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09.29 To Keep Our Teachers in the Classroom, They Need More Support and More Of A Say

Thursday, September 29th, 2016 | Ryan MacDonald

Paul Barnwell started his teaching career in one of Kentucky’s most troubled and underperforming schools. As a 22-year-old with no teaching experience, he felt unable to deal with the culture shock of managing a classroom or with pressure from the administration to solve issues on his own. He quit at Christmas and wrote, “the odds of me thriving and staying at my first school were miniscule, as were my students’ chances of actually learning.”

In recent years, the threat of a teacher shortage has loomed large over the education reform debate. And while there is no doubt that certain areas are affected by teacher shortages, primarily low-income and rural areas, there seems to be deeper problem at work—teacher retention.

Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. Ten percent of teachers will leave before even finishing their first year in the classroom. Statistics show that low-income schools deal with much higher rates of turnover than affluent ones. According to Richard Ingersoll, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s education school, 15 percent of teachers leave the profession every year and 40 percent of graduates with an undergraduate degree in education never use it.

So, if we have a large number of teachers either not entering the classroom or leaving shortly after they get there, what is going wrong? How do we keep effective teachers in classroom where they are needed?

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09.27 Evaluating Participation

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 | Matt Leighninger and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 15

Evaluation – the process of collecting, analyzing, and using information to understand how a program operates and/or the outcomes and impacts it has – is important for many reasons.

First, evaluation can help improve program implementation and management, for example by identifying what works, what does not and where improvements can be made.

Second, evaluation can help verify and strengthen accountability structures, for example by helping to keep the program within the scope of a project or decision statement, ensuring that money and resources are being used appropriately and efficiently and monitoring quality control.

Within the context of public participation, evaluation may be necessary to help determine whether the participation opportunity is complying with relevant laws, rules and mandates, and whether it is adhering to and upholding objectives and values such as diverse representation, fairness and participant understanding about how their contributions will be used. In turn, this can increase the perceived legitimacy and importance of public participation.

Finally, more and better evaluation can improve the study and practice of public participation. It can even challenge the notion that official, conventional participation processes are static, predetermined and impossible to change. If you ask a participant to rate the school board meeting or public hearing she attended, it may plant the seed in her mind that the process is not immutable and can in fact be improved. While critical, evaluating public participation can be challenging:

  1. Public participation is inherently complex and value-laden. There are no widely held criteria for judging its success and failure, and evaluating across all possible areas of interest is impractical.
  2. Evaluation results are likely to be important and of interest to a number of audiences, but various audiences may value different criteria and information.
  3. Evaluation can be a daunting task. The technical issues involved can be intimidating, as can be the idea of assessing one’s peers, colleagues and own professional work.
  4. Time, money, personnel and other valuable resources are often in short supply.

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09.23 Engaging Ideas - 9/23

Friday, September 23rd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Only 4 percent of Americans have a positive image of both presidential candidates and a set of guidelines for improving the debates. Lots of new research about teachers, including how their relationship to principals impacts retention. An essay on the rising cost of college and news on higher ed funding in Kentucky. Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman says the rising cost of deductibles might be the most pressing question in health care.


Candidates can't campaign as dividers and govern as unifiers (The Hill)
There are many ways to characterize this year’s presidential campaign — “polite” or “respectful” don’t come to mind. And it seems that voters are growing weary of the bad manners, the acrimony. A Gallup poll released in July found that one in four Americans have an unfavorable opinion of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But perhaps more indicative of national disgust was the contrasting statistic: Only 4 percent held positive images of both candidates. Lack of civility on the campaign trail has implications — for individuals and for the nation as a whole.

A Simple Plan to Fix the Presidential Debates (The Atlantic)
The National Institute of Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona has just come out with guidelines for debaters, the debate audience and, importantly, the moderators, that need to be heeded. Most of the guidelines are simple and obvious: Debaters should be respectful of others, answer the questions asked, and stand against incivility; audience members should be respectful, not create disturbances, and listen to those speaking. (Public Agenda has signed on as a supporter of these rules.)

There is no media (Columbia Journalism Review)
It seems perfectly plausible that just one-third of Americans trust “the media.” Liberals and conservatives alike have criticized “the media” over the course of this campaign, while presidential candidates have made “the media” a familiar target in stump speeches and fundraising emails. And herein lies the caveat journalists should consider before they wet the bed over Gallup’s latest data: There is no media. There is only my media and your media.

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09.22 During Debate Season, Let's Stay Civil

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

As we make our plans for watching the first presidential debate on Monday, we are committed to encouraging civil and inclusive conversations. Will you join us?

In an effort to reset the tone of this election, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) has issued a set of debate standards. The standards call on presidential debate moderators, candidates and audiences to commit to more civil, informative and fair debates.

We join more than 65 other organizations in signing on to the standards. You can join the effort: sign the petition on Your name will be sent to the presidential debate moderators, asking them to adopt the Debate Standards for the upcoming debates.

The Debate Standards are:

We want debaters to:

  1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior
  2. Answer the question being asked by the moderator
  3. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others
  4. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions
  5. Stand against incivility when faced with it

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09.20 Supporting Action Efforts

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 | Matt Leighninger and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 14

Ideas for action emerge naturally in many different forms of public participation. When people talk about issues that are important to them, they often want to:

  • Develop new problem-solving partnerships and new ways to work with others.
  • Express their ideas, concerns, and recommendations to public officials and other decision makers.
  • Strengthen practices and policies within departments, agencies, community organizations, workplaces or other groups.

During participatory processes, people often think about action ideas they would like to take individually and as a community. It is important for participants to be able to hear one another’s ideas and decide together which actions to take.

In some single-day participatory processes, action ideas are shared at the end of the day. In others, there is a separate action-focused event where participants can come together to share ideas. Still others facilitate action efforts with online tools and tactics.

Two skills, planning action events and supporting action teams, can be helpful for all of these processes. (Many of these tips, along with more information on supporting action, are described by Everyday Democracy here.)

Planning an Action-Focused Event

Events that help people transition from dialogue to action typically have three elements:

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09.16 Engaging Ideas - 9/16

Friday, September 16th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Good news on wages from the Census Bureau. Philip Howard on how to restore healthy democratic debate. Columns on accountability, the looming teacher shortage, for-profit colleges, the skills gap and higher deductibles. Plus, a new report on charter schools and why we must banish the word "stakeholders."


Will Civics Education Make People Better Voters? (Governing)
It's making a comeback in public schools. But to really make voters more informed, the curriculum could use an overhaul.

Conversation Becomes Shouting in a Society Without Authority (Daily Beast)
Philip Howard writes: “There is a solution here. Restoring healthy democratic debate requires a healthy democratic structure. American public discourse has degenerated into a free-for-all because there’s no cost to being unreasonable. People will have an incentive to be reasonable only when officials have room to act on this question: What’s the right thing to do here?”

Opinion Research

How We Undercounted Evictions By Asking The Wrong Questions (FiveThirtyEight)
Conducting good survey research is hard. Conducting good survey research on people with low incomes — who tend to be transient, hard to reach and often hesitant to greet strangers knocking on their doors — is even harder.


Could Foundations Have Mounted A Better Defense Of The ACA? (Health Affairs Blog)
Given the ongoing vulnerability of the ACA, what could philanthropy have done differently to better support advocacy around implementation and to help shore up this nascent law? Was there temptation to declare victory and move on to other issues? How should advocacy support have gone differently amid the hyperpartisan atmosphere that now surrounds health reform and other critical issues, such as immigration and global warming?

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09.15 Public Skepticism of Higher Education Is Growing. We Need to Confront It.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

One of the great things about the work we do is the opportunity we have to speak frequently with the public regarding their views toward education. This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, and it often enables us to sense and identify emerging trends in public opinion.

The idea that post-secondary education can lead to better economic well-being is often considered by policy elites to be common sense. Yet for a few years now, we've heard rumblings in focus groups which suggest the public’s perception of higher education is shifting.

Survey findings we released this week affirm that shift: the public is far less likely now to perceive a college education as necessary for a good job. And policymakers and experts ought to sit up and take notice.

This view is a reversal of an earlier trend – one of growing support for the necessity of college. For a long time, the public was increasingly likely each year to say that a college education was necessary for success in the working world. The increase held steady for nearly a decade, growing from 31 percent of Americans who said college was necessary in 2000 to 55 percent in 2008 and 2009.

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09.13 Helping Participants Make Group Decisions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 | Matt Leighninger and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 13

In some participatory processes, people will need to select among options or alternatives, or make other kinds of decisions about implementation or action. Two skills may be particularly helpful for making decisions in participatory processes: dotmocracy and keypad polling.


One technique for making decisions is dotmocracy, also known as dot-voting or idea rating. This technique is useful for ranking or selecting ideas, alternatives or options.

In dotmocracy, the facilitator gives all participants an equal number of stickers – usually dots, but any stickers will do. Markers can also be used in place of stickers. The options are written legibly and largely, usually on individual flipchart sheets that are posted on a wall. Participants are then invited to “vote” for their favorite options by placing their stickers on the flipchart sheets.

Participants may spread their votes among a number of options, or consolidate their votes on a single option. The option(s) with the most dots at the end of voting “win.” One variation of dotmocracy uses different color stickers to signify different values, for example, a green dot means something is liked and a red dot means it is disliked.

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09.09 Engaging Ideas - 9/9

Friday, September 9th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Can a Japanese Business Process Help Solve Our Complex Social Problems? (Governing)
Governments are using the "Lean" model to bring efficiency to their operations. But it could be doing a lot more writes John M. Bernard, chairman and founder of Portland, Oregon-based Mass Ingenuity.

Against transparency (Vox)
Matthew Yglesias writes: It’s impossible to write about this issue in today’s environment without thinking of Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. But while the question of whether she appropriately followed the existing laws is obviously important, so is the question of whether the laws make sense. And the answer is: no. Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind.

Public Engagement

Reading Beyond the Headline: Why Seattle’s Ideas Are Worth Stealing (Governing)
Seattle’s Mayor Murray ups the ante on inclusive citizen engagement -- and helps pave the way for the rest of us writes Ron Littlefield, a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a senior fellow with the Governing Institute.


What Homer Simpson's 100+ jobs tell us about America's middle class (Vox)
Homer Simpson has economically stagnated, just like the real American middle class. I plotted out Homer’s hypothetical job salaries in a linear order, by episode number. Over the course of 597 episodes — from 1989 to 2016 — it’s clear that Homer has not climbed the economic ranks.

As 5 States Vote on Minimum Wage, Not All Look to Raise It (Governing)
Most of November's minimum-wage ballot measures would increase workers' pay. But one state's would actually reduce it for some.

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09.08 Reinventing Economic and Political Opportunity

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 | Will Friedman, Ph.D.

Photo: Nathan Keirn

Most Americans do not particularly resent wealth. In fact, they respect those who make it big, especially if they do so through ingenuity and hard work, and hope to do the same themselves.

But if they feel that their own economic opportunities are diminishing rather than expanding, people begin to feel mounting frustration as they question society’s basic fairness.

If more and more of life’s essentials—housing, college, health care—skyrocket in price well beyond what people can reasonably afford, people begin to feel desperate.

And if they believe that the wealthy have undue political influence, so that the average person’s recourse in both the economic and political spheres has closed down, then people begin to feel enraged.

This brings us to the present political moment.

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