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The emergence of bureaucratic entrepreneurship in a state education agency: A case study of Connecticut's education reform initiatives

Catherine W Fisk, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This case study illustrates how agency bureaucrats within the Connecticut State Department of Education played a prominent role in crafting a comprehensive education policy agenda, launched by the Education Enhancement Act of 1986. This was an example of bureaucratically-driven state education reform in which leadership, a clearly articulated policy agenda, and a policy making model embedded in the notion of ideas and persuasion were instrumental in establishing, implementing, and sustaining that policy agenda over time. It is out of this case study that a theory of bureaucratic entrepreneurship emerges—that is, when non-elected public managers and professional staff devise successful strategies to persuade legislators and other constituency groups to accept their policy agenda, develop and sustain policy innovations over time, and devise policy instruments that rely on inducements and capacity-building to leverage changes in educational practice at the local school district level. This case study examines bureaucratic entrepreneurship within two contexts. First, a comparison of two state-level education reform attempts is made: the first a successful bureaucratically-driven policy initiative culminating in the Education Enhancement Act (EEA) of 1986 and the second being a largely unsuccessful reform effort launched by the business community in the early 1990s through the Commission on Educational Excellence in Connecticut (CEEC). Second, the development and evolution of Connecticut’s teacher standards initiatives, an outgrowth of the EEA of 1986, is examined to illustrate the prominent features of bureaucratic entrepreneurship, including the exercise of leadership, opportunistic behavior in the face of rapidly changing environmental circumstances, and engagement in “creative subversion” and risk-taking in order to pursue innovative research and development. This study concludes that (1) successful bureaucratically-driven education reform requires strong leadership and technical capacity, (2) bureaucratic entrepreneurship is critical to sustaining policy innovation over time, (3) bureaucratic entrepreneurs can be “grown” by creating a climate within an organization conducive to innovation, learning and group problem-solving and fostering conditions for “team entrepreneurship,” that is, when a collection of individuals combine their efforts to produce innovations, and (4) there is a strong role to be played by state departments of education in shaping educational public policy.

Subject Area

Public administration|School administration

Recommended Citation

Fisk, Catherine W, "The emergence of bureaucratic entrepreneurship in a state education agency: A case study of Connecticut's education reform initiatives" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920600.