Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, May 29, 2014
This Week's Headlines
Rebooting Democracy
Missing the Mark on Big Data in Higher Ed
Engaging Ideas
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Rebooting Democracy: Dan Yankelovich on Capitalism, Social Mobility and Democracy

Last week, we launcheda new blogfrom Public Agenda co-founder Dan Yankelovich. In Rebooting Democracy, Dan intends to explore how our country's current form of capitalism is failing our democracy and what we can do to fix this problem. The blog has been called "a game changer for deliberative work."

Dan is not only one of the towering figures in the evolution of public opinion research, he is also a public-spirited and pragmatic intellectual who has devoted his life to thinking through the problems facing America's democratic experiment and the strategies we might employ to keep it on course. And he does this without partisan rancor or indulgence. His blog is a continuation of this lifelong effort.

Dan envisions this blog not as a passive repository of ideas but as a platform for dialogue, and we hope you will consider leaving a comment on the blog to add to that dialogue.†

The first two posts of Rebooting Democracy are live, and the blog will be published on a weekly basis. Sign up to receive email notifications of new posts, or subscribe to the blog's RSS feed here.
Missing the Mark on Big Data in Higher Ed

Word that the federal administration intends to create a grading system for colleges has unnerved college leaders and set off a maelstrom of debate. But all of the arguments cast out by both supporters and naysayers lack a key consideration: for some students, at least,†the data behind the proposed grading system just aren't meaningful.

The college grading system ostensibly aims to help prospective students make better choices about where to attend school. Ultimately, grades would be used to allocate federal student loans and grants. The system would be based on factors including how many students graduate from the college, how much debt they accrue, and what alumni earn.

But prospective students we surveyed last year - many of whom are underserved by the traditional college system - did not immediately understand how these sorts of data relate to their own chances for success in college and in the work force. In fact, just about half of the students we surveyed think statistics like a college's graduation rate, loan default rate, or the types of jobs and salaries that average graduates get is "essential" information to know during college searches.†

In focus groups, these students assumed such metrics reflected more on the effort of individuals and less on the school. They believe they will stick to it and graduate - and it's good that they have this optimism! So, for them, information about graduation or drop-out rates isn't particularly valuable during college searches.†

This blasť attitude seems at odds with the
worries†and†priorities these students have about potential schools - affordability, debt and job prospects top the list. But it's not that students are thoughtless or willfully ignorant. The problem is that big data is failing to meet its mark.

If higher education leaders truly want to help prospective students choose a college that maximizes their academic and financial prospects, they must engage students and provide the support these students need to interpret school quality data and connect it to their own lives.

Learn moreabout how they can do so.†

Engaging Ideas

A collection of stories and reports from the past couple weeks that caught our attention and sparked consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues.†

(New America Foundation)
Two interesting conversations about overcoming barriers to fast-paced tech innovation and to college attainment, all recorded at the annual 10 Big Ideas Conference.
(New York Times)
The New York Times editorial board looks critically at President Obama's request that homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, delay a review of the administration's immigration enforcement policies.†
(Talking Points Memo)
David Shorr's analysis of the current political discourse adds to the conversation on what has been called "asymmetrical polarization."

Acknowledging its complexity, the NPR education team answers reader questions about the national education standards know as Common Core.†

(City Lab)
Well, they're not really people - it's actually a statistically representative group of avatars that will help guide The Regional Plan Association's Fourth Regional Plan.
About Us
Public Agendais 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

Help our nation make progress on its toughest challenges.†Donate today.