data collection included interviews with 34 state and national informants, in addition to document analysis and field notes. The data analysis is both within-case and cross-case, based on frameworks from new federalism and policy instrumentation, and uses the interpretive lenses of sense-making and motivational theory. This examination of policymakers’ understanding of pay-for-performance policy in the context of RTTT resulted in four primary findings: 1) the competitive grant process creates a shared understanding among local policymakers; 2) local strategies prioritized teachers over leaders, despite a balance in the grant requirements; 3) the role of the federal government is to encourage local adaption while steering toward larger policy objectives; 4) policymakers understand pay-for-performance to be a component of a larger human capital strategy and not a stand-alone strategy. These findings underscore the importance of policy adaption to local context and the staging of policy implementation. Implications for policymakers and suggestions for further research are also presented.