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04.13 Engaging Ideas - 4/13/2017

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Tech Creates Our Political Echo Chambers. It Might Also Be A Solution (NPR)
The Pew Research Center has found that about two-thirds of adults get news from social media. Analysts have blamed technology for creating an online echo chamber.

Our Addiction To Elections Is Killing American Democracy (The Nation)
It’s time to embrace other avenues of political engagement.


Report: Economic Mobility in America: A State-of-the-Art Primer (Archbridge Institute)
The estimates constitute a comprehensive suite of mobility measures. The report also discusses the strengths and weaknesses of summary measures in assessing the extent of equal opportunity. An up- to-the-minute literature review on levels of American economic mobility is included in an appendix.

Can the American republic survive extreme economic inequality? (Washington Post)
Ganesh Sitaraman wrote his new book, “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution,” before voters went to the polls in November. But he saw enough in the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders primary campaigns to assess the significance of the election. “After thirty years of a collapsing middle class,” he writes, “after thirty years of an economy designed to stack the deck in favor of the big guys; after thirty years of a political and constitutional system increasingly rigged to work for economic elites — after all this, the people revolted.”

K-12 Education

Merit Pay for Teachers Can Lead to Higher Test Scores for Students, a Study Finds (EdWeek)
Teacher participation in a merit-pay program led to the equivalent of four extra weeks of student learning, according to a
new analysis of 44 studies of incentive-pay initiatives in the United States and abroad.

How I Learned to Take the SAT Like a Rich Kid (The New York Times)
I realized that they didn’t just want to score exceptionally well on the SAT. They were gunning for a score on the Preliminary SAT exams that would put them in the top percentile of students in the United States and make them National Merit Scholars in the fall. It was disconcerting. The majority of low- and middle-income 11th graders I know in Michigan didn’t even sit for the preliminary exams. Most took the SAT cold.

How Are Charters and District Schools Working Together? In Many Ways (EdWeek)
The number of school districts and charter schools that are interested in actively working together is on the rise, according to Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which researches district-charter collaborations and provides technical assistance to districts and charter schools looking to work together.

Idaho gives education money directly to teenagers to manage themselves (Hechinger Report)
Every seventh grader gets $4,125 to spend on early college credits. “If the money was the thing that stopped you, that’s not going to stop you anymore, unless you’re just being lazy,” Senior Cassandra Madrigal, 17, said. With her allotment, she’ll easily cover the cost of this year’s AP tests and her Boise State University-certified statistics class..

Higher Education & Workforce Development

An Interstate Transfer Passport: Its Time Has Come (New England Journal of Higher Education)
The early results for the Interstate Passport program are beginning to come in. As of February 2017, 21 institutions in six states were formal members of the Interstate Passport Network. Institutions in an additional 10 states are exploring or preparing to apply for membership. A total of 9,082 student passports were issued in fall 2016—the first term they could be awarded.

New York Adopts Free Tuition (Inside Higher Ed)
SUNY and CUNY students from families with incomes up to $125,000 will not pay tuition. But some aid experts are alarmed by requirement that graduates stay in state for same number of years they receive the benefit.

Health Care

Survey: 1 in 5 patients comparison-shop for healthcare (Fierce Health Care)
Many Americans want access to price transparency tools for healthcare, but they continue to run into roadblocks when they seek information on costs for services. A nationwide survey conducted by Public Agenda found that about half of patients in the U.S. have tried to find how much their healthcare would cost before going to get care, but 63% said that there is not enough information on costs available.

Think tank finds little transparency in Massachusetts hospital prices (Mass Live)
Massachusetts state law requires doctors and hospitals to tell patients how much a procedure costs, if a patient asks. By and large, the providers are not complying, according to a study released Monday by the Pioneer Institute.

The real metric for fixing health care (American Thinker)
Patients in Tennessee are seeing insurers drop out of the Obamacare exchanges like flies – another reminder that America's signature health care program has serious problems with dire consequences. Both major political parties acknowledge Obamacare's woes, but different metrics for fixing these problems have made civil and rational discussion impossible.


04.07 Engaging Ideas - 4/7/2017

Friday, April 7th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The dangers of partisan animosity (Vox)
There has been a lot of talk lately, from all political corners, about threats to democracy. Arguably chief among these is the growing hostility between Republicans and Democrats. Parties serve vital functions in our government and politics, and the lack of competition between parties, in part due to antagonistic perceptions between partisans, disrupts parties’ ability to function.


Research: Making It in America Depends on Where You Work (Harvard Business Review)
Imagine you’re a middle class American, with an average education and average skills. You’re employed. What are the chances that next year you’ll vault into the top third of earners? It depends quite a bit on the company you work for.


In our opinion: Town halls work best with civil dialogue (Deseret News)
The current political climate has given rise to a surge of citizen engagement in the public square, as witnessed by the large crowd attending a town hall meeting recently staged by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart. Though such participation is healthy in the democratic process, the nature of the engagement has often left much to be hoped for in the way of well-reasoned, civil dialogue.

Participatory budgeting volunteers get word out amid skepticism (Triad City Beat)
Tony Wilkins, a Republican who represents suburban District 5 on Greensboro City Council, is one of the most vocal opponents of participatory budgeting, a process that carves out $500,000 from the city’s multi-million dollar annual budget and allows residents 14 years and older to vote directly on how the money is spent.

How Seattle Is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure (Next City)
At a time when rents are soaring and development is more contentious than ever before, a little-known city agency is rethinking its role in neighborhood planning.

K-12 Education

The Power of One: New Research Shows Black Students See Big Benefits From a Single Black Teacher (The 74)
To determine how exposure to a black teacher impacts black students, the researchers — including Lindsay, Seth Gershenson of American University, Cassandra Hart of the University of California Davis, and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University — used an extensive data set from the early 2000s in North Carolina.
They examine whether students attended a school and had a class with a black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade, and then link that to whether students dropped out of high school and if they said they intended to go to college.

Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These? (The New York Times)
The truth is that school systems improve not through flash and dazzle but by linking talented teachers, a challenging curriculum and engaged students. This is the not-so-secret-sauce of Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Okla.: Start out with an academically solid foundation, then look for ways to keep getting better.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

6 Reasons You Won't Graduate on Time (The New York Times)
We asked educators to identify the biggest obstacles to a timely graduation. They talked about students who aim for a four-year finish but fail to take the right courses in the right order. Other students conclude that graduating in four years isn’t so important, and cut back on classes to make more time for play. Here are the six roadblocks most cited, and ways to tackle the problem.

States Want More Career and Technical Training, But Struggle to Find Teachers (Stateline)
Nationally, career and technical education (CTE) isn’t the area with the worst teacher shortage — that’s special education. But two-thirds of states are currently reporting a shortage of CTE teachers in at least one specialty, according to a Stateline analysis of federal data. Many states, such as Minnesota and South Dakota, have had a shortage of CTE teachers for a decade. Some states, such as Maine, Maryland and New York, have had a shortage for almost 20 years.

To Ease The Student Debt Crisis, Hold Colleges Responsible (FiveThirtyEight)
College, like any investment, involves risk — and that risk doesn’t pay off for everyone. Roughly three out of every five individuals nationally are not making any progress paying down the principal balance of their student loans three years after they leave school (the numbers improve a bit in later years, but are still strikingly high). And because student loans are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy, this particular form of debt can follow people for the rest of their lives, even resulting in the garnishment of Social Security checks.

Policy Memo: The Power of Career- and Employer-Focused Training and Education (MDRC)

Health Care

Blood test: $522 or $19? MRI: $750 or $495? Tell us what health care is costing you (
"Cracking the Code: The real cost of health care," a joint project that | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News launched on April 5 to help consumers navigate the increasingly murky waters of modern day health care pricing, and to explore what providers, insurers and regulators could do to improve the system.

Fight over a state healthcare transparency bill goes mostly uncovered (Columbia Journalism Review)
In Ohio, 3rd Rail Politics—a blog that pledges to show “the side of politics other publications ignore”—recently detailed the political hardball that has blocked the implementation and enforcement of a patient protection law.

Research Brief: Consumer-Centric Healthcare: Rhetoric vs. Reality (Health Care Value Hub)
From patient-centered care to consumer-directed health plans, changes in the delivery, financing, and organization of healthcare and health coverage are increasingly touted as consumer- or patient-centered. But does today’s system accurately reflect consumers’ true needs and preferences?

Will 2017 Be the Year for Major Healthcare Price Transparency Reform? (The SSI Group)
Primary goals of healthcare reform include the core principles of reducing healthcare spending and providing cost-effective, high-quality care. Healthcare pricing transparency is a key piece to this puzzle, and it comes in the form of estimation tools that allow consumers to compare prices for healthcare services among multiple providers.


03.31 Engaging Ideas - 3/31/2017

Friday, March 31st, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Study: 60 percent of rural millennials lack access to a political life (The Conversation)
Like older voters, young ones were divided by the 2016 presidential election. A recent study of millennial voters by Tufts University found that young people had starkly different opinions about politics and civic institutions based on race, gender and social class. One important dividing line separated rural and urban youth.

Opinion: Why Democrats Should Work With Trump (The New York Times)
Would Mr. Trump accept Democrats’ help on these terms? If he really wants to start racking up “wins” for his voters, he would. He’d have to share credit — a novel experience — with Democrats, who’d get points from swing voters for being pragmatic and competent. And they wouldn’t be constrained from fiercely opposing Mr. Trump on just about everything else. America doesn’t have room for two parties of “no.”


America's explosion of income inequality, in one amazing animated chart (The Los Angeles Times)
The best graphical illustration of the economic trend we've seen is this animation, showing the shift in "middle income" households from 1971 to 2015.

Re-Capturing the American Dream: How to Restore Middle Class America (Harvard Political Review)
For most middle class Americans, the dream of a stable, well-paying job is a fiction of a past long-departed. With the arrival of the modern system of flexible labor, working class America has waved goodbye to the economic prosperity championed by its forefathers—and begrudgingly welcomed an economy marked by stagnant income levels.

Is Trump Making America Great Again? The American Dream Index Is Keeping Score (Forbes)
To gauge whether Trump is delivering on his promise to Make America Great Again, Forbes is introducing the American Dream Index. The index strives to capture whether the economy is strong enough to deliver middle-class prosperity, or put another way, the American Dream.


Hartford Decides: Empowering Residents To Choose How To Improve Their City (Hartford Courant)
Hartford's initiative, called Hartford Decides, is the first of its kind in Connecticut. It is part of a growing trend in what's known as participatory budgeting, an approach to civic engagement that is cropping up across the country, including Boston and New York City.

Can Austin innovate itself out of long meetings? (Austin Monitor)
Given the recent tilt toward performance art at City Council meetings – those poor eggs! – and running times that are the longest among major cities in Texas, it seems like the last thing Austin needs is more citizen participation on civic matters big and small.

K-12 Education

The Challenge of Creating Schools That Work for All (EdWeek)
One high-achieving school works to get a handle on the racial- and income-based disparities that continue to divide its students.

Report: Teachers’ Voices: Work Environment Conditions That Impact Teacher Practice and Program Quality (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment)
To facilitate the process of bringing teachers’ voices into quality improvement strategies, CSCCE developed Supportive Environmental Quality Underlying Adult Learning, or SEQUAL, as a tool to document contextual information about workplace conditions that impact teacher practice and program quality and to build a vocabulary for the field around teachers’ needs for workplace supports.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Report: Performance Requirements in Need-Based Aid: What Roles Do They Serve, and Do They Work?  (CAPSEE)
Our impact analyses in both states/studies confirm that SAP failure can act as an encouragement or a discouragement, depending upon the student: overall we find a negative effect of SAP failure on persistence, but we also find that students who do return modestly improve their GPAs, at least in the short term.

At College, a Guided Path on Which to Find Oneself (The New York Times)
Colleges use different parts of the strategy and give it different names, although it often goes by “guided pathways.” The underlying idea is to give students firm guidance in choosing the right courses, along with structured, clear course sequences that lead to graduation. Colleges also monitor students’ progress closely and intervene when they go off track. One college has used guided pathways from the start: the City University of New York’s Guttman Community College.

Google Hopes To Hire More Black Engineers By Bringing Students To Silicon Valley (KQED)
Howard, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., is sending computer science students to study at Google's headquarters in California, as part of an effort called Howard West.

Google Maps for Degrees? How One College Plans to Chart Out Student Pathways (EdSurge)
The goal, says Randi Harris, assistant to the vice provost for academic innovation and student success, is to incorporate a degree audit tool into the map software so students can plan and see the courses they need to graduate, as well as how that path might change if they decide to switch majors. And when they make those decisions, it could point students in the direction of the services they might need, like an academic or financial aid advisor.

This Time, With Feeling: Integrating Social and Emotional Development and College- and-Career-Ready Standards (Aspen)
This report draws directly from states' standards in English, Science, and Math to demonstrate that the standards themselves require more than academic content knowledge. For example, giving and receiving critical feedback—one of the hallmarks of rigorous academic discourse, and a skill emphasized in state standards—clearly requires the development of skills beyond academic content.

Health Care

Effectively Moving Toward Value-Based Care (AJMC)
The move away from fee-for-service (FFS) has driven some health plans to embrace value-based care contracts and accountable care organizations (ACOs). During a session at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy Annual Meeting, held March 27-30, 2017, in Denver, Colorado, panelists outlined how the marketplace has evolved.

State and local lawmakers call for more transparency on health care costs (KTVA Alaska)
The price of health care in Alaska is higher than anywhere else in the nation. With national reform on the back burner, state lawmakers in Juneau are joining with the Anchorage Assembly in demanding more transparency from health care providers.

Telehealth Doctor Visits May Be Handy, But Aren't Cheaper Overall (KQED)
Many patients like the convenience of being able to quickly consult a doctor by text or phone or webcam instead of heading to an urgent care clinic. But the cost of consultations can add up.

Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? They’re One Reason Health Care Costs So Much. (The New York Times)
Hospitals have learned to manipulate medical codes — often resulting in mind-boggling bills.

What a Bipartisan Approach to U.S. Health Care Could Look Like (Harvard Business Review)
The ACA (or Obamacare) remains a flawed law. But rather than allow it to “implode” or “collapse,” as some suggest it will (e.g., President Trump), a group of Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington should take action and fix the broken elements of the ACA for the good of the millions of Americans who depend on it. It is time for a compromise. What might such a bipartisan agreement look like? Here are some ideas.


03.30 How 4 States are Tackling Health Care Price Transparency

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

With out-of-pocket medical costs continuing to rise in the form of high deductibles and insurance premiums, as well as copayments and even coinsurance, many Americans are feeling the squeeze. There is no quick fix, as the hastily introduced and quickly withdrawn American Health Care Act Bill showed, but potential solutions do exist that can help individuals and families obtain more affordable health care.

In recent years, insurers, state governments, employers and other entities have been trying to make health care price information more easily available. The belief is that with increased price transparency, Americans will be more aware of how much their medical care costs, leading them to “shop around” to save money. In 2015, Public Agenda conducted the first nationally representative survey of how Americans seek and use health care price information. Since then, what has been done to make health care price information more transparent? And are these initiatives effective?

New Hampshire was one of three states that received a grade of “A” for its price transparency laws from Catalyst for Payment Reform in 2016. Health insurers in New Hampshire must disclose price information to their members. The state also runs a free website providing price information that is specific to each resident’s insurer, deductible size and coinsurance.

Florida, on the other hand, was one of 43 states that received a grade of “F.” But the state passed price transparency legislation in 2016. Just this year, the state selected a vendor to create a more robust online price information tool and began implementing an all-payer claims database—a crucial building block of price transparency efforts.

Also receiving a grade of “F” for its price transparency laws in 2016 was Texas. There has been little recent price transparency legislation in Texas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which documents state actions in health and other policy areas. The state runs a website that aggregates some types of financial data from insurers, but it does not provide Texans with information about how much they have to pay out of pocket for specific services or providers. Texas does not currently have an all-payer claims database but is reportedly considering whether and how to develop one.

New York also received a grade of “F.” The state is, however, planning to create an online platform to disseminate price and quality information to its residents based on an all-payer database.

So what is (or isn’t) working?

On April 6, Public Agenda will release new findings based on an updated nationally representative survey and on representative surveys in New York State, Texas, Florida and New Hampshire, all conducted in 2016. This research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York State Health Foundation, will shed new light on how Americans are finding and using health care price information, and on how people use price transparency in New York State, Texas, Florida and New Hampshire.

Want to be one of the first to receive the report? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

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03.24 Engaging Ideas - 3/24/2017

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Healing the political divide (Toledo Blade)
Love him or hate him, President Trump has Americans on the edge of their seats.Donald Scherer is not a political analyst or a psychologist.But the retired Bowling Green State University professor, who founded BGSU’s applied philosophy program, may be in a good position to help break down what’s happening across America.

What Data-Driven Mayors Don't Get (The Atlantic)
In an age of growing alienation from civic institutions, the technocrats running many American cities don’t understand what old-style political machines once delivered.

We Should All Be Political, Even If We’re Not All Partisan (New America)
Manuela Ekowo highlights the importance of participation in the democratic process and how that ties into being "political" while remaining "nonpartisan" in fields that demand a political stance, such as education policy.

Economic View: What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists? (The Upshot)
In 1967, Senator Walter Mondale actually proposed a White House Council of Social Advisers; he envisioned it as a counterpart to the well-entrenched Council of Economic Advisers. It was never created, but if it had been, this is the sort of advice it might have been giving recent presidents. For starters, while economists tend to view a job as a straightforward exchange of labor for money, a wide body of sociological research shows how tied up work is with a sense of purpose and identity.


Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look (Economic Innovation Group)
Analysis of new data finds a clear correlation between the degree of prosperity or distress in a county and the extent to which it boosts or hinders the future earnings potential of the children who grow up there. However, exceptions abound.

Middle Class Is Shrinking, Difficult To Define (International Business Times)
There’s no easy or direct way to define the middle class. Whether you’re considered middle class depends on the where the rest of the country stands, too. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t define it. But other organizations have developed their own ways to measure middle class. Pew, for instance, defines the middle class as the 51 percent of adults who live in the middle bracket, in between 29 percent who live in higher-income households and 20 percent living in lower income households.


Why Objectively False Things Continue to Be Believed (The Upshot)
Partisan polarization has come to affect the way that people consume and understand information.

Citizen Engagement: A Game Changer for Development (edX)
This is the third time the WorldBank will be offering this MOOC on citizen engagement. Learn about citizen engagement and critically analyze how it can be leveraged most effectively to achieve development results.

Why Cultural Institutions Must Lead the Way (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Deborah Cullinan, CEO of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, writes: Arts and culture organizations have the power to drive the cultural movement America needs to deliver democracy.

Roused by Trump, First-Time Female Candidates Eye Local Seats (The New York Times)
Four years of increasing activism and growing political awareness recently brought Lacey Rzeszowski to Rutgers University here, to a packed room of nearly 280 women, each on the cusp of launching a bid for public office for the first time.

K-12 Education

Parents See Benefits in Special Education Vouchers, But No Silver Bullet (Education Week)
For students with disabilities, vouchers can help open the door to private school attendance, but they come with trade-offs, including the loss of specific legal protections.

Where in the World Is Betsy DeVos? Track Her School Visits With Our New Tool (Education Week)
Each time she stops by a school, you'll see a slide with the name and location of the school, along with any other pertinent information and coverage we have of her trip. The interactive tool also adds up not just the number of times she's visited schools, but the types of schools she's visited: traditional public, private, and charter schools.

How teachers bridged two Boston high schools to reap gains for all students (Hechinger Report)
Teachers at Boston Collegiate Charter and Jeremiah E. Burke focus on instruction: "Our jobs require us to seek out solutions that will help our students reach new heights so they can get the most out of the hours they spend in school. Among the many solutions we have tried, one has proven transformational: teachers across schools learning from one another."

Higher Education & Workforce Development

College Is the Goal. The Problem? Getting There. (The New York Times)
Over the last few months, TaTy and two of her classmates, Nathan Triggs and Zachary Shaner, grappled with decisions about college and made their way out of childhood, through money worries, broken families and peer pressure, into the next phase of their lives. Each followed a different path, but in combination, they tell a story of students at an average school in the middle of America trying to find a better future.

Policy Brief: Beyond WIOA: Why Should Workforce Development Boards Care About Education Policy? (Jobs for the Future)
WDBs and workforce systems should: Become experts at helping WIOA participants access Pell grants where possible; Engage in the design of postsecondary programs that have workforce preparation as a focus; and Engage in the development of policies that govern student aid funding—advocating for more flexibility in what programs can be funded under the Pell grants Program (e.g., competency-based education and shorter-term credentials), and ensuring program relevance and improved student outcomes.

Report: The State of Entry-Level Employment in the U.S. (The Rockefeller Foundation)
A study of C-Suite and HR professionals, and recent college grads and opportunity youth shows a disconnect between the benefits and supports employers think will matter to younger workers and those that truly matter to them.

Health Care

Taming Health Care Spending: Could State Rate Setting Work? (Health Affairs Blog)
To gain control over price, policymakers should seriously consider rate regulation. Such an approach is traditionally used in the United States for essential goods like water and electricity and can be adapted to regulate the prices of health care goods and services.

What Does My Health Care Cost? (National Review)
Last week I asked every patient who came to see me if they could guesstimate the price tag of their latest test or treatment. No one got it right, or even came close to predicting the actual price.

HB 2216 seeks elusive price transparency in health care (Non Doc)
The trend for health care cost transparency seems to be growing as fast as health costs themselves. HB 2216, introduced by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Tulsa) last month, attempts to implement price transparency in the state with respect to non-contracted health providers.

Not much saving going on in Health Savings Accounts (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Health Savings Accounts feature prominently in the new health care bill being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, with a variety of changes in store. But research shows not many participants are actually saving money beyond the initial tax break.


03.23 A Starting Point to Rebooting Democracy

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

“This public funk will be hard to dispel,” wrote Dan Yankelovich, Public Agenda’s co-founder, in a blog post nearly three years ago.

“What worries me is the root cause of the public funk. People see dysfunction virtually everywhere but don’t understand what’s causing it, and that combination is leading to a deepening public pessimism,” he said.

The dark public mood that he describes is a result of mounting frustration, dwindling trust and a lack of opportunities which seemingly show no signs of improving.

It’s a refrain we heard in focus groups we conducted across the country. Again and again, people drew a straight line between dysfunctional and disempowering politics and their limited economic prospects.

Back in September 2014, Dan wrote:

Americans clearly state they believe our political system is broken. Suspicion also exists that our health care system is out of control, our criminal justice system is twisted and distorted, our K-12 education system isn’t working as it should, our core business values are wrong-headed and even our higher education system has started to fail us

These suspicions are not unfounded. It has to be evident to thoughtful Americans that some fundamental flaw is distorting all aspects of American life. .

Dan elaborated in another blog that

…conventional political and economic solutions won’t put us back on the right track.

What we do at Public Agenda, in listening to these concerns, is choose a starting point to help leaders and citizens navigate complex issues, find common ground and partner on solutions that can lead to more fair, effective and inclusive systems.

Learn more about some of the latest work we’ve been doing. Want to read more from Dan? Check out his blog series at Rebooting Democracy.

Support Public Agenda’s mission to help make a democracy that works for everyone here.

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03.17 Still Searching

Friday, March 17th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

In a democracy, the policy agenda should reflect the public's needs, concerns and aspirations. As elaborated in our recent report, The Fix We're In, the lack of economic opportunity and political equality are driving concerns for many people these days. If inadequately addressed, we believe, our already fraying social contract could shred to pieces in the years ahead and our democracy itself could be in danger.

In the hurly-burly of their lives, people often feel the brunt of diminished opportunity when life's essentials, such as housing, education and health care, become unaffordable. That's why all of these issues are on our agenda at Public Agenda, and why we're pleased to alert you to the upcoming release of our new research to inform the policy debate on how to contain the costs of health care for individuals and families.

Our new report, "Still Searching," explores how people use health care price information and whether people manage to save money when they find out how much their care will cost them. "Still Searching" follows up on our 2015 research about how Americans seek and use health care price information, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This time around, we surveyed Americans nationwide as well as representative samples of Texans, Floridians, and New York State and New Hampshire residents. Although online health care price information tools are proliferating, our research explores the broad range of ways in which people try to find out how much their care will cost, from calling their insurers to asking a receptionist or nurse.

We hope you'll look for this research and put it to good use.


03.17 Engaging Ideas - 3/17/2017

Friday, March 17th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Why Politics Is Failing America (Fortune)
Beware the political–industrial complex. They rig the game for their benefit. The public interest is the loser. Here’s how to fix it.

Why I'm Moving Home (The New York Times)
J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy writes that he will be returning to Ohio. He writes: "This has consequences beyond the purely material. Jesse Sussell and James A. Thomson of the RAND Corporation argue that this geographic sorting has heightened the polarization that now animates politics. This polarization reflects itself not just in our voting patterns, but also in our political culture."

Do Cities Need a Political Movement? (CityLab)
On the world stage, cities have immense clout. They drive economies, breed culture and new ideas, and concentrate human talent. Yet, in the United States, cities severely lack political power.


America’s two-track economy (MIT News)
For many people in America, being middle class isn’t what it used to be. Consider: In 1971, the U.S. middle class — with household incomes ranging from two-thirds to double the national median — accounted for almost 60 percent of total U.S. earnings. But in 2014, middle-class households earned just about 40 percent of the total national income. And, adjusted for inflation, the incomes of goods-producing workers have been flat since the mid-1970s.

The Lone Dissenter From the Fed’s Rate Move Is Worried About Inequality (Bloomberg)
...his answer was to create an Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute, housed at the Minneapolis Fed, that would "conduct and promote research that will increase economic opportunity and inclusive growth for all Americans and help the Federal Reserve achieve its maximum employment mandate."

The American Dream Of Home Ownership By President (ValueWalk)
Is the American Dream dead? If home ownership as an attainable goal for the average American is the yardstick, then it is struggling. This graph shows the median price for a single-family home in the inaugural year of each of the nine most recent U.S. presidents and compares it to the median annual family income at those times.

K-12 Education

Academics are only part of the education this school offers its diverse student body (Washington Post)
The ninth post in a series about winners in the Schools of Opportunities project, which recognizes schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through research-based strategies, covers a high school in Revere, MA.

States Say ESSA Rule Changes Don't Mean Much (Chalkbeat)
Interviews with various state education leaders reveal that many state officials aren't concerned about the Department of Education's new ESSA guidelines impacting their implementation plans. They're moving forward as planned. Related:
ESSA Accountability and State Plans Regulation (National Governors Association) The National Governors Association is out with a “frequently asked questions” guide now that the regulation is a presidential signature away from being repealed. The document assures equity “guardrails” won’t go away.

To help kids succeed in college, make high school harder. (The Hechinger Report)
“For kids in poverty, more often than not, what they’re saying is, ‘I’m not a good student.’ What we have to do is convince them, ‘Well, actually, you are,’” said Lori Wyborney, principal of John R. Rogers High School.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Research Brief: Does the Federal Work-Study Program Really Work—and for Whom? (Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment) Findings from recent research by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) which suggests that the program does positively influence students’ college attainment and post-college outcomes. The evidence also suggests that these impacts may be greatest for low-income students and students at public institutions. We then discuss how the current process for allocating FWS funds to institutions leaves these very students—those who are most likely to benefit—with the least access to the program. Related: Work-Study Worries (Inside Higher Ed). Many experts on the program agree it needs changing with a greater emphasis on low-income students. But few agree that the large cut being sought by the Trump administration will help.

Political Turmoil, Public Misunderstanding: A Survey of Presidents (Inside Higher Ed)
Among the findings: A majority of presidents believe the 2016 election exposed a disconnect between academe and much of American society. Nearly seven in 10 perceive that anti-intellectual sentiment is growing in the U.S.

National Survey Shows High Rates Of Hungry And Homeless Community College Students (NPR)
The results, published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, show that one third of community college students go hungry and 14 percent are homeless. Those rates are up from 2015, when the same research team surveyed 4,000 community college students in 10 states, and found one fifth were without adequate nutrition. Thirteen percent were homeless. Today's results come from a much wider survey sample, more than 33,000 students, at 70 community colleges in 24 states. "Not only did we find challenges of food insecurity and housing insecurity at the less expensive community colleges, we found it at more expensive colleges," says sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab, who led the research team.

A Conversation About Who Needs College And Why (NPR, All Things Considered)
In front of a live audience, Michel and her guests debated the value, the costs and purpose of higher education in today's world. She was onstage with a panel of students from the University of Wisconsin at Madison as well as alumni and key players in the University of Wisconsin system. The students were up first.

Health Care

Poll: Voters wary of GOP health care bill (Politico)
Nearly half of voters support the new Republican health care bill, but the elements they like best are holdovers from the Affordable Care Act, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

A Clear Solution: Cutting Healthcare Costs with Price Transparency (Brown Political Review)
A lack of transparency about facility fees and a drastic increase in the number of practices that are allowed to charge them places a serious burden on both patients and taxpayers.

There's no for health care—but there ought to be (Crain's)
Neither the Affordable Care Act—aka "Obamacare"—nor the American Health Care Act unveiled by GOP congressional leaders does much to improve pricing transparency in medical services, a fundamental flaw that impedes any effort to bring market discipline to a wildly inefficient industry.

The Future of Value-based Care Starts With Medical Education (Hospitals & Health Networks)
There have been few changes to medical education since Abraham Flexner established the two years of sciences and two years of clinical curriculum in 1910. With emphasis on value-based care, managing populations and chronic diseases, this shift in care must start with reimagining medical education for future physicians.


03.16 Why Waning Confidence in Higher Education is Worrisome

Thursday, March 16th, 2017 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D., AND Megan Rose Donovan

There are significant gaps between the public and college leaders when it comes to the purpose and value of higher education. Experts often chock it up to a difference between perception and reality. It’s well founded that a college degree provides a level and secure path to a better-paying job, and ultimately, a middle class lifestyle. So why don’t more Americans buy it?

American Council on Education (ACE) Senior Vice President Terry W. Hartle said at ACE’s annual meeting Monday that recent focus groups showed that the economic value of a college education is declining. As described by Rick Seltzer, one focus group participant believed the average student loan borrower takes on more than $13,000 in debt per year, and a majority of participants said that colleges and universities are indifferent to costs students pay.

Waning confidence in higher education is not all that new. A survey we conducted last summer showed a significant increase in the number of people who say there are many ways to succeed in today’s work world without a college degree. In reality, it is a significant change in public opinion – a 14 percentage point increase from 43 percent in 2009 to 57 percent in 2016. Just 42 percent of Americans said a college education is necessary for success in the workforce. Juxtapose this trend with the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s projection that by 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, and the problem becomes more critical.

The root of prospective students’ worries are rational. In a 2013 survey of adults looking to attend or return to college, a majority said they worry about taking on too much debt, among a host of other issues (see Figure 9 below). Fifty-two percent of 18 to 24-year olds expressed doubts about gaining the skills and knowledge they need for a job.

Do student worries miss the point? Last week, Inside Higher Ed released findings from its seventh annual survey of college and university presidents. It shows that only 12 percent of college presidents either strongly agree or agree that most Americans have an accurate view of the purpose of higher education.

What exactly is that purpose? It’s hard to tell, as the survey does not explicitly define or ask presidents to describe it. If we knew this is what presidents mean by “an accurate view of the purpose of higher education,” we could look at research to say there’s a well-defined disconnect.

However, as we’ve seen in our own survey research, it’s clear economic security and socioeconomic mobility are primary concerns for the public, especially prospective students. Diminishing or debasing that perspective is out of synch with realities facing the growing population of new traditional students who come to higher education with fewer resources, more pressures and far more complicated lives than traditional students of the past. Concerns about investing in education with no guarantee of a job, problems transferring credits, and other issues are important and legitimate grievances that shouldn’t be dismissed by saying people are swayed by media coverage of student debt.

The silver lining is that, though confidence is less steady, over half of Americans think a college education is still the best investment to get ahead. In the focus groups and forums we’ve facilitated around the country, members of the public continuously express a deep belief in the importance of higher education in the world today. But, what they’re expressing at the same time is that too few colleges seem to care about the things they care about: socioeconomic mobility.

Gaps in perceptions should give experts and leaders pause. As Dan Yankelovich has cautioned, colleges and universities can’t count on being given the benefit of the doubt under conditions of mistrust and anxiety. These groups need the time and opportunity to come together to think seriously about the purposes and value of higher education in a changing world. Bridging this gap through direct communication about the decisions leaders and citizens need to make together is tantamount to ensuring higher education provides more people with the genuine opportunity to make a better life through education.

We’re working across the country with national organizations, thought leaders and colleges to help improve the quality and accelerate the pace of problem solving on complex issues related to higher education, workforce development and the future of the American middle class. Specifically, through partnerships with the Aspen Institute for College Excellence, the Community College Research Center and the American Association of Community Colleges, we are helping strengthen the work of networks and coalitions trying to solve problems in new ways that better meet the needs of students from all backgrounds. We look forward to keeping you updated on our work around the country, and encourage you to engage with us and share your own knowledge and experience.

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03.10 Engaging Ideas - 3/10/2017

Friday, March 10th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


What does it mean to be American? The answer depends on your politics, study says (PBS)
Add one more to the list of things dividing left and right in this country: We can’t even agree what it means to be an American.

How Donald Trump Is Reviving American Democracy (The Atlantic)
There are two ways to look at the effect of Donald Trump’s presidency on American democracy. One is that he is a menace to the republic: that his attacks on journalists, federal judges, and constitutional norms undermine the rule of law. The other is that he is the greatest thing to happen to America’s civic and political ecosystem in decades.

Grudges and kludges: Too much federal regulation has piled up in America (The Economist)
Republicans and Democrats have been equally culpable in adding to the rulebook


New Papers Published: FixMyStreet and the World’s Largest Participatory Budgeting (Democracy Spot)
Tiago Peixoto writes: Here are two new published papers that my colleagues Jon Mellon, Fredrik Sjoberg and myself have been working on. The first, The Effect of Bureaucratic Responsiveness on Citizen Participation, published in Public Administration Review, is – to our knowledge – the first study to quantitatively assess at the individual level the often-assumed effect of government responsiveness on citizen engagement. It also describes an example of how the data provided through digital platforms may be leveraged to better understand participatory behavior. This is the fruit of a research collaboration with MySociety. The second paper, Does Online Voting Change the Outcome? Evidence from a Multi-mode Public Policy Referendum, has just been published in Electoral Studies.


Trump's first jobs report crushes expectations (Business Insider)
The US economy added 235,000 nonfarm payrolls in February, many more than expected, and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.7%, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed on Friday.

For a child’s economic future, place matters (Seattle Times)
Where a child grows up can make a big difference in his or her income as an adult. Even a few years of exposure to areas with good schools and opportunity can make a big difference.

K-12 Education

A School Where Raising the Bar Lifts Hope (The New York Times)
Inviting low-income high-schoolers into advanced-level courses can get them past fears that they’re not college material.

Giving Parents a Prominent Voice in Schools (Education Week)
As the head of family engagement in Washington state’s Federal Way public schools, Trise Moore helps parents navigate a large bureaucracy and puts them at the center of the district’s decisionmaking. She is recognized as a 2017 Leader To Learn From.

Amid Partisan Divide, Teachers Turn to Digital Game for Civics Lessons (Education Week)
Digital and online games, such as the "Mission US" series or even the popular strategy game "Civilization," are also used in the classroom to teach civics, history, and social studies. They may not captivate students' attention quite like "Assassin's Creed" or "Minecraft," but they're likely more compelling for many students than a textbook.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Poised for a Booming Construction Industry (Community College Daily)
Hoops, who owned an electrical service company before he became an instructor, said a degree can make the difference when a company interviews people for jobs. “When I had a business,” Hoops said, “I looked at the person who had completed something. A degree was an ace-in-the-hole for someone who wanted to move up.”

Report: Destination Known: Valuing College AND Career Readiness in State Accountability Systems (Education Strategy Group)
To help inform this work and take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Education Strategy Group convened an Accountability Workgroup of state and national experts with a clear charge: provide guidance on the measures states should adopt to make college and career readiness the main driver of accountability systems.

What Colleges Should Know About A Growing 'Talent Strategy' Push By Companies (EdSurge)
A new research center at Northeastern University hopes to help close the gap, by fostering better dialogue between colleges and employers, and helping colleges understand both what employers want and what colleges are already doing. It’s called the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and it’s led by Sean Gallagher, who wrote the book on The Future of University Credentials.

'Conversation Starter' on Ethical Data Use (Inside Higher Ed)
New America releases framework to help colleges use predictive analytics to benefit students. Download the five-point guide here.

Health Care

Got health insurance? That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pay your medical bills (The Sacramento Bee)
Hospitals around the country are reporting record levels of debt on their books from an unlikely source: patients with health care coverage.

Steps toward a simplified system of health care (The Orange County Register)
Do Americans want to make health care great again? Evidence is mixed, according to different standards.

Healthcare organizations make slow progress on price transparency (Health Data Management)
Over the past decade, a variety of stakeholders have launched tools designed to give consumers price information, including insurers, employers, hospitals, states and not-for-profits. But the success of these undertakings varies widely, depending on the tool and engagement approach used.


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