ON THE AGENDA | JANUARY 27TH, 2017 | Public Agenda

Engaging Ideas - 1/27/2017

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Why the U.S. was downgraded to a "flawed democracy." How political division dehumanizes us. An interactive look at schools trying to make the American Dream real for poor kids. And a new online project to improve the national healthcare conversation through a better informed public.


US no longer considered 'full democracy,' group says (The Hill)
The United States was downgraded from "full democracy" to "flawed democracy" in the 2016 Democracy Index, which cites declining trust in the government as the cause of its new rating. The report is the Economist Intelligence Unit's ninth annual Democracy Index, which looks at the state of governments across the world. President Trump, the report says, harnessed that low trust of the government to win the presidency. The report, however, doesn't blame the new rating entirely on Trump, noting the downward trend in trust over the last several decades. The U.S. has been "teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy" for years, the report says. It cites the decline starting with the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal.

Why Trump Is Thriving in an Age of Distrust (The Atlantic)
“Populism is people taking authority back from institutions they no longer have faith in.”

Real research suggests we should stop freaking out over fake news (Wonkblog)
Using a lot of complex math involving vote margins and numbers on the effectiveness of political advertising, they estimate that the average fake news story would have to be about 36 times as persuasive as the average political campaign ad for fake news to have tipped the balance of the election. While that estimate relies on a lot of strong assumptions and some flat-out guesswork, it does provide a good ballpark estimate of the effect of fake news in 2016. Going on these numbers, the effect of fake news seems to be a lot smaller than many observers had initially feared.

The Challenge of Populism to Deliberative Democracy (Participedia via NCDD)
As populism sees a global resurgence, it is critical for our field to examine what this phenomenon means for our work. That’s why we encourage our network to give some thought to the insights offered in this piece from Lucy Parry of Participedia – an NCDD member organization. In it, Lucy examines the way citizens juries in Australia violate the core tenets of populism, and encourage us to consider how deliberative democracy – especially approaches using mini-publics – may need to evolve to avoid being delegitimized by populist challenges.


Our New Age of Contempt (The Stone, The New York Times)
We’ve entered a new age of contempt. On both sides of the political spectrum, contempt dehumanizes people by marking them as unworthy of engagement.

Everybody's in a Bubble, and That's a Problem (The Atlantic)
In politics as well as business, people are shaped by who they see—and who they don't.


What President Trump doesn’t understand about job creation (and destruction) (Vox)
In a healthy economy, jobs are constantly being created and eliminated. Labor market fluidity — the level of gross labor market flows — has been on the decline for decades. You might think that a decline in job destruction would be a good thing if fewer people are losing jobs. And during a recession when job creation slows down, you’d be correct. However, when the economy is expanding, most job separations are people quitting their jobs. Quitting your job is usually a sign that you’ve found a new job. More quitting means firms are poaching workers who already have jobs, and competition for workers ends up boosting wage growth. Job destruction in the absence of healthy job creation is a dangerous thing. But trying to suppress it could be damaging. A president who takes time to chide each factory closing would not only have little time for the other aspects of his job, but also risks reducing some of the beneficial aspects of creative destruction.

K-12 Education

Who's Ready to Be a Principal? (Education Week)
Along the way, most who aspire to the principalship will land in a university-based preparation program. There, they take a series of courses and obtain some in-the-field experience that leads them to the required credentials to become a school leader. But very often, those programs don’t bestow the knowledge and skills that make would-be principals truly ready for the complex job that awaits. This issue of Education Week looks at why.

8 Questions to Confront After Obama's $7 Billion Failure (The 74)
A study conducted by the research firm Mathematica compared schools that could receive a turnaround grant with schools that just missed the eligibility threshold. The idea — known to researchers as a “regression discontinuity” — is that schools on either side of an arbitrary point are similar: the bottom 5th percentile of schools, which were eligible for SIG, compared with the bottom 6th percentile, which weren’t. The question of generalizing the outcomes of 190 schools to 850 is especially relevant because a study of turnarounds in North Carolina found that the regression discontinuity method showed no effect in lower grades, but another approach looking at all schools showed positive impacts. Still, a separate study in California showed positive results for SIG using the same discontinuity method, so it’s not as if it’s inherently biased against improved outcomes.

New Blog Series Examines Research Use Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (William T. Grant Foundation)
As states and districts begin their work under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), how can we ensure that their decisions are informed by the best research available? To explore this question, the American Youth Policy Forum has launched a nine-part blog series to share lessons learned, resources, and insights on how states and districts can best use research evidence in their efforts to plan for and implement ESSA. Our own Vivian Tseng, and Anu Malipatil of the Overdeck Foundation Family Foundation, kicked off the series last week with their post, "Learning Systems: Improving Education in States and Districts."

Interactive: The View From Room 205: Can schools make the American Dream real for poor kids? (WBEZ Chicago)
When you talk to kids like Kelsey — or so many of the kids in Room 205 — you feel like it is so possible to overcome poverty — by sheer positivity, smarts, curiosity.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

A new deal between higher education and democratic capitalism (Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce)
In a new essay, We Need a New Deal between Higher Education and Democratic Capitalism, Dr. Anthony Carnevale chronicles the conflict between capitalism and democracy that began in the 1800s. It also explores the dual role that higher education plays in serving both human flourishing and economic empowerment, and, as a result, raises the question of whether every student seeking postsecondary education is being adequately served in the present system.

Survey says: Americans still not sure where they stand on higher ed (New America)
The first survey targeted likely voters; the second surveyed the general population. They show that there are battle-lines — though not all are drawn along party lines. Government funding, debt forgiveness, and personal responsibility are all areas of disagreement, and in these areas we should anticipate some substantive changes. There is clear bipartisan support for debt refinancing, income-driven repayment, and borrower protections from fraudulent or deceptive practices.

Statewide credit transfer system bill proposed for Connecticut state colleges, universities (The Middletown Press)
A bill was introduced last week to establish a transfer program between Connecticut’s community college system and all its public four-year institutions. House Bill 573, which has been referred to the state legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, will require faculty and staff of the 17 Connecticut community colleges, state universities and University of Connecticut to develop transfer pathways to ensure the seamless transfer of credits. UConn rejects more than 20 percent of credits from community college transfer students, according to analysis by Mullane.

Private Colleges Court Community-College Students (The Wall Street Journal)
In the past year alone, more than a dozen private colleges and universities nationwide have signed deals to make it easier for community-college students to transfer in. They’re swaying prospective students thanks to hefty scholarship offers and guarantees of graduating in four years, nearly eliminating cost differentials with public counterparts. It’s part of small, private colleges’ broader strategy to diversify their revenue streams.

How Do They Do It? A Few Wealthy Private Colleges Have Found Ways to Serve Many Needy Students Without Jeopardizing Their Financial Health (The Hechinger Report/PBS NewsHour)
Four elite private colleges are leading the way in graduating more low-income students.

Health Care

Resource: The Zetema Project
The Zetema Project aims to improve the quality and productivity of the national healthcare conversation through a better informed public. Our diverse panel of top healthcare leaders debates the key problems and solutions so you can get all sides of each argument and draw your own conclusions.

Trump's healthcare promise too sunny for reality (Modern Healthcare)
President Donald Trump said in a television interview that he and his party would put forward a healthcare plan that costs less, covers more people and delivers better healthcare. That trifecta, however, is nearly impossible without tradeoffs that voters would object to.

How We Can Repeal The ACA And Still Insure The Uninsured (Health Affairs Blog)
Even if the ACA stays in place, there will still be almost 30 million people without health insurance. The initial goal of reform should be: making sure everyone has access to health insurance that is affordable and that gives them dependable access to medical care.

Here's What Primary Care Doctors Really Think About Obamacare (The Los Angeles Times)
A post-election survey of primary care physicians reveals that majorities of the doctors that first treat most Americans do not support some of the GOP’s most widely circulated plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Conducted in December and January and published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the new survey shows that nearly three-quarters of general practitioners favored making changes to the Obama administration’s signature health care reform measure.

Poll: 1 in 5 nurses wouldn't make same career choice again (Healthcare Dive)
Nurses with more than 21 years in the profession were more likely to be disillusioned than those with less than one year of practice, according to a new Medscape report.

Paying doctors bonuses for better health outcomes makes sense in theory. But it doesn't work. (Vox)
When it comes to doctors, pay-for-performance programs just don't work, Harvard's Stephen Soumerai and Penn's Ross Koppel argue.


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