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Punctuated Equilibrium, Bureaucratization, and Budgetary Changes in Schools


  • Scott E. Robinson


For half of a century, models of nonrational behavior have grown in popularity for explaining the behavior of administrative organizations. However, models of nonrational behavior are notoriously difficult to test because nonrational behavior is often difficult to separate from fully rational behavior. Recent research has suggested that particular types of nonrational processes should produce “punctuated” equilibria rather than “instantaneous” equilibria. In these nonrational processes, a decision maker underresponds to changes for a long period of time. Once pressure for change becomes overwhelming, the decision maker adopts a radical change. This is called “punctuation.” The key to identifying this type of nonrationality of a process's rationality is the comparative success of fitting the observed behavior to “punctuated” rather than “instantaneous” equilibria.

True, Jones, and Baumgartner (1999) developed a method for comparing the distribution of decision outputs as a strategy for assessing the relative degree of “punctuation” in the decision processes. By assessing the kurtosis (or “peakedness”) of the distribution of decision outputs, one can get a sense of the excess (compared with a standard, normal distribution) of low and high rates of change–a sign of punctuated equilibrium.

This article extends these recent developments by adapting the method to a comparative kurtosis framework. The results suggest that bureaucracy in K–12 schools serves to reduce (rather than amplify) the punctuations in budgeting processes. The article concludes with a discussion of the potential extension of the empirical results and modifications to the testing procedure.

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