Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Lyke Thompson


Performance measurement has emerged as a management tool that, accompanied by advances in technology and data analysis, has allowed public officials to control public policy at multiple levels of government. In the United States, the federal government has used performance measurement as part of an accountability strategy that enables Congress and the Executive Branch to control areas of public policy historically driven by state and local governments. In special education, Congress through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 enabled the President to implement a wide-ranging and highly developed performance measurement system in which the states were asked to participate in exchange for federal funding.

This study first reviews some of the theoretical assumptions and problems associated with the widespread adoption of public sector performance measurement in the United States. It continues with a review of literature, reports, documents, memoranda, and statutes pertaining to the background, development, and implementation of IDEA 2004. It then explores the role states play in this federal performance measurement system; the characteristics of that system, including the nature and effect of federal feedback on state behaviors; the characteristics of the performance indicators; and the role of state-level characteristics.

The study finds that states have been responsive to federal feedback and, by and large, have improved their performance on most of the indicators over the nine years of consideration. The data suggest that states have set ambitious performance targets and strive to meet those targets under this system, but they have focused relatively greater attention to the compliance indicators, which are controlled more closely by the federal government, than the more devolutionary results indicators. The study also finds that the states have been responsive to changes in the federal monitoring system. The analysis showed little support for the influence of certain state-level factors on improvement. The dissertation concludes that the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) implemented the law using a combination of centralizing and devolutionary techniques, which the states generally accepted despite meager congressional appropriations. I conclude that OSEP accomplished and maintained this consensus chiefly through its design of the performance indicators.