ON THE AGENDA | JANUARY 22ND, 2016 | Public Agenda

Engaging Ideas - 1/22

This week we were intrigued by articles that looked at solving tough issues like inequality and inequity in politics, education and health care sectors.

A weekly collection of stories, reports and news to spark consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues.


Of the People (New York Times)
Americans share their hopes, fears and frustrations in interviews from the campaign trail.

Rewriting the Rules of Public Engagement (Governing)
Public meetings can be like purgatory. Cities are showing us there’s a better way.

Public Leadership and the Gift of Time Well Spent (Governing)
Civic innovation can improve the way government works, but it needs a long runway.

America’s Divides Aren’t Just Partisan (The Atlantic)
The Republican coalition doesn’t reflect the growing diversity of the United States, while the Democratic coalition has failed to persuade many Americans to embrace its vision of the future.

How Change Happens (New York Times)
Paul Krugman writes: "Idealism is nice, but it’s not a virtue without tough minded realism." As Mr. Obama himself found out as soon as he took office, transformational rhetoric isn’t how change happens. That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since L.B.J. Yet his achievements have depended at every stage on accepting half loaves as being better than none: health reform that leaves the system largely private, financial reform that seriously restricts Wall Street’s abuses without fully breaking its power, higher taxes on the rich but no full-scale assault on inequality.


The problems, usefulness of household surveys in collecting U.S. data (Shorenstein Center)
In recent years, decreasing response rates and data errors — for instance, some respondents give inaccurate information about their personal finances — have challenged the usefulness of some surveys and resulted in lower quality data. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Household Surveys in Crisis,” examines these problems. Bruce D. Meyer of the University of Chicago, Wallace K. C. Mok of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame worked together to better understand these problems and why they occur.

Restoring Opportunity

The Automation Paradox (The Atlantic)
Automation isn’t just for blue-collar workers anymore. Computers are now taking over tasks performed by professional workers, raising fears of massive unemployment. Some people, such as the MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, identify automation as a cause of the slow recovery from the Great Recession and the “hollowing out of the middle class.” Others see white-collar automation as causing a level of persistent technological unemployment that demands policies that would redistribute wealth. Robot panic is in full swing. But these fears are misplaced—what’s happening with automation is not so simple or obvious. It turns out that workers will have greater employment opportunities if their occupation undergoes some degree of computer automation. As long as they can learn to use the new tools, automation will be their friend.

To retain drivers, some trucking companies try giving them a voice on the job (Wonkblog)
But doing so carries risks, because of how American labor law treats employee input.

K-12 Education

Equitable Funding: Which States are Leading the Way? (New America)
Money plays an important role in education, yet many states' funding formulas don’t go far enough to support high-need districts. Abbie Lieberman looks at what the leading states are doing to address these challenges to provide quality early education to all children.

Why the New Education Law Is a Game-Changer (Governing)
No Child Left Behind's replacement focuses as never before on investing in what works.

Funders Fuel a Bigger Push for Family Engagement in Schools (Inside Philanthropy)
Parent involvement is a significant, if underfunded, strategy for student achievement. Now, though, a national movement to increase parent engagement is getting help from some deep-pocketed backers.

Report: The top and bottom of leadership and change (SAGE Journals)
Successful large-scale reform efforts — one in Northern England, another in Canada — bolster the approach of “leading from the middle.” Punitive or supportive, all versions of top-down reform have an Achilles heel. In the leading from the middle approach, districts don’t just mediate and manage other people’s reforms individually; they become the collective drivers of change and improvement together.

Higher Education

Tracking Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor's Degrees (Community College Research Center)
A new report from our partners at CCRC and the Aspen Institute.

Community college students deserve better than they are getting (Washington Post)
Jay Mathews writes: "Sonja Anderson represented a vital part of Northern Virginia Community College’s huge enrollment. She was an electronic-applications engineer who had learned on the job and needed a bachelor’s degree to be paid what she was worth... 'The advising staff was ignorant of key graduation requirements,' she said. “I had no adviser for my first two years. There was a blank where my adviser’s name was supposed to be.'"

Degree Out of Reach: For Community College Students, Making The Jump is Difficult (The Takeaway)
Over the past few months, The Takeaway's Community College Challenge has profiled five colleges with special programs and partnerships. These schools are unique to their locations and the communities they serve and, in many ways, these community colleges are that of an American success story. While these schools stand out, there are also a number of barriers facing many community colleges and their students. A new report out today tackles one of them—transfer to bachelor degree programs. The report, titled "Tracking Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor's Degrees," was researched by The Aspen Institute, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and The Community College Research Center at Columbia University.

Should Colleges Measure Well-Being? (Inside Higher Ed)
Colleges should track the well-being of students, including how specific groups are faring, according to panelists at the Association of American Colleges and Universities' annual meeting. The session was organized by Bringing Theory to Practice, an independent nonprofit group that works with AAC&U.

Health Care

Why Doctors Need To Have Answers For Patients' Questions About Costs (NPR)
Like many doctors, what little I know about medical pricing comes from a combination of what my patients tell me and what my family and I experience personally. There was no formal training in medical school about health care spending or the cost-effectiveness of various tests and treatments. Instead, we were taught to ignore costs and focus on the best care and treatment we could provide. This was health care, American-style. No stone should go unturned in the pursuit of a diagnosis. Any and all resources should be brought to bear in treatment. Payment was almost never discussed in polite company. Fortunately, I think, doctors are warming to the idea that we must be better stewards of the resources we command.

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers (NYT)
Two of our most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far. We’re hitting the targets, but missing the point.

Even With ‘Skin In The Game,’ Health Care Shoppers Are Not More Savvy (KHN)
It’s long been argued that if consumers are shopping with their own money, they will be savvier in their choices of services and doctors. But a research letter published Tuesday highlights a need for “greater availability of price information” as well as “innovative approaches” to make information easier for consumers to use. ... [Researchers] found that even when people were responsible for more of their health costs, they weren’t more likely to consider cost or shop around for the best deal on medical treatments.

Commentary: 'The Price Ain't Right' ain't right (Modern Healthcare)
An unpublished academic study which rated a front-page story in the New York Times on Dec. 15 was well-written and full of interesting information, but it contained no substantive findings that should surprise anyone who has followed health policy or health economics literature in recent years.


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