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03.03 Engaging Ideas - 3/3/2017

Friday, March 3rd, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


New report finds that American youth express low trust in media, use diverse strategies to verify news content (Knight Foundation)
Data & Society released “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape,” supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this week. The report reveals that teens and young adults express low levels of trust in the news media and use mobile and social media to confirm, verify, and clarify the stories they care about.

The Media And The Public Disagree On Definition Of Democracy (Vocativ)
Mainstream media faced criticism from all sides of the political divide for their coverage of the election campaign. President Donald Trump’s surprising victory led to accusations that journalists on the coasts are out of touch with the rest of the country and that the media is biased or elitist.


What is gender budgeting? (The Economist)
Dozens of countries have passed equal-opportunity laws and adopted UN resolutions on women’s empowerment. Some governments are now turning to gender budgeting. What is it and how does it help?

Robots won't just take our jobs – they'll make the rich even richer (The Guardian)
Should robots pay taxes? It may sound strange, but a number of prominent people have been asking this question lately. As fears about the impact of automation grow, calls for a “robot tax” are gaining momentum.

K-12 Education

Kansas Supreme Court: State Level of School Funding is Inadequate (Education Week)
The ruling supported this conclusion by citing the nearly 50 percent of African-American students in Kansas who are not proficient in reading or math, and the one-third of students who receive free or reduced-price meals who are also not proficient in these subjects.

Knocking Down Barriers to Learning for Poor Students (Education Week)
In the Greenville County, S.C., district, Superintendent W. Burke Royster enlists a wide array of partners to help keep all students engaged in school and on track to graduate. He is recognized as a 2017 Leader To Learn From.

Three Features We Hope to See in Future Education Research (Education Next)
Michael Barber and Nathan Martin write: More evidence will not change outcomes without a strong focus on how to effectively spread and scale these new ideas and practice. We should learn from the work of the Gates Foundation, which utilizes teacher networks and influencers to help the importance of evidence “go viral.” We’ll know that a transformation is truly underway when efficacy and evidence start showing up on the agenda at school board and PTA meetings.

Three ways technology can supercharge teacher training (The Hechinger Report)
Trending methods include ideas like instructional coaching, learning walks, and professional learning communities. But these methods, when implemented without technology, are mostly in-person. The impact of the efforts will always be limited by needing the right people in the right place at the right time to witness the teaching.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Report: What We Know About Technology-Mediated Advising Reform (CCRC)
Increasingly, colleges are attempting to use the technologies as a catalyst to fundamentally redesign their advising and support services.

Report: Increasing Success for Two-to-Four-Year Transfer Students Within CUNY (Columbia University)
The yearlong collaboration between GNYC, CUNY’s Office of Policy Research, and researchers at Columbia University was motivated by the shared goal of generating a more detailed, on-the-ground understanding of the first-year trajectories of two-to-four-year transfer students within the CUNY system, especially as compared to first-time freshmen and “native” upperclassmen. To provide such an understanding, two Columbia University researchers conducted over 200 interviews between September 2015 and June 2016 from a focal sample of ten first-time freshmen and ten two-to-four-year transfer students at three CUNY four-year colleges—a total of thirty freshmen and thirty transfer students overall.

State-by-State Breakdown of Graduation Rates (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Nationally, 16.0 percent of two-year starters received a degree from a four-year institution within six years, with or without a prior associate’s degree. In 16 states, this percentage was higher than the national average. In four states (Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, and Virginia), one in five students who started at a two-year public institution had a four-year degree within six years. Download the full report from the National Student Clearing House here.

Cross-sector Collaboration: What the Tipping Point Looks Like (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Five successful change management strategies from an initiative to transform higher education from Van Ton-Quinlivan, the vice chancellor of the Workforce and Economic Development Division for the California Community Colleges.

Health Care

Health Care Survey - February 22-23, 2017 (Cato Institute)
Most polling of the Affordable Care Act finds popular support for many of its benefits when no costs are mentioned. However, a new Cato Institute/YouGov survey finds that support drops, even among Democrats, if its popular provisions harm the quality of health care. The poll finds that risks of higher premiums, higher taxes, or subsidies to insurers are less concerning to Americans than harm to the quality of care.

The Risk of Expanding the Uninsured Population by Repealing the Affordable Care Act (JAMA)
Switzerland, Singapore, and Germany have achieved universal coverage and made insurance affordable even for their citizens with highest health care costs by instituting an individual mandate. One major difference, however, is that unlike the ACA, the mandates instituted by these countries are reinforced with effective penalties for nonparticipation, thus ensuring that lower-cost enrollees—generally healthier individuals—balance out the costs of the others who require more medical resources.

Data Note: Americans’ Challenges with Health Care Costs (Kaiser Health News)
Four in ten (43 percent) adults with health insurance say they have difficulty affording their deductible, and roughly a third say they have trouble affording their premiums and other cost sharing; all shares have increased since 2015.... A majority of Americans, regardless of party identification, think lowering the amount individuals pay for health care should be a “top priority” for President Trump and Congress and rank it at the top of the list of health care priorities.


03.01 More Light on What Unites

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

In my last update, I shared a glimpse into our latest report, "The Fix We're In," that offers insight into the current, difficult public mood. Importantly, the report reveals a surprising amount of hidden common ground beneath our more obvious divisions.

Many Americans, across region, political party, age and race, believe they and their communities face diminishing opportunity to better their lots because of a political system in which they have no voice or influence. But despite their deep frustrations, once people got talking, they tended to agree on a number of ideas they think might improve things.

While the existence of under-the-radar common ground is encouraging, it will take better public conversation to make it explicit in society and transform it into an agenda for change that addresses the problems our nation must work through to build a better future.

How can we create the kind of public conversation among diverse Americans that brings to light the ideas that unite us without ignoring the real differences we need to navigate? That, to us, is an essential challenge of the period ahead.

While we don't claim to have all the answers, our research offers important clues. I encourage you to look at our full report to not only learn more about the complexities of how people think about inequality and opportunity in America, but for some insights into how we can find more agreement on solutions to alleviate poverty, create economic opportunity and strengthen democracy.


03.01 Community Partnerships for Community College Student Success

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

When thinking of those who can make a difference for community college students striving to gain the knowledge and credentials they seek, the usual suspects come to mind -- faculty, staff and administrators. Large-scale institutional change through which colleges improve their ability to serve their students is usually viewed as an expert-driven process best left to the professionals.

Too often left out of the equation are partnerships with community members, agencies and organizations, which can be tremendous assets and essential ingredients for long-term success. This is particularly the case for community colleges that may not have as high a profile or as many resources as larger 4-year institutions. But effective community engagement can be a tricky process without a proper starting point and roadmap.

Last week at DREAM 2017, the annual conference organized by Achieving the Dream (AtD), nearly 2,300 attendees came together to tackle the challenges of increasing student success. During the President's Colloquium, leaders from AtD colleges deliberated on what it means for colleges to become anchor institutions in their communities, and shared their community engagement challenges and strategies. These leaders realize that without deep, durable community partnerships, their colleges are unlikely to meet their student success goals.

For colleges to fulfill their obligation to provide socio-economic mobility for their students, they will need to work in new and better ways with K-12, community-based organizations and employers. To fortify these efforts, Public Agenda, with support from The Kresge Foundation, designed a guide to help colleges with the planning and execution of community engagement strategies.

Introduced at DREAM 2017, Success Is What Counts is a starting point to ensure that community engagement efforts begin on strong footing. It outlines general principles of effective engagement and provides tools and resources to support colleges in their community outreach and relationships. This includes a discussion starter on improving community partnerships and a self-assessment tool for facilitators.

Download Success Is What Counts, now available to all higher education leaders and others interested in strengthening new creative partnerships on behalf of better outcomes for all students.

Help Public Agenda support initiatives to fuel progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement, by making a contribution.


02.24 Engaging Ideas - 2/24/2017

Friday, February 24th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Democracy in America: How Is It Doing? (The Upshot)
A new research project will periodically survey political scientists on crucial measures of a functioning democracy, looking for change over time.

A Month and a Half in, a Freshman Congressman Faces His Angry Constituents (The Takeaway)
Republican Congressman Scott Taylor, a 37-year-old former Navy SEAL, handily won the November election in his military-heavy Virginia district. That doesn’t mean all of his constituents agree with everything President Trump and the Republicans in Congress are trying to do—especially when it comes to repealing Obamacare. While some G.O.P. lawmakers have shied away from holding town hall meetings during their one-week recess, Taylor met with his district face to face. Hear how it went.

How to cover pols who lie, and why facts don’t always change minds: Updates from the fake-news world (Neiman Lab)
“Putting others’ words in quotation marks, to signal, ‘We don’t know if this is true, we’re just telling you what they said’ or even ‘Nudge, nudge, we know this isn’t true,’ is a journalistic cop-out.”

K-12 Education

When School Doesn't Seem Fair, Students May Suffer (Education Week)
A “trust gap” that begins in middle school may render students less likely to attend college, even if they succeed academically, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin. The research, published in the journal Child Development, focuses on middle school students of color who lose trust in their teachers due to perceptions of mistreatment from school authorities.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins (The Upshot)
The new studies come at an interesting moment, with a proponent of vouchers newly in charge of the Education Department.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Report: Financial Pressure Swamping Community College Students (Diverse Issues in Higher Education)
The CCCSE report surveyed nearly 100,000 community college students attending 177 institutions across the country. The majority of respondents said that they were living paycheck to paycheck, and one fifth said that they would not be able to come up with emergency funds should an emergency arrive. Close to half of respondents said that they had run out of money in the past 12 months.

Why should elite universities get more taxpayer support than regional public colleges? (Washington Post)
Mark Schneider, vice president and institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research, writes: Recent data from the Equality of Opportunity Project suggest that the many taxpayer dollars invested in America’s most affluent universities support the social mobility of only a very small number of middle- and low-income students, while disproportionately assisting yet more upward mobility for the already well-heeled.

Health Care

When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes (ProPublica)
Years after research contradicts common practices, patients continue to demand them and doctors continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment.

States Consider Imposing Drug Price Controls (Forbes)
Upon further investigation, it becomes clear pharmaceutical price controls – like those now being debated in eight state capitals – are misguided solutions in search of a problem, and are a red herring when it comes to the effort to bend the overall health care cost curve.


What Should Cities Make? (CityLab)
President Trump is gung-ho about the U.S. producing more goods. But what, exactly, should cities be making in the 21st century?

How Cities Should Take Care of Their Housing Problems (The New York Times)
Many big cities face a triple threat: Mr. Trump wants to cut funding to sanctuary cities; his nominee to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, is unlikely to be a strong and creative leader; and the Republican Congress is eager to chip away at federal housing programs. In response, cities need local financing initiatives that make up for the coming reduction in federal assistance.

Anatomy of a NIMBY (CityLab)
Restricting housing construction does not just hurt developers—it makes housing less affordable for everyone. But to overcome neighborhood resistance, you need to understand what drives it.


02.23 What Discussing Polarizing Topics Like Inequality Exposes

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017 | Chloe Rinehart

After a divisive election season we continue to see stark evidence of polarization and conflict in our society. But also—and this is less frequently reported on—we see a desire to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Polarization is about more than simply holding differing or even opposing views. These days, it is also about how people with a certain view are, by choice or circumstance, increasingly isolated from those who think differently. The interaction of diverse views is valuable, but the trend of increasing separation of and decreasing interaction between those who hold opposing views is troubling and potentially consequential. The less we interact with those who think differently, the more hardened our views tend to become, and the more apt we are to vilify one another and rely on stereotypes, which in turn further divide us.

Such political polarization is on the rise. While this is much more extreme among political leaders, there are also troubling signs that it is becoming more true among the public. According to a 2014 Pew survey of over 10,000 Americans, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades. And, among those who hold “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” views, the majority of each group report that most of their close friends hold their same views.

However, it is important to not gloss over the rest of the story. According to the same study:

These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

And while those with more “consistently held” ideological views are more likely than others to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, still only 28% of Americans overall say this is important to them. Growing numbers of Americans also say racial diversity in the United States is important to them: in another Pew survey from this month, 64% of Americans said an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live, an increase from 56% who said so in August 2016.

When we convened groups of ideologically, racially and socioeconomically diverse Americans in six large and small urban centers across the country to discuss the economy, inequality and opportunity, people were clearly grateful for the exposure to different viewpoints and people.

Sitting in on each of these groups, I knew that the participants were a diverse yet accurate cross-section of their surrounding community. I knew there were Republicans, Democrats and Independents; wealthy and unemployed people; and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds sitting together at the table. Some of these differences were evident to our participants, others less so.

This meant that participants had many valuable moments of listening to, and learning from, people with very different backgrounds and experiences from their own. And it meant that when consensus emerged within the group, despite the diversity of views, it could be revelatory and important.

One example of learning from others’ experiences involved conversations about race and prejudice. In our Cincinnati group, there was an exchange about whether racial prejudice that limited people’s job prospects was more problematic than other forms of prejudice, such as gender or age discrimination. While there was no clear resolution to the discussion, white respondents were clearly deeply affected by the following story told by a black woman:

Female: My first name is [considered typically black], and I got out of my master’s program and I looked for a job for months, and months, and months…. I redid my résumé and instead of putting my full name, I just put my first initial, then my last name. Voilà.

Moderator: How do you feel about that?

Female: It’s sad. It’s sad. I personally named my daughter a white-sounding name so that in the future, when she gets old enough to get a job, she can get a job because her name sounds white.

Male: Wow.

Female: I considered that when I named her. It’s sad.

Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat

In our follow-up interviews with respondents several days after the group, a number of people said this story stayed with them, including two white males. To me, it seemed that if they had not been brought together for this research focus group, they might not have ever had such exposure to an experience like the one this woman shared.

A good example of the importance of finding consensus also came from a participant in our Cincinnati group, who was surprised to find he had common ground with another participant who was different from him on numerous counts:

Now, you know, she’s a young African American female and I’m a more senior white male and she’s working and I’m retired, and we still came out thinking the same way. I think that’s kinda cool. That doesn’t mean her and I were right or wrong it just means we thought the same on that. I tend to be a conservative person and this made me think other ways, you know, whether I agreed or not but it made me come up with other ways to look at things. And I liked that.

Cincinnati-area resident; in his 70s; white; upper-income; Republican

Diversity of viewpoints and experience is not the problem we are faced with, but rather the separation we have between those who hold those different views and have had those different experiences, and the lack of ways to bring people of differing views together to gain perspective from one another. You can read more about these focus groups and the conversations between participants in the research report, The Fix We’re In. Support Public Agenda’s mission to help make a democracy that works for everyone here.

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02.17 Engaging Ideas - 2/17/2017

Friday, February 17th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


In a chaotic presidency, Civics 101 is giving listeners a reintroduction to how the U.S. government works (Nieman Lab)
New Hampshire Public Radio’s Civics 101 and The Washington Post’s Can He Do That? are helping to contextualize Trump’s presidency for those who don’t have much background knowledge.

Trump Ethics Monitor: Has The President Kept His Promises? (NPR)
Donald Trump and his team have committed to certain steps that touch on ethics and conflicts-of-interest concerns. We offer context and look for evidence to track progress of those promises.

Our expectations of what civic engagement looks like don’t match reality. Can we fix that? (Vox)
The election of Donald Trump has reawakened people’s desire to engage in politics. People are eager to be connected to others who also want to make their voices heard. Activists on both the right and the left are fired up: They want to join civil society organizations, participate in their town hall meetings, protest, and engage with social media whenever an all-too-powerful executive seems to be infringing upon their liberties or attempting to roll back progress. They want to be part of something bigger.

Death to the Gerrymander (Slate)
It has become painfully clear in recent years that partisan gerrymandering is one of American democracy’s worst illnesses. Although the Supreme Court held decades ago that the purpose of redistricting was to ensure “fair and effective representation for all citizens,” legislators often use the process to lock the minority party out of power.


What’s Limiting Upward Economic Mobility? (SF Fed Blog)
Work hard and you’ll achieve success and have a higher income than your parents. That’s the American dream. Yet thousands of struggling Americans are realizing that determination isn’t always enough, and it’s difficult to get ahead when you’re always behind. Here are five important things to know about economic mobility challenges holding people back.

How to Solve Income Inequality (US News & World Report)
This increasingly gratuitous income inequality gap is contributing to global poverty, health crises, crime and the slow death of class mobility, the backbone of the American dream. So, how can society change to narrow this wealth gap?

The High Line's Next Balancing Act (CityLab)
The famed “linear park” may be a runaway success, but it’s also a symbol of Manhattan’s rising inequality. Can its founder help other cities learn from its mistakes?

K-12 Education

Study: Teacher Satisfaction, Collaboration Are Keys to Student Achievement (Education Week)
The study, published this month in the American Journal of Education, was conducted by Neena Banerjee, an assistant professor of public administration at Valdosta State University, and three professors of sociology and public policy from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The study used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, which followed a nationally representative sample of children from kindergarten in 1998 through middle school. That survey had also asked the children's teachers questions about their overall job satisfaction and the extent of teachers' collaboration with other teachers.

Scientists Take on New Roles in K-12 Classrooms (Education Week)
As schools work to implement the Next Generation Science Standards, practicing scientists are also rethinking how they work with schools to advance understanding of their field.

Beyond DeVos, What 5 Key Trump Appointees Could Mean For Schools (NPR)
Here's a roundup of how Trump's new leadership could affect education.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

College Can Improve Transfer Rates (Inside Higher Ed)
State policy isn’t the only way to tackle low community college student transfer rates, write Josh Wyner and Alison Kadlec. Institutional action matters, too.

Maybe College Isn't the Great Equalizer (Inside Higher Ed)
A study links family income growing up to postgraduation income -- even after controlling for many factors. Other researchers disagree. The study is by Dirk Witteveen, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Paul Attewell, a distinguished professor in sociology at the Graduate Center. Their work has just been published in the journal Social Forces (abstract available here). Their study differs with a recent, much publicized study finding that college is in fact the great equalizer, but the professors behind that study question some of the methodology in this new work.

Relationships Matter in Recruiting Latino Students (Inside Higher Ed)
Two-year institutions across the country are getting creative with Latino student recruitment as Hispanic populations grow.

How Things Went Wrong at a Student Loan Giant (BuzzFeed)
Staff say they were pushed to get borrowers off the phone quickly — leaving many in the dark about options to make big cuts to their student loan payments. Meanwhile, Jack Remondi, the CEO of Navient, offers his ideas for improving the student loan program.

Health Care

The high cost of health care (KRCG, Missouri)
The thought of having a procedure done, or even going to a doctor can be stressful, especially if you don't know how much it's going to cost you. For many people, the cost of health care can get confusing.

The Perplexing Psychology Of Saving For Health Care (NPR)
Spending your own money on health care might mean that you'll be more frugal with it. That's the theory behind health savings accounts, a decades-old GOP concept that's sparking renewed interest on Capitol Hill as Republican lawmakers look for ways to replace the Affordable Care Act.


02.15 Good Governance Through Better Engagement Strategy

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 | NICOLE CABRAL with Megan Rose Donovan

Traditional forms of public engagement need an overhaul. We’ve seen how the deficits of town hall meetings and poor modes of online public discussion have been politicized, and it seems to be happening more often. It’s calling national attention to urgent challenges in governance, but it’s also made the risks of clumsy engagement infrastructure -- the erosion of trust and respect -- even more apparent.

People have shown their potential to work together with leaders and policymakers in many productive ways that result in smarter policies, stronger networks and an increase in public trust. There are tried and tested ways to engage residents, especially at a local level, that make democracy more inclusive, scalable and sustainable.

Last week, in Silver Spring, Maryland, Matt Leighninger and I lead a group of civil servants, nonprofit leaders, and students of public policy in a workshop to strengthen their engagement approaches. At this day-long event, we reviewed case studies, demonstrated deliberative group discussions and explored approaches including online techniques that enable participants to begin creating an engagement strategy.

"We're in a time when government and citizens need to engage each other in new ways to produce solutions to the issues we face,” said one participant, Cheryl Graeve, formerly of the League for Women Voters.

The workshop focused on creating a civic infrastructure in the participants’ communities that would allow them to embed engagement in their work. Instead of a one-off event, the goal is to go beyond satisfying perceived requirements for two-way communication with the public and develop sustainable, good government practices.

For Cheryl Graeve, this was particularly important. “This workshop encouraged us to think beyond engagement that merely ‘checks the box’ and as a result, I am committed to building relationships as part of each public meeting I participate in," she said.

On March 8th, we’ll be co-hosting another workshop with the Institute for Local Government (ILG) in Sacramento, CA. Matt and I are excited to lead this group of Californians (and others) with ILG’s expert trainer Sarah Rubin, who brings over 17 years of experience. That’s 30 years of engagement experience in one room!

You can find more details on the Sacramento workshop here.

Our team will be planning more workshops in communities across the country throughout the year. Look out for one this summer in New York City!

For more information on upcoming Public Engagement Strategy Workshops, or other training opportunities, sign up for our email list or contact Nicole at

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02.10 Engaging Ideas - 2/10/2017

Friday, February 10th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The Free Flow of Scientific Information Is Critical for Democracy (Scientific American)
Gabriel Popkin, the chair of the National Association of Science Writers' information access committee, writes: As the new administration’s media access policies become clear, journalists and the public must be vigilant to ensure that scientific integrity and free flow of information remain enshrined as policy and practice across the federal government. These principles are vital to our democracy.


Moving up the economic ladder remains difficult for many Boone County residents (Columbia Daily Tribune)
Children who live in low-income households in Boone County (Missouri) face challenges moving up the income ladder, according to a 2015 national study conducted by Harvard University researchers. The study analyzed data from tax records related to more than 5 million children whose families moved across counties between 1996 and 2012.


Using Data Visualization to Understand Wealth Divides in America’s Largest Cities (Government Technology)
The problem of unequal wealth distribution in American cities has never been greater than it is today. Nine out of ten metropolitan cities have experienced a shrinking middle class from 2000-2014, according to the Pew Research Center, and the middle class no longer makes up the majority of the population in the United States.

K-12 Education

Atlanta Schools Start Over With Police (Education Week)
Barr's approach—talking with the girls to ease the friction, rather than disciplining them—is an integral part of the Atlanta school district's comprehensive plan to improve school climate for its 51,000 students. That plan includes forming its own police force, hiring 68 new school resource officers like Barr, and providing ongoing training about how to work in a school environment. The officers have been taught things Barr didn't learn in her more traditional law enforcement training, like how the teenage brain develops and how to interact with students to resolve conflicts.

Do people with more education get shorter prison sentences? (Journalist's Resource)
A new study suggests high school graduates are less likely to be sent to prison and receive shorter prison sentences than criminal offenders who did not finish high school. The academic study worth reading: “Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. District Courts: Can Offenders’ Educational Attainment Guard Against Prevalent Criminal Stereotypes?,” published in Crime & Delinquency, 2017.

Family Engagement: Strengthening Family Involvement to Improve Outcomes for Children (American Institutes for Research)
Family engagement seeks better outcomes for children and families by actively involving them in the different systems that serve them. Lacy Wood and Rebecca Ornelas discuss how family engagement may improve both academic outcomes and mental health for children.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Report: IPEDS Graduation Rates Brochure (U.S. Department of Education)
The Graduation Rates (GR) Brochure explains to a non-technical audience how cohorts are established and graduation rates are calculated in IPEDS. It also provides timelines for the release of GR data and a list of key terms.

Professor Hopes His Quickie Calculator Will Show Low-Income Students They Can Afford a Selective College (The Hechinger Report/NBC News)
MyinTuition, a six-question survey that takes only a few minutes to fill out and predicts with surprising accuracy just how much financial aid a student can anticipate from the college. It’s the creation of Phillip Levine, a Wellesley economics professor who was frustrated by trying to forecast the cost of sending his own children to a university.

Report: Strengthening America's Economy by Expanding Education Opportunities for Working Adults  (National Adult Learner Coalition)
This report outlines the challenges new traditional students face and policy opportunities to connect them to today's economy through education and credentials.

Tracking the Evolution of Student Success (Inside Higher Ed)
College administrators in the field of student success who feel as though their jobs are getting more hectic each day aren't imagining things, according to the Education Advisory Board. Researchers at the EAB marked the Washington, D.C., based research and consulting firm’s 10th anniversary this year by reviewing the student success practices it has compiled in its online research library. They found that the concept of student success has since the 1970s steadily expanded to include new responsibilities for colleges.

Health Care

Redesigning Care for High-Cost, High-Risk Patients (Harvard Business Review)
Amid the political uncertainties that continue to cloud the future of U.S. health care, one thing hasn’t changed: Patients, clinicians, health plans, payers, and policy makers are still striving to achieve better outcomes at lower costs.

Lawmakers look to take the mystery out of Alaska's health care prices (Alaska Dispatch News)
In coming weeks, the Alaska Legislature and Anchorage Assembly will both consider proposals aimed at providing Alaskans better information about potential medical costs.

Despite Decades-Old Law, Funeral Prices Are Still Unclear (NPR)
Federal regulators have found about 1 in 4 funeral homes don't disclose their general price lists as required by the 1984 rule.


02.09 In Divisive Times, Americans See Eye to Eye on Inequality and Opportunity

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

In these contentious political and social times, there is a popular belief that America is a more divided nation than ever before. But in our latest report, we find that the public is not as polarized on some issues as we may think.

In a series of focus groups, Public Agenda spent the past year talking with folks about the economy, their opportunities, how they view inequality and the changes they think the nation needs to help themselves and others achieve the American Dream. Our conversations took place with people from San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro area of New York and numerous points in between. Despite coming from varying backgrounds, political affiliations, and demographic groups, common ground was found. Here is what some of them told us:

People think the economy is working poorly for most Americans

“On the surface the economy looks like it’s doing well, but when you just scratch that surface you see people really are living paycheck to paycheck.… It doesn’t take much to tip the balance.”
Washington, DC–area resident; in her 60s; white; upper-income; Republican
“Across the years, I went from one retail job to two or three…just to make rent, to get by, to make things work smoothly. And still it’s not smooth enough.”
San Francisco–area resident; in her 30s; Hispanic; lower-income; Democrat

People draw a straight line between dysfunctional and disempowering politics and their limited economic prospects

“Our democratic process is in shambles, it’s so bad. I think that is why there is extreme poverty, because everyone’s not on a fair playing ground.”
Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat
“Our government is more worried about their pockets than they are worried about helping the people.”
San Diego–area resident; in his 40s; Hispanic; lower-income; Republican

Most do not resent wealth, they resent unfair advantage

“Let’s face it, wealthy people start businesses. They’re able to hire people. So I’m not going to mudsling at them. I do feel differently about the guy who maybe came in and was put in charge who didn’t build that business from the ground, but still gets paid that much money.”
Washington, DC–area resident; in her 50s; white; lower-income; Democrat
“It’s what wealthy people work for. They just know a better angle to get there.”
San Diego–area resident; in her 30s; white; lower-income; Republican

Our conversations took a different and more positive turn as we found that not only were there common concerns, but that the suggested solutions were not all that different from each other. Despite a tendency to immediately look for the “easy” answers, as the participants dug deeper, they arrived at more complex and perhaps more feasible solutions.

On alleviating poverty

“If you don’t have education, you’re lost. You just have to know the basics to get by anymore. Even the high school diploma, you’re lucky to get a job as far as that goes.”
San Francisco–area resident; in his 50s; white; lower-income; Independent
“If you live in an environment where everything around you is costing more and going up except your wages, that’s not going to work. Is it fair to say to someone, ‘Everything is going to cost more for you, your groceries, your transportation, your health care, your school, everything, and your rent, but we can only pay you 10 bucks an hour’?”
San Francisco–area resident; in his 30s; white; upper-income; Democrat

On Creating Middle-Class Jobs and Greater Economic Security

“It’s nice to see technical colleges in this discussion, because I think that everyone is so focused on sending their kids to four-year universities when there are a lot of great jobs that just need skill to make a decent living.”
San Francisco–area resident; in her 50s; white; upper-income; Republican
“Make housing and health care affordable. Those are the basic foundations of life. You have a healthy outlook on life when you have a roof over your head, you can afford it, and your health is good.… Then everything else can fall into place.”
Washington, DC–area resident; in her 50s; white; lower-income; Democrat

Moderate tax increases on the rich are an important way to gain resources to invest in opportunity

“Will they really feel the pinch of paying a little bit of the tax? Not at all.”
Washington, DC–area resident; in his 30s; black; middle-income; Independent
“There are people who are making a lot more [who should] just give up some. I think that’s one of the ways the economy might get better.”
Teaneck, NJ–area resident; in his 20s; black; lower-income; Independent

What do we do now?

While common ground was found, significant divides remain, calling attention to the critical work needed to lead the nation on a path towards a more equitable and prosperous future. That path starts with public dialogue. But where and how do you start?

Read our full report, "The Fix We're In: What Americans Have to Say About Opportunity, Inequality and the System They Feel Is Failing Them.", to learn how we can engage our communities and begin to reinvent opportunity in America.

Comment (1)

02.07 Deliberative + Direct = Better Democracy?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

Following the Brexit vote in mid-2016, many U.K. voters who elected to exit the European Union expressed remorse at their decision. Immediately following the vote, websites explaining its potential consequences received record traffic. Though the decision has yet to play out, the results of Brexit may have profound and long-lasting ill effects on the U.K. economy.

The Brexit vote was an example of direct democracy. Direct democracy enables the public to decide on policy decisions without a proxy, typically through ballot measures or referenda. California is well-known for its use of direct democracy in its many ballot propositions, a practice that started in 1911.

The counterpart to direct democracy is called deliberative democracy. In deliberative democracy, people discuss issues but usually do not make public decisions directly. In contrast, while people do make decisions in direct democracy, they usually don’t discuss those decisions first.

Each form of public engagement has its pros and cons. As we see in the case of the Brexit vote, direct democracy may not necessarily lead to well-considered decisions that benefit the common good and inspire public confidence. Meanwhile, deliberative democracy can and has led to informed recommendations based on common ground from citizens. However, in many instances those recommendations did not affect policy or other decisions. These experiences can leave citizens frustrated and even more distrustful of government.

Could a combination of direct and deliberative democracy better meet the (rightful) demand of the people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect them? Could it rebuild trust and reduce alienation between the public and its leaders? Could it lead to common ground on decisions that benefit the public good?

These are questions that the present political moment, and its accompanying anxiety, demand that we explore. Luckily, there is a testing ground available for it right now.

Participatory budgeting (PB), a process that enables residents to have a say in how local tax money is spent, is the fastest-growing public engagement process in the U.S. While processes differ from community to community, PB has incorporated both direct and deliberative democratic practices to varying degrees.

As Matt Leighninger points out in a white paper we published in December, the steering committee meetings and neighborhood assemblies that occur at the beginning of the PB cycle, the delegate meetings that take place during the proposal development phase, and the idea expos held before the final vote can be (but are not always) deliberative. Meanwhile, the vote on the proposed ideas at the end of the cycle exemplifies direct democracy.

Can PB improve democracy? Can a combination of direct and deliberative practices achieve a balance that is both well-considered and actionable? To determine those questions, we need a critical mass of communities employing PB in a way that uses both deliberative and direct practices. We also need research that explores these questions specifically.

In the meantime, Matt, who is our vice president of public engagement, starts the conversation in the above-mentioned white paper, “Power to the People! (And Settings for Using It Wisely?)” “Power to the People” examines the extent to which North American PB processes are applying deliberative principles and practices, explores the tensions and challenges in making PB more deliberative, suggests questions for further research and offers recommendations for public officials and practitioners for improving their PB processes.

As Matt writes, “Through the creative exchange between people who care about public participation and approach it with different tools, assumptions and areas of expertise, we may gain the next wave of much-needed democratic reforms.”

To learn more about the extent to which PB employs deliberative principles and processes, click here.


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