Public Agenda
Public Agenda Alert -- August 22, 2013
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Back to School Resources
A Better Town Hall
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Back to School: 
Resources that Foster Connections

With the new school year quickly approaching (or already arrived!), we want to share some resources that teachers, principals, and other school leaders, as well as district and state leaders, can use to start out on the right foot:


Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform  

This new book from Public Agenda and the American Institutes for Research provides research-based insights and practical tools for productive teacher engagement in evaluation reform. Its methodology can help the education community overcome current frustration and gridlock to make real progress on typically divisive education reform issues.  Read more about how teachers and school leaders can boost teacher engagement in Education Week.


"Ready, Willing and Able" 

This report looks at parent attitudes toward their children's schools and the role of parental involvement in education. It also provides practical guidance for school and district leaders to differentiate parent outreach and boost parental involvement and engagement. Read more in the full report. 



Another one of our new reports captures the insights of parents regarding the accountability movement in education and examines where views align and diverge between parents and education leaders. Read more in the full report.  

This discussion starter series will help teachers and professors generate student interest on public issues like immigration, health care, and energy while stimulating productive dialogue on possible solutions. Read more on how to frame these topics for deliberation. 

These inspiring stories of success from nine high-poverty, high-achieving schools can help energize teachers, administrators and staff. Read more in the full report. 


A Better Alternative to the Town Hall

A New York Times article last week cast a harsh spotlight on town hall meetings. Once a favored strategy of the Republican party, politicians have come to avoid town halls, sometimes even shielding their schedules from constituents.


"Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say," said one Senate Republican aide in the article. "It's the other 5 or 10 percent who aren't. They're there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting."


We heard similar reports from local government officials in California regarding traditional public meetings. These local officials said that public meetings are typically dominated by people with narrow agendas and attract complainers and "professional citizens"; they don't give voice to the real public.


Yet the public is yearning for a voice, and, as the Times article notes, will take matters into their own hands - sometimes in productive ways, often not.


The negative experience of the town hall has eroded the relationship between officials and the constituents they represent. How can we reinvent the town hall so that officials and their constituents see public meetings as a healthy way to boost meaningful participation in governance?


We've covered this topic a few times before, and you can read our insights on fostering better civic engagement on the Huffington Post, on our blog and in a past Alert. Through our past experience, we've learned that:

  • When members of the public have the opportunity to interact with policy choices and engage with those holding opposing views, they are able to work through tradeoffs and wishful thinking. This process contributes to a healthier dialogue on the issues. We call this "deliberative engagement."
  • Deliberative engagement is not appropriate for all situations, but local officials say (and we agree) that it is helpful in making fundamental choices about the future of a community, especially in decisions that require making tough tradeoffs and that are hotly disputed or gridlocked.
  • A deliberative public meeting may be more difficult to design than a town hall (perhaps why the former is more rare), but it's been done in the past, and done well. Read some principles and practices that can help public officials and community-based organizations boost deliberative engagement.

PA in the News  

Commentary: How to Boost Teacher Voice in Education Policy
Education Week includes commentary from Public Agenda's Allison Rizzolo and Ellen Sherratt of the American Institutes for Research regarding ways teachers can - and should - lead discussions on education reform
Study Looks at Parental Involvement with Children at School
Carolin Hagelskamp, Ph.D., director of research, spoke to KMBZ Kansas City about the different ways parents seek involvement in their child's education. 

The Davenport Institute Partners on New Survey Study of Public Engagement in California
In the August issue, Pepperdine University Magazine announced the release of two reports on public engagement in California, which were conducted by Public Agenda in partnership with the Institute for Local Government and the Davenport Institute.  

The Paradox of Classroom Boredom
Professor Mark Baurlein of Emory University described the correlation between lack of motivation and boredom in class to college drop out rates. The article references a Public Agenda report, With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them, which looked at the reasons why students are unable to complete college coursework. 

About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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