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05.21 Corinthian Dominates Headlines, but Students and Employers on For-Profits' Sidelines

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo



Earlier this month, for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges officially declared bankruptcy, after having gradually closed its campuses over the past year. The high-profile failure of Corinthian – once a Wall Street darling – has cast a shadow on the for-profit college industry.

As the collapse of Corinthian dominates headlines, we worry that narratives that underscore controversy or oversimplify the higher education system may harm efforts to foster a healthier, more inclusive conversation.

For-profits may be a top concern for some of our legislators and education leaders. However, our research suggests that expert-level policy conversations about these schools are not meaningful to students and employers, two groups directly affected by the success or failure of for-profit schools.

For example, nearly half of undergraduate students currently attending a for-profit school and 41 percent of for-profit alumni are not familiar with the term "for-profit college."


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03.31 JJ Baskin, Public Agenda Board Member, 1966-2015

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Public Agenda




J.J. Baskin, 1966 - 2015

We're saddened to share the news that Public Agenda Board Member JJ Baskin passed away last week. With JJ's passing, the country has lost a great man and a force for good. JJ's deep commitment to improving education was matched by his boundless energy, and that energy stayed with him to the end.

We first met JJ two years ago down in Austin, Texas -- his home state. JJ's energy, dedication and optimism inspired us, and we invited him to join the Public Agenda board soon after.

JJ had so much faith in the Public Agenda mission and team. He was constantly working to advance our mission by contributing ideas and cultivating relationships. As JJ's obituary points out, he was a world-class connector who took enormous joy in serving others.

While we didn't know him long, it was long enough to know he was one of the finest people we'd ever meet. His dedication to good work and his fellow humans was a genuine inspiration, and we were lucky to experience his creativity and kindness firsthand. We at Public Agenda hope we can honor JJ's memory by capturing and channeling a little bit of his spirit, goodness and commitment to making the world a better place.

When JJ was first diagnosed with cancer, not even a year ago, he formed JJ's Fight Club. He called it a "team of optimists" and asked its members to "inspire us and remind us of what we are fighting for."

We may have lost JJ, but he will continue to inspire and remind us of what we are fighting for.

Read more about JJ and his life's work.


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02.11 Paying for Quality over Quantity in Health Care: Why the Public Ought to Be Engaged

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo



In late January, the Obama administration announced a plan to drastically change the way Medicare reimburses doctors and hospitals for health care services.

Traditionally, Medicare has paid providers using a fee-for-service model. In this model, doctors and hospitals receive payment based on the number of services they provide – surgeries performed or tests administered, for example.

The White House is proposing a move toward a performance-based model in which doctors and hospitals are paid based on the quality of their service. In short, they will be paid more if patients get healthier and less if patients stay sick.

This experiment may encourage other payers to change the way they reimburse providers as well. As Jason Millman noted on Wonkblog, "Because Medicare is such a huge part of health care spending, the hope is that these changes will trickle out to doctors' offices and hospitals across the country."

In health policy wonk circles, changing the way doctors and hospitals are paid is called payment reform. It's one of several approaches experts have proposed to help bring down the cost of our country's health care system. (Costs are soaring: we paid an average of $8,917 per person for health care in 2010, up from $4,878 just a decade earlier.)

National Health Expenditures Per Capita, 1960 - 2010



Source: CMS, "Table 1. National Health Expenditures; Aggregate and Per Capita Amounts, Annual Percent Change and Percent Distribution: Selected Calendar Years 1960-2011," http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/downloads/tables.pdf

It's clear we need to do something, but any approach to bringing down costs, including payment reform, raises many complex and difficult questions. In the case of performance-based payment reform, the most important is: How do we measure quality in health care?

This is a difficult question to answer in any sector, and policy and decision makers have certainly stumbled on measuring quality before. Take teacher quality, for example, an issue close to my own heart. When re-vamping teacher evaluation systems, states and districts often did not include the educators and administrators on the ground in decisions. Now, many states and districts not only have to go back to the drawing board, they also have to rebuild frayed relationships and trust.

Engaging hospitals and doctors is crucial to making payment reform work for Medicare, and to proving to private insurers that it can work for them too. It's to policymakers' advantage to include patients in the conversation about payment reform as well. This is particularly important now, as the public is, for better or worse, taking on more and more responsibility as consumers of health care.


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12.04 Three Ways Deeper Engagement Improves the Relationship Between Officials and Residents

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo



Our local public officials are thirsty for better and deeper ways to engage the people they serve. This is a sentiment I heard again and again during last month's National League of Cities Congress of Cities in Austin.


Public officials brainstorm hypothetical projects during a mock participatory budgeting exercise at the NLC's Congress of Cities.

The sentiment was cast in sharp relief during a workshop on participatory budgeting that I attended as part of the conference. Our partners at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP for short) presented to a variety of elected and appointed officials from cities across the country.

Participatory budgeting is a process through which residents are active partners in local budget decisions. We are partnering with PBP on research and evaluation of participatory budgeting processes in communities across the country.

During the workshop in Austin, PBP's Josh Lerner and Maria Hadden provided participants with practical tools and training to launch participatory budgeting in their communities and better engage their constituents in local budget decisions.

Josh and Maria opened the workshop by asking participants about the barriers to constituent engagement that they face in their communities. Participants also talked about what they were hoping to get out of the conference to address those challenges. This conversation revealed a number of difficulties that local officials share when it comes to engaging their constituents in better and deeper ways, regardless of the size or demographics of their city, town or county.


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11.07 New WNYC Partnership Will Engage New Yorkers on Their Top Concerns

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo




Public Agenda's President Will Friedman and NYPR's President and CEO Laura Walker discuss the inaugural Wadsworth Fund project.

Public Agenda is pleased to announce a new partnership with WNYC – New York’s premier public radio broadcaster and producer – on the inaugural project for the Deborah Wadsworth Fund. This first project will provide an unprecedented look into what's really on the minds of residents of New York City and the tri-state region.

"Public Agenda's mission and the mission of public media are so much in sync," said Laura Walker, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, in a conversation with Public Agenda President Will Friedman during the launch of the partnership.

The collaboration was announced on November 5th, at a celebration of the Deborah Wadsworth Fund, a new initiative from Public Agenda that honors our former president and board member. Donations to the Fund will enable Public Agenda to help New York area residents have a greater voice in the public issues they care about most. (You can learn more about the Fund here and support it here.)


Former Senator Bill Bradley and Public Agenda Board Member Betty Sue Flowers greet Teal Arcadi and Janet Fernandez of Public Agenda.

The first Deborah Wadsworth Fund project will consist of focus groups and a major survey with residents of the New York region. Through this research, Public Agenda and WNYC will illuminate the concerns, priorities and aspirations of local residents when it comes to the public policy issues our region faces. This research will provide a basis for WNYC programming and ensure that subsequent Deborah Wadsworth Fund projects address issues that area residents are concerned with.


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10.16 Diffusing Tension Through Dialogue – and a Touch of Humor

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Katie Barth



Public Agenda is partnering with AAAS to facilitate a series of dialogues between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors throughout the summer and fall. The purpose of the project is to improve dialogue, relationships and collaboration between these two communities, often viewed as staunchly divided. This blog is one in a series from our public engagement team, who write to reflect on their experiences moderating the dialogues. Read more about this project here and here, and download the discussion guide used during these conversations here. For more information, email Allison Rizzolo.


Katie Barth takes notes during a Perceptions Project dialogue.
AAAS/ Christine A. Scheller

A few weeks ago in Atlanta, I found myself in a room surrounded by church pastors, evolutionary biologists, theology professors, mathematicians and a former Vietnam veteran turned evangelical Christian. I was there for the third dialogue in the Perceptions Project, which brings together individuals who self-identify as belonging to the evangelical Christian community or (though in some cases “and” is more appropriate) the scientific community.

Many of the participants seemed nervous at the start of the dialogue. Though I served as a co-facilitator and was not technically a participant, I admit that I too approached the conversation with a hint of reticence. Before boarding my plane to Atlanta, a friend told me to “watch myself” since he claimed that there was “no way those two groups could manage to be civil toward one another, especially down in the Bible belt.”

What I found, however, was quite the opposite of that presupposition.


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09.24 Focusing on Teacher Voice

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo



Back when I taught high school Spanish, September was a time ripe with anxiety. I was worried about maintaining strict discipline during the crucial first month, navigating curricula and textbooks for new classes, and setting up my classroom so I could keep a semblance of organization throughout the year (I've never quite figured that last part out).

I had it easy. These days, teachers have a lot more on their minds, especially with the trifecta of new teacher evaluation systems, new Common Core learning standards, and new assessments that often have high stakes attached to them.


Isaac Rowlett leads a discussion on focus group facilitation with Hope Street Group teacher fellows.

These reforms are not without controversy, as is evident from opening any newspaper. Implementation of these reforms has been shaky at best, divisive and distracting at worst.

It is our belief at Public Agenda that education policy – as with any policy – is stronger, more sustainable, and better aligned with over-arching goals when those affected by policy are key partners in its design and implementation. For this reason, we joined forces a few years ago with the American Institutes for Research to develop Everyone at the Table (EATT), an initiative devoted to boosting teacher agency in education reform.

EATT pursues this mission by providing clear methods and strategies, practical materials and tailored trainings to help teachers engage their colleagues in productive, solutions-oriented dialogue about teacher evaluation and other education reform issues. We provide these resources and trainings directly to educators, schools, districts and education leaders. We also partner with other organizations and associations dedicated to improving teacher practice or boosting teacher voice in policy. (We also wrote a book about the project that explores the theory and methodology behind teacher and other stakeholder engagement in depth.)


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09.22 Pathway Redesign: Competency-Based Education?

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 | Alison Kadlec, Ph.D.



This post is written for readers working in higher education reform and was originally published on the Completion by Design blog. Completion by Design is a national initiative, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that works with community colleges to significantly increase completion and graduation rates. Read more about our work with Completion by Design.


“Competency-based education” (CBE) is one of the most ubiquitous buzz phrases in higher education today. But what it is and what it means for the student success and completion movement remains to be seen. Most simply, “competency-based” is used to describe any model or approach that substitutes the assessment of student learning for seat-time measures when determining a learner’s progress toward a degree or credential. There are a few facts and trends that, when taken together, help account for the incredible rise of interest in CBE in recent years:

Competency-based models aren’t exactly new – some have been around for decades, with first-generation innovators like Excelsior College in existence for more than 40 years. And a new generation of innovators at public institutions, those like Kentucky Community College and Technical System and University of Wisconsin-Extension, have built and launched a new generation of models that they hope will scale to a wide range of learners not well served by traditional models.

But there are real and serious questions to be asked about the conditions under which competency-based models are appropriate and for what types of learners. There are also fundamental questions about what constitutes high-quality when it comes to CBE programs.


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09.08 Parent Involvement in Education - What Really Matters Most?

Monday, September 8th, 2014 | Jean Johnson



Would eating less margarine reduce the divorce rate in Maine? Could we increase the number of graduate engineering degrees by upping mozzarella consumption? Some correlations are ridiculous, which is exactly the point of the very clever web site “Spurious Correlations."

In K-12 education, though, the link between parent involvement and student achievement makes intuitive sense, and it is backed by extensive research. According to Education Week, multiple studies have shown that "students with involved parents” get better grades and test scores and are more likely to go to college.

You don’t need to convince parents that what they do matters. Nearly 8 in 10 say that parents are more important than schools in determining whether children learn. Teachers are on board too. The vast majority say they’d rather work in a school with strong parent support and good student behavior than in one where they could earn more money.


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08.25 Arthur White, Longtime Friend to Public Agenda, Has Passed Away

Monday, August 25th, 2014 | Public Agenda



We were saddened to learn that a long-time friend of Public Agenda, Arthur White, died over the weekend after a long and deeply fruitful life. Arthur was a co-founder of Yankelovich Partners with Dan Yankelovich, Public Agenda’s co-founder.


Arthur White and his wife, Vivien White stand in front of the sculpture screen in Whitey Heist Park in Stamford, Conn. on Wednesday June 29, 2011. (Photo: Kathleen O'Rourke / The Stamford Advocate)

A life-long advocate for equal opportunity, Arthur also founded Jobs for the Future and Reading Is Fundamental. He worked closely with us on a series of studies of young adults’ views on higher education and college completion. And he was a warm and wise presence at Public Agenda events, a valued adviser to the organization, and a wonderful “connector,” always ready to introduce people to one another when mutual benefit and public good could result.

We will miss his insights, his enthusiasm, and his dedication to making our country better.

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