ON THE AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 16TH, 2016 | Public Agenda

Engaging Ideas - 9/16

A collection of recent stories and reports to make you think about how to make progress on divisive issues.

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?


Middle class incomes had their fastest growth on record last year (Wonkblog)
The incomes of typical Americans rose in 2015 by 5.2  percent, the first significant boost to middle-class pay since the end of the Great Recession and the fastest increase ever recorded by the federal government, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. In addition, the poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968. The numbers, from the government's annual report on income, poverty and health insurance, suggest the recovery from recession is finally beginning to lift the fortunes of large swaths of American workers and families. The Obama administration and its allies immediately hailed them in glowing terms. All told, the gains brought median incomes nearly back to their levels before the recession, after adjusting for inflation, though they remain below 1999 levels.

5 ways the census income report misleads us about the real state of the economy (Vox)
Matt Yglesias writes: “I come not to praise Tuesday’s census report but to bury it. Or at least question its methodologies... [T]he census income report is a deeply flawed data set, offering a confusing and somewhat inaccurate picture of the American economy. This doesn’t necessarily undermine the celebrations. The ways in which the census’s data sets are flawed suggests the underlying reality might be even better than Tuesday’s rosy report suggested. But the uncertainty here should be acknowledged when we discuss the report.”

Do We Need to Redefine 'Better Off'? (City Lab)
Most Americans do not believe that the next generation will be “better off” than their parents. But what does that mean?

Studies Discredit State Policies That Punish Poor People for Saving Money (Governing)
Proponents like Maine Gov. Paul LePage argue so-called asset tests save states money and shrink welfare rolls. New research suggests otherwise.

K-12 Education

‘Accountability’: Reclaiming the Worst Word in Education (Education Week Teacher)
Education policy often fails because it tries to remove the human element from the most human profession imaginable. You can’t force teachers to feel true accountability to arbitrary cutoff scores on tests that seem to have been written by machines. More importantly, you don’t need to. Teachers already feel a deep sense of accountability to the people most directly impacted by our work: parents, our colleagues, and the children who only get one shot at the grade or class we teach. Let me give you some examples.

Report: The Ultimate Choice: How Charter Authorizers Approve and Renew Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans (Education Research Alliance)
The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans suggests that "the charter authorization process can partly succeed in excluding low-performing charters, especially if great efforts are made to interview candidates and references and to visit sites of applicants' current schools."

Room for Debate: Is School Reform Hopeless? (The New York Times)
Last week a Connecticut judge ruled that the educational disparities between rich and poor districts were so great and so persistent that the state needed to revise every major aspect of its school system. The problems he found exist throughout the United States. Why is failure so widespread and persistent in poor districts and how can it be resolved?

The Undervaluing of Guidance Counselors (The Atlantic)
Their role is crucial to helping more students reach higher education.

Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It's Time To Address The National Teacher Shortage (NPR)
New national reports out today by the Learning Policy Institute look at the widening teacher shortage problem — and offer solutions.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

The Conversation About America's Skills Gap Is Changing (The U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
For the past year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and USA Funds have partnered on a pilot program designed to close the skills gap. The initiative, called Talent Pipeline Management, was developed to put the business community in the so-called driver's seat of education partnerships. The program was adapted from lessons learned in supply chain management and incorporated into developing qualified talent that's ready to hit the ground running on Day One.

Understudied Barriers to Transfer (Inside Higher Ed)
From Davis Jenkins and John Fink: One obstacle to transfer student success that has not been adequately studied is that, compared to students who enter college through a four-year institution, community college entrants earn college-level credits at a slower pace. Part of this is due to the fact that community college students are more likely to enroll part time or to take remedial credits, which do not count toward a degree.

Ask an Economist: How Can Today's College Students Future-Proof Their Careers? (The Atlantic)
A panel of experts gives some (pretty dispiriting) advice to a generation that will come of age as automation does.

Does It Pay to Start at Community College? Maybe (The Wall Street Journal)
Alex T. Williams says he largely had to take the transfer process into his own hands, even though the two Texas colleges he attended had an agreement designed to make the transfer process easier. He met with advisers frequently, but often received contradictory information about what credits would carry over.

After ITT's Demise, More Trouble Is Likely for For-Profit Colleges (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board called the department’s crackdown "Obama’s for-profit execution," noting that none of the allegations had been proved. But that critique failed to reflect that ITT could have been in better shape to weather the department’s financial demands had it not spent $2.1 billion of its cash over the past 15 years buying back its own stock, a tactic typically used to bolster stock prices, or paying out more than $22.7 million in salary and bonuses to its chief executive, Kevin M. Modany from 2011 through 2015.

Health Care

Banishing 'Stakeholders' (Milbank Quarterly)
The purpose of good health policy, however, is not to make the stakeholders happy. Instead, the purpose is to advance the health of the public at reasonable cost. Sadly, a number of health regulations and payment policies include provisions that favor financially interested parties with negative or no benefit for the public at large. “Stakeholder engagement” can put such interested parties on the same level as the many individuals and families who pay more, suffer worse quality of care, or go without key preventive interventions. In essence, in a world where everyone is a “stakeholder,” there is less room for the public interest.

Health Care Costs Still Push Americans Into Poverty (CBS News)
The Census Bureau had plenty of good news on Tuesday, including a headline-making 5.2 percent increase in household income, a 1.2 percentage point decline in the number of people living in poverty and a 1.3 percent drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. But one number buried in the Census Bureau report goes against the positive trend. It’s the Supplemental Poverty Measure, and it shows that the steep costs of health care continue to push millions of Americans into poverty.

How Yelp Reviews Can Help Improve Patient Care (The New York Times)
Americans cry out for more choice in their health care. This sometimes gets translated to mean a choice of insurance companies. But Americans with government-provided Medicare, who have the least choice of insurers, have the most choices when it comes to providers. And they seem to use that freedom to choose providers who perform better.

Employer Costs Slow As Consumers Use Less Care, Deductibles Soar (Kaiser Health News)
Employer health insurance expenses continued to rise by relatively low amounts this year, aided by moderate increases in total medical spending but also by workers taking a greater share of the costs, new research shows. Average premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage rose 3.4 percent for 2016, down from annual increases of nearly twice that much before 2011 and double digits in the early 2000s, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.


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