With increasing frequency, U.S. presidents have orchestrated relations between federal and state governments. A defining feature of this “executive federalism” is a pragmatic willingness to both borrow from and reconstitute very different types of past federalisms. A case in point is President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which sought to stimulate the adoption of specific education reforms in state governments around the country through a series of highly prescriptive but entirely voluntary policy competitions. This paper evaluates the results of such efforts. To do so, it draws on four original datasets: a nationally representative survey of state legislators; an analysis of State of the State speeches; another of state applications to the competitions themselves; and finally, an inventory of state policy-making trends in a range of education policies that were awarded under the competition. This paper then relies upon a variety of identification strategies to gauge the influence of Race to the Top on the nation’s education policy landscape. Taken as a whole the evidence suggests that Race to the Top, through both direct and indirect means, augmented the production of state policies that were central components of the president’s education agenda.
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