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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.


02.03 Engaging Ideas - 2/3/2017

Friday, February 3rd, 2017 | Public Agenda


How Donald Trump Challenges What We Assume About Each Other (Indivisible, WNYC)
Kerri Miller hosts a national conversation with Republican strategist Reed Galen and Metro State University anthropologist and social scientist Jose Santos about why it's so hard to set aside our mutual misconceptions.

Red State, Blue City (The Atlantic)
The United States is coming to resemble two countries, one rural and one urban. What happens when they go to war?


Diversity is different from inclusion, and one doesn’t work without the other. (Harvard Business Review)
Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid write: In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.

Persuasion in a “Post-Truth” World (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
To make progress on ideologically or politically sticky issues, social sector organizations must reshape their messaging to do more than cite facts; they must use smart storytelling and craft solutions that don’t require those they want to reach to sacrifice their values.


Visualizing the Shifting Income Distribution of American Jobs (Visual Capitalist)
There’s a very wide range of incomes out there, even within a particular type of industry. Some people can barely make ends meet, and others make millions of dollars more. These charts show a concerning shift towards greater income inequality.

Inequality in America: More than just a question of where to live and what to study (Deseret News)
It is one thing to cite statistics about the past. It is another to discuss the chances a person has to reach the top fifth in income distribution starting from the bottom fifth.

How Tech Policy Can Mitigate Income Inequality (Forbes)
While trade and foreign agents received most of the blame during the presidential campaign, technological developments can have an even larger impact on income inequality.

K-12 Education

What Are School Vouchers and How Do They Work? (Education Week)
Today nearly 30 states have vouchers or some closely related form of private school choice, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. What follows is an overview of the big trends, research data, and concerns associated with school vouchers. Links to additional resources are included for those who would like to dig deeper.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

A surprising group is taking over college campuses (MarketWatch)
The number of college students with kids of their own grew by more than 1 million, or 30%, between 2004 and 2012, according to a report released Monday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on women’s economic issues.

Hope and Denial Are Not Strategies (Inside Higher Ed)
In the end, institutions cannot predicate their planning on the hope that, in time, external realities will change and they will once again regain their previous stability. Nor can they deny external realities and their own circumstances.

Will You Graduate? Ask Big Data (The New York Times)
At Georgia State’s nursing school, the faculty used to believe that students who got a poor grade in “Conceptual Foundations of Nursing” probably wouldn’t go on to graduation. So they were surprised, after an analysis of student records stretching back a decade, to discover what really made a difference for nursing students: their performance in introductory math.

Health Care

The next frontier in quality care measurement: How patients feel (Modern Healthcare)
The answer varies from patient to patient, said Baumhauer, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center. A highly useful tool for determining the most effective treatment is a patient survey from Promis, or Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, composed of questions about the patient's quality of life and ability to function.

Delivery system overcomes challenges in achieving price transparency (Health Data Management)
As healthcare organizations consider ways to make pricing more transparent for consumers, many are finding it’s easier said than done. INTEGRIS Health was one of the nation’s first health systems to adopt a price-estimate tool that gives patients a quote on their expected out-of-pocket costs. One reason the Oklahoma-based network launched the tool back in 2010 was to save patients from medical billing surprises. “One of the worst phone calls I get is from a patient who has a big liability and says, ‘If I had only known it was going to cost this much, there is no way I would have had this procedure done,’ ” says Amber Harris, administrative director for patient access.

Unlikely pair pushes for transparency in medical pricing in Colorado (9News Denver)
She’s a socially conscious liberal. He’s a fiscally responsible conservative. They might not agree on much this legislative session, but right now Senator Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) and Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Bethoud) agree on this: health care providers need to do more to provide transparency of cost to patients. It’s why they’ve introduced Senate Bill 17-065, otherwise known as the “Transparency in Health Care Prices Act.”


01.31 Setting Equity Goals for Digital Tools in New York City

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 | Megan Rose Donovan

New York City is home to some of the longest-running participatory budgeting (PB) sites. It’s expanded to 31 council districts in 2015-16 from four in 2011-12. Experimentation with digital tools like online project idea submission, project mapping and a remote voting platform have coincided with this proliferation.

“PB implementers have sought technological solutions to the challenges that arise as local government, community groups and other stakeholders are faced with managing this unique form of civic engagement on a larger scale,” writes Erin Markman of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, a group that has led the evaluation of PBNYC since its inception.

Erin described the spirit of innovation inherent to PB in a short case study that Public Agenda included in a new analysis of all 46 communities who did PB last year.

From the outset, PBNYC knew it wanted to develop and use tech to address a defined set of goals. This included streamlining registration, efficiently maintaining contact lists, maximizing outreach resources, alleviating administrative burdens of manual data entry and providing more ways to submit project ideas.

“Technological tools, like all aspects of PB, must be evaluated to ensure they are in the service of the PB process goals, particularly goals such as inclusion and equity,“ she says. PBNYC had to overcome challenges like language access and lack of internet in the home. Based on their experiences, Erin has the following recommendations for communities that wish to ensure engagement practices which utilize technology are accessible and equitable:

  • Don’t expect tech to be the silver bullet. Technology can complement, but should not replace, key aspects of the PB process, particularly paper ballots and in-person outreach by local community-based organizations or other trusted institutions.
  • Be patient and persistent. Good tech takes time: to set up, to test with real users, to train staff and volunteers, to establish proper security measures and to evaluate with diverse stakeholders, including the steering committee, at the end of each process.
  • Evaluate the use of tech. Local researchers are best equipped to develop their own priorities for investigation, but areas of interest might include demographic differences between those who vote digitally and those who vote on paper; how well remote voting technology reaches homebound people or others who could not otherwise participate or others who could not otherwise participate; and whether the use of technology impacts the degree to which PB participants report developing new relationships or skills.

You can read about how San Francisco's online voting system established a new collaboration with the city’s Department of Technology and other case studies in “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


01.27 Engaging Ideas - 1/27/2017

Friday, January 27th, 2017 | Public Agenda


US no longer considered 'full democracy,' group says (The Hill)
The United States was downgraded from "full democracy" to "flawed democracy" in the 2016 Democracy Index, which cites declining trust in the government as the cause of its new rating. The report is the Economist Intelligence Unit's ninth annual Democracy Index, which looks at the state of governments across the world. President Trump, the report says, harnessed that low trust of the government to win the presidency. The report, however, doesn't blame the new rating entirely on Trump, noting the downward trend in trust over the last several decades. The U.S. has been "teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy" for years, the report says. It cites the decline starting with the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal.

Why Trump Is Thriving in an Age of Distrust (The Atlantic)
“Populism is people taking authority back from institutions they no longer have faith in.”

Real research suggests we should stop freaking out over fake news (Wonkblog)
Using a lot of complex math involving vote margins and numbers on the effectiveness of political advertising, they estimate that the average fake news story would have to be about 36 times as persuasive as the average political campaign ad for fake news to have tipped the balance of the election. While that estimate relies on a lot of strong assumptions and some flat-out guesswork, it does provide a good ballpark estimate of the effect of fake news in 2016. Going on these numbers, the effect of fake news seems to be a lot smaller than many observers had initially feared.

The Challenge of Populism to Deliberative Democracy (Participedia via NCDD)
As populism sees a global resurgence, it is critical for our field to examine what this phenomenon means for our work. That’s why we encourage our network to give some thought to the insights offered in this piece from Lucy Parry of Participedia – an NCDD member organization. In it, Lucy examines the way citizens juries in Australia violate the core tenets of populism, and encourage us to consider how deliberative democracy – especially approaches using mini-publics – may need to evolve to avoid being delegitimized by populist challenges.


Our New Age of Contempt (The Stone, The New York Times)
We’ve entered a new age of contempt. On both sides of the political spectrum, contempt dehumanizes people by marking them as unworthy of engagement.

Everybody's in a Bubble, and That's a Problem (The Atlantic)
In politics as well as business, people are shaped by who they see—and who they don't.


What President Trump doesn’t understand about job creation (and destruction) (Vox)
In a healthy economy, jobs are constantly being created and eliminated. Labor market fluidity — the level of gross labor market flows — has been on the decline for decades. You might think that a decline in job destruction would be a good thing if fewer people are losing jobs. And during a recession when job creation slows down, you’d be correct. However, when the economy is expanding, most job separations are people quitting their jobs. Quitting your job is usually a sign that you’ve found a new job. More quitting means firms are poaching workers who already have jobs, and competition for workers ends up boosting wage growth. Job destruction in the absence of healthy job creation is a dangerous thing. But trying to suppress it could be damaging. A president who takes time to chide each factory closing would not only have little time for the other aspects of his job, but also risks reducing some of the beneficial aspects of creative destruction.

K-12 Education

Who's Ready to Be a Principal? (Education Week)
Along the way, most who aspire to the principalship will land in a university-based preparation program. There, they take a series of courses and obtain some in-the-field experience that leads them to the required credentials to become a school leader. But very often, those programs don’t bestow the knowledge and skills that make would-be principals truly ready for the complex job that awaits. This issue of Education Week looks at why.

8 Questions to Confront After Obama's $7 Billion Failure (The 74)
A study conducted by the research firm Mathematica compared schools that could receive a turnaround grant with schools that just missed the eligibility threshold. The idea — known to researchers as a “regression discontinuity” — is that schools on either side of an arbitrary point are similar: the bottom 5th percentile of schools, which were eligible for SIG, compared with the bottom 6th percentile, which weren’t. The question of generalizing the outcomes of 190 schools to 850 is especially relevant because a study of turnarounds in North Carolina found that the regression discontinuity method showed no effect in lower grades, but another approach looking at all schools showed positive impacts. Still, a separate study in California showed positive results for SIG using the same discontinuity method, so it’s not as if it’s inherently biased against improved outcomes.

New Blog Series Examines Research Use Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (William T. Grant Foundation)
As states and districts begin their work under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), how can we ensure that their decisions are informed by the best research available? To explore this question, the American Youth Policy Forum has launched a nine-part blog series to share lessons learned, resources, and insights on how states and districts can best use research evidence in their efforts to plan for and implement ESSA. Our own Vivian Tseng, and Anu Malipatil of the Overdeck Foundation Family Foundation, kicked off the series last week with their post, "Learning Systems: Improving Education in States and Districts."

Interactive: The View From Room 205: Can schools make the American Dream real for poor kids? (WBEZ Chicago)
When you talk to kids like Kelsey — or so many of the kids in Room 205 — you feel like it is so possible to overcome poverty — by sheer positivity, smarts, curiosity.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

A new deal between higher education and democratic capitalism (Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce)
In a new essay, We Need a New Deal between Higher Education and Democratic Capitalism, Dr. Anthony Carnevale chronicles the conflict between capitalism and democracy that began in the 1800s. It also explores the dual role that higher education plays in serving both human flourishing and economic empowerment, and, as a result, raises the question of whether every student seeking postsecondary education is being adequately served in the present system.

Survey says: Americans still not sure where they stand on higher ed (New America)
The first survey targeted likely voters; the second surveyed the general population. They show that there are battle-lines — though not all are drawn along party lines. Government funding, debt forgiveness, and personal responsibility are all areas of disagreement, and in these areas we should anticipate some substantive changes. There is clear bipartisan support for debt refinancing, income-driven repayment, and borrower protections from fraudulent or deceptive practices.

Statewide credit transfer system bill proposed for Connecticut state colleges, universities (The Middletown Press)
A bill was introduced last week to establish a transfer program between Connecticut’s community college system and all its public four-year institutions. House Bill 573, which has been referred to the state legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, will require faculty and staff of the 17 Connecticut community colleges, state universities and University of Connecticut to develop transfer pathways to ensure the seamless transfer of credits. UConn rejects more than 20 percent of credits from community college transfer students, according to analysis by Mullane.

Private Colleges Court Community-College Students (The Wall Street Journal)
In the past year alone, more than a dozen private colleges and universities nationwide have signed deals to make it easier for community-college students to transfer in. They’re swaying prospective students thanks to hefty scholarship offers and guarantees of graduating in four years, nearly eliminating cost differentials with public counterparts. It’s part of small, private colleges’ broader strategy to diversify their revenue streams.

How Do They Do It? A Few Wealthy Private Colleges Have Found Ways to Serve Many Needy Students Without Jeopardizing Their Financial Health (The Hechinger Report/PBS NewsHour)
Four elite private colleges are leading the way in graduating more low-income students.

Health Care

Resource: The Zetema Project
The Zetema Project aims to improve the quality and productivity of the national healthcare conversation through a better informed public. Our diverse panel of top healthcare leaders debates the key problems and solutions so you can get all sides of each argument and draw your own conclusions.

Trump's healthcare promise too sunny for reality (Modern Healthcare)
President Donald Trump said in a television interview that he and his party would put forward a healthcare plan that costs less, covers more people and delivers better healthcare. That trifecta, however, is nearly impossible without tradeoffs that voters would object to.

How We Can Repeal The ACA And Still Insure The Uninsured (Health Affairs Blog)
Even if the ACA stays in place, there will still be almost 30 million people without health insurance. The initial goal of reform should be: making sure everyone has access to health insurance that is affordable and that gives them dependable access to medical care.

Here's What Primary Care Doctors Really Think About Obamacare (The Los Angeles Times)
A post-election survey of primary care physicians reveals that majorities of the doctors that first treat most Americans do not support some of the GOP’s most widely circulated plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Conducted in December and January and published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the new survey shows that nearly three-quarters of general practitioners favored making changes to the Obama administration’s signature health care reform measure.

Poll: 1 in 5 nurses wouldn't make same career choice again (Healthcare Dive)
Nurses with more than 21 years in the profession were more likely to be disillusioned than those with less than one year of practice, according to a new Medscape report.

Paying doctors bonuses for better health outcomes makes sense in theory. But it doesn't work. (Vox)
When it comes to doctors, pay-for-performance programs just don't work, Harvard's Stephen Soumerai and Penn's Ross Koppel argue.


01.26 Understanding Immigration

Thursday, January 26th, 2017 | Allison Rizzolo

In a series of executive orders, President Donald Trump yesterday initiated sweeping changes to the country’s immigration policy.

Immigration experts and legislators on both sides of the aisle have long argued our immigration laws do not match current global and national dynamics and are in need of reform. The measures President Trump took represent some of the broadest reforms our immigration policy has seen in decades.

Whether you view yesterday’s executive orders as positive or negative, the fact remains that immigration is complicated. It intersects with other complex and emotionally fraught issues, including changes to the workforce, globalization, the economy, health care, education, crime and terrorism.

As with many issues, Americans don’t often have the opportunity or resources needed to come to a thoughtful conclusion on immigration policy.

Through the years, we at Public Agenda have spoken to immigrants about their experiences, as well as to citizens regarding their views on immigration. We have also examined approaches to immigration policy, and broken down the pros and cons of each approach so you can understand the issue in a non-ideological manner.

Below are some of our resources related to immigration. We hope these they help you come to a thoughtful conclusion about the best way forward for our country on this critical issue.

Immigration: A Citizens’ Solutions Guide

This voter guide, published in 2012, summarizes data and research on immigration. It also presents three potential approaches to immigration reform, including their pros and cons, framing the reform debate as pragmatic rather than partisan. It can be used to guide discussion or simply as a tool to guide your own understanding.

A Place to Call Home

This 2009 survey with 1,100 foreign-born adults living in the U.S. remains vital as a testament to the immigrant experience. Despite the worst economic crisis in decades, renewed national security concerns in a post-9/11 world and an immigration policy many consider to be broken, the survey finds immigrants themselves hold fast to their belief that America remains the land of opportunity and remain committed to becoming U.S. citizens.

Where Did the Jobs Go, and How Do We Get Them Back?

Would reducing immigration reduce unemployment? Chapter 14 of this book, from Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle, examines immigration within the context of the workforce. It is an indispensable and easy-to-read resource for understanding the interaction between immigration, jobs and the economy.

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01.24 What Online Ballots Did for Inclusion in Participatory Budgeting: San Francisco

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 | Megan Rose Donovan

Nearly every voter in San Francisco’s District 7 participatory budgeting (PB) process cast their vote online last year. In fact, in-person voting was limited to just 45 of 1,504 ballots.

Online voting is becoming more and more common in PB. Thirty-nine percent of cities and towns doing PB in North America allowed residents to cast a ballot online in 2015-16, a big increase from 9 percent in 2014-15. San Francisco’s District 7 is a bit of an outlier, having used online voting since it’s first PB cycle in 2013-14.

Erica Maybaum, a legislative aide to San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee, implements San Francisco’s PB process. She calls online voting “indispensable” for achieving their PB goals, which include expanding engagement, helping residents understand how governing works and how they can have a voice in government decisions, and reaching all communities across the district. She writes:

The biggest benefit of the online voting platform is that it is a tool that allows for widespread participation with less effort because it is easily distributed...In our experience, it has made the process particularly more accessible to schools and members of the business community

Erica acknowledges online voting and other digital tools have their downsides. As she explains in a case study included in our recent PB report, there were a lot of questions around accessibility and distribution that PB leaders had to consider before launching the process online.

She also acknowledges that online processes cannot supplement the dialogue and discussion that happen in face-to-face meetings, particularly as residents first start working with city representatives to envision and discuss potential projects. “This builds understanding of government processes and trust between residents and city staff,” she said. “We also recognize that online platforms may not be as accessible to those with less familiarity with or access to digital technologies.”

For those looking to use online voting in their PB processes, Erica offers a few suggestions:

  • Start small and simple and build up. Focus on the basics and essentials of voting first. More complex options, such as offering participants a way to rank projects, can be developed after initial unanticipated challenges have been addressed.
  • Get feedback on the platform. What works for each community may be different. Request feedback and constructive criticism along the way. Streamlining the process will be appreciated by all involved, and feedback is critical to creating an improved process.
  • Build partnerships with other organizations to help spread the word about online voting. An advantage of digital ballots and other online tools is that organizations and partners can share and outreach to their own communities and networks.

Read more stories about PB across the U.S. and Canada in our recent report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


01.20 Engaging Ideas - 1/20/2017

Friday, January 20th, 2017 | Public Agenda


Why America Is Self-Segregating (Data & Society)
What makes people willing to hear difference is knowing and trusting people whose worldview differs from their own. Exposure to content cannot make up for self-segregation. If we want to develop a healthy democracy, we need a diverse and highly connected social fabric. This requires creating contexts in which the American public voluntarily struggles with the challenges of diversity to build bonds that will last a lifetime. We have been systematically undoing this, and the public has used new technological advances to make their lives easier by self-segregating.

'Divisiveness' Drives Texas Mayor to Resign After Just 1 Month (Texas Tribune via Governing)
About a month after being sworn in, Corpus Christi Mayor Dan McQueen announced his resignation in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, asserting that he could "no longer deal with such differing views and divisiveness," according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.


How Technology Is Giving Town Hall Meetings a Modern Twist (Government Technology)
Municipalities are using the latest communications tools to make government meetings more available to the public. “In public meetings the person who walks up to that microphone is the one who thinks they have it right, the one who thinks they know the answer, and who therefore has the greatest bias,” said Martin Carcasson, a senior public engagement fellow at the nonprofit Public Agenda.


U.S. Ranks 23rd Out of 30 Developed Countries for Inequality (The Atlantic)
A comprehensive index from the World Economic Forum finds that for such a rich country, America isn't doing all that well at creating prosperity.

Republicans Say They’ve Experienced Less Inequality Than Democrats (The New York Times’s Upshot)
Those are some of the findings from the poll, by PerryUndem, a nonpartisan research and polling firm whose biggest clients are foundations. It surveyed 1,302 adults in December via the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak panel. Eighty-two percent of women said sexism was a problem in society today, and 41 percent of women said they had felt unequal because of their gender. Men underestimated the sexism felt by the women in their lives, the survey found. And while most respondents agreed it’s a better time to be a man than a woman in our society, only Republican men thought it was a better time to be a woman than a man. Side note: Check out the graphs on the share of people who say they have felt unequal in American society because of aspects of their identity.

K-12 Education

Key Federal Studies Face Hazy Future Under Trump (Education Week)
After fending off threats from congressional Republicans for years, some big federal studies that yield troves of data on education face an even more uncertain future.

What Betsy DeVos Did (and Didn't) Reveal About Her Education Priorities (The Atlantic)
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.

Maybe Teaching Special Ed Doesn't Have To Be So Hard (KUER 90.1)
Ask any special ed teacher and they will probably tell you that paperwork is the bane of their jobs. These three teachers at Renaissance Academy in Utah have figured out how to keep it under control.

What Do Americans Think of School Choice? Depends on How You Ask the Question (The 74)
Attitudes about education are increasingly colored by partisan rancor. Support for choice varies depending on how it is described. The only poll conducted so far on the plan was released last week by the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group founded by DeVos that trumpets itself as “the nation’s voice for educational choice.” By a 51–35 margin, the survey sample backed the idea of “shifting twenty billion dollars in funding from other programs to school choice.”  Note the diction: the word “choice” tends to poll well, and the generic “other programs” displaces costs into the ether. That’s a fairly good illustration of where we are in determining American attitudes on both traditional schools and reform alternatives.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Tough Questions for DeVos  (Inside Higher Ed)
For Democrats looking to find out more about DeVos’s views -- especially regarding higher education issues -- it was a frustrating hearing. DeVos's prepared remarks didn't offer much insight into the approach she would take toward higher ed. She acknowledged the problem of high volumes of student loan debt but did not propose a solution. DeVos also added that career education programs should not be viewed as a "fallback" for students who don't succeed in college but should instead be viewed as one of a number of "pathways" to postsecondary education.

Three Questions Higher Education Must Consider (Inside Higher Ed)
We in higher education need to engage in a serious dialogue about our role in exacerbating the opportunity gap and our obligation going forward to close it, argues Dan Greenstein.

America’s Great Working-Class Colleges (The New York Times)
The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus. The paper is the latest in a burst of economic research made possible by the availability of huge data sets and powerful computers.

Key things to know about Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondos’ free college plan (WPRI)
Beginning with students in the high school graduating class of 2017, Rhode Island will cover the cost of tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island for two years – which basically means a free associate degree. If students choose to attend Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island, the state would pick up the cost of tuition and fees – but not room and board – for their junior and senior years of college. The governor’s top aides are quick to say they don’t expect every young person to attend college, but they want every kid to at least have the chance to attend college with significantly less concern over how they’re going to pay for it. They’re pointing to surveys of high school seniors in Rhode Island that show 90% of students want to attend college but only 65% of them are actually attending a higher education institution directly after graduating high school.

Health Care

Pointed Questions Await Trump's Pick For Health Secretary (AP)
With coverage for millions of people at stake, Rep. Tom Price is facing pointed questions about President-elect Donald Trump's health policies — and his own investments in health care companies — from senators considering his selection as health secretary. While Price, an orthopedic surgeon-turned-lawmaker, is largely a known quantity on Capitol Hill, Trump's bottom line on health care remains a mystery for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Why the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare is so extraordinary (Wonkblog)
There have been only a few other occasions in the history of modern countries when something like this has happened.

POLITICO-Harvard poll: Trump voters want to repeal Obamacare immediately (Politico)
When it comes to Obamacare, Americans who voted for Donald Trump have one clear priority: Get rid of it. Fast. But that’s not how the rest of the country looks at it, according to the latest POLITICO-Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health poll on priorities for the first 100 days of the new administration.

Do high-deductible plans make the health care system better? (Marketplace)
Those high-deductible or “catastrophic” plans work like this: you pay most of your own medical bills up to a specific amount — usually thousands of dollars — before your insurance kicks in. Price, and congressional Republicans say they’re a big part of what should replace Obamacare. And it’s not just the GOP who likes them; Democrats and employers have also embraced these plans. But here’s a complication: researchers do not know if high-deductible plans actually lead to good health care.


01.19 Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

Post-election, we've heard a lot about the economic woes and anxieties of rural Americans, often in a manner that contrasts these viewpoints with urban residents. Based on our latest research, such framing creates an unnecessary and, in fact, harmful dichotomy.

In a series of focus groups, we spent the past year talking with folks from small and large cities, including San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro of New York and numerous points in between. Americans talked about the American economy, their opportunities for getting ahead in life, and their feelings about inequality and the American Dream.

It turns out these urban and large-metro-area focus group participants expressed a lot of concerns and anxieties shared by the rural Americans we've heard from since the election. People talked about running harder and harder just to stay in place in today's economy. Most agreed that the primary cause for their anxiety was a political system unresponsive to their needs, over-responsive to wealthy special interests, and impervious to their efforts to create change.

Despite the dominant narrative of two Americas, we witnessed common ground across political parties, demographic groups and regions of the country. Perhaps most importantly, the common ground was not limited to how people experience the problems facing the country. There was also a good deal of agreement on solutions. And in the course of our research, we discovered important clues about how to help people engage these large and difficult topics in productive ways.

We have significant divides in our country, by race, class and other distinctions, and we ignore these at our peril. But the narrative that has emerged post-election about two Americas exacerbates our differences and helps make the common ground insignificant, also to our peril.

We'll release findings from our research in early February. In that report, we'll dive into implications for public policy, public engagement and the possibilities of a common agenda for greater economic opportunity and political equity. As a subscriber to our email list, you'll be among the first to receive the report -- we look forward to your responses.


01.19 Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

Post-election, we've heard a lot about the economic woes and anxieties of rural Americans, often in a manner that contrasts these viewpoints with urban residents. Based on our latest research, such framing creates an unnecessary and, in fact, harmful dichotomy.

In a series of focus groups, we spent the past year talking with folks from small and large cities, including San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro of New York and numerous points in between. Americans talked about the American economy, their opportunities for getting ahead in life, and their feelings about inequality and the American Dream.

It turns out these urban and large-metro-area focus group participants expressed a lot of concerns and anxieties shared by the rural Americans we've heard from since the election. People talked about running harder and harder just to stay in place in today's economy. Most agreed that the primary cause for their anxiety was a political system unresponsive to their needs, over-responsive to wealthy special interests, and impervious to their efforts to create change.

Despite the dominant narrative of two Americas, we witnessed common ground across political parties, demographic groups and regions of the country. Perhaps most importantly, the common ground was not limited to how people experience the problems facing the country. There was also a good deal of agreement on solutions. And in the course of our research, we discovered important clues about how to help people engage these large and difficult topics in productive ways.

We have significant divides in our country, by race, class and other distinctions, and we ignore these at our peril. But the narrative that has emerged post-election about two Americas exacerbates our differences and helps make the common ground insignificant, also to our peril.

We'll release findings from our research in early February. In that report, we'll dive into implications for public policy, public engagement and the possibilities of a common agenda for greater economic opportunity and political equity. As a subscriber to our email list, you'll be among the first to receive the report -- we look forward to your responses.


01.19 Six Lessons for the New Administration About Higher Education

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | Allison Rizzolo

The new Secretary of Education will start their job at a dynamic moment for higher education. The “traditional college experience” is disappearing as more and more students are older, attending part time, commuting, caring for children or other family, and working one or more jobs.

College costs are becoming prohibitive for many students and families, and state higher education systems are struggling with decreased funding.

At the same time, colleges and universities are exploring new ways to deliver education that better meet the needs and schedules of students. They’re also offering more information about graduation and job placement rates, in an effort to help prospective students make better college choices.

And awareness about these and other issues facing our higher education and workforce development systems is high, sparking an active public dialogue about the role and responsibility of higher education in society, and of government in higher ed.

We regularly speak with the public, faculty members, college administrators and students about their needs and concerns regarding higher ed. We work with other researchers and organizations to improve our higher education system. And we coordinate the efforts of colleges and institutions to help more students get a meaningful degree.

Based on this work, below we offer the new administration six lessons we’ve learned about higher education:

Public confidence in higher education is waning

For the first time in a decade, a minority of Americans say that a college education is necessary for success in the workforce. Americans are also pessimistic about the motivation of our higher education system, with many saying that most colleges operate like a business, putting their bottom line before the education of students. Many also question whether a college education is a good investment, and they don’t believe that the majority of students qualified for college have the opportunity to attend.

Our workforce needs are shifting, and leaders and experts overwhelmingly agree that college credentials are critical for attaining a good job. The Obama administration made increased college attainment a central education goal. It remains to be seen if the Trump administration will continue to work toward that goal. But if they do, they will have some work to do to get the public on the same page.

Support for free college is high – but cost is not the only challenge for students

If you’ve ever found yourself in a heated conversation about the problem with higher education in the U.S., it probably revolved around college costs. And a lot of the public conversation about solutions for higher ed entails some form of free college – maybe for four years, maybe for two; maybe for all students, maybe for middle- and low-income students.

Most Americans support free college for low- and middle-income individuals, according to our survey results from 2016. And it’s true that costs represent a large barrier for students: 71 percent of students who dropped out of college said they did so because they had to work to make money.

However, many students end up stalled on their way to a degree due to faulty processes and practices on the part of a school. These faulty processes include things like unclear program pathways and poor advising. Perhaps the most acute problem, though, are the hurdles encountered by students looking to earn their bachelor’s by transferring to a four-year school from a community college.

One of the greatest obstacles for students is actually transferring between a community college and a four-year school

Every year, millions of students enroll at community colleges because of their affordability and accessibility. The vast majority plan to one day earn a bachelor’s degree. Most of these students will not realize their goals: only 14 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s achieve that goal within six years. The odds are worse for low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color—those most likely to start at a community college. In general, the causes of broken transfer stem from policies and practices at the school level or within a state’s higher education system. They don’t stem from the habits, actions or behavior of students.

If we increased the transfer rate among all new students at community colleges by 10 percentage points, there could be about 70,000 more students earning bachelor’s degrees every year. If the new administration hopes to boost the number of Americans with college credentials, focusing on improving transfer would be a good place to focus their energy.

Students lack knowledge about for-profit colleges

about 7.4 percent of all college attendees. You’ve probably heard about for-profit colleges – they’re controversial and have been in the news a fair bit. The Obama administration cracked down on some for-profits for predatory behavior, and one of the biggest for-profit systems went bankrupt in 2015.

Yet for all the attention for-profits receive, the population they affect the most – students – seem mainly in the dark about what they are. In fact, in research we completed in 2013, many students who were considering, attending or who graduated from a for-profit school said "nothing comes to mind" when they hear the term “for-profit college.” Furthermore, a full 65 percent of current for-profit students and 63 percent of for-profit alumni are unsure whether their school is for-profit or not. Legislators including Sen. Dick Durbin find this news alarming, worrying that students may fall victim to fraud and abuse among some bad actors in this sector.

Many students looking for colleges are not using available information

Policymakers, private foundations and school leaders have spent money and resources researching and publicizing data to help students make better college decisions, including graduation rates, job placement rates and average salaries earned by alumni. While the data is not necessarily a proxy for quality, they see it as important information for consumers. Yet these efforts are falling short for many students. We witnessed this first-hand among a growing and important population of students: adults who don’t currently have a college degree but who are looking to go back to school.

These adult prospective students aren’t using college quality information. They don’t know it exists, don’t know how to find it or don’t view it as relevant to their own experiences and decisions. For example, less than half (47 percent) of adult prospective students say knowing a college’s graduation rate is important information to know when deciding to enroll at that school or not. The Obama administration placed a lot of emphasis on data and transparency for prospective students, developing the College Scorecard website, for example. If the Trump administration hopes to help prospective students become better education consumers and make more informed college choices, they must do a better job connecting students with informational resources and demonstrating their value.

Colleges and universities are making great strides in innovative approaches to education

We’ve worked for the past few years with the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), a group of colleges and universities across the country working together on competency-based education (CBE). CBE is an education model that enables students to progress at their own pace, measuring their progress against a set of skills, or competencies. Often, students can apply previously-acquired knowledge to progress more quickly. CBE can be a great option for students that have spent some time on the job before completing a degree, and who may already possess a number of job skills, or for veterans who have spent years developing leadership and team management skills. Have a free minute? Come here and enjoy some fun games!

While CBE has been around for a while, some students attending CBE programs now qualify for federal financial aid (in the past, they had to pay their own way through CBE programs). This opens up CBE to a whole new group of students. But schools setting up a new CBE program have a lot of work to do when it comes to designing a curriculum, determining competencies, deciding how to measure progress and ensuring their program meets federal standards for financial aid. Moreover, it’s important to make sure students and taxpayers are protected from waste, fraud and abuse on the part of irresponsible or predatory actors that may be looking to profit from federal aid money or that don’t have students’ interest as a top priority. The federal government can provide guidelines and regulation, as well as support and boundaries for responsible experimentation and innovation – for example, a space for associations like C-BEN, which provides opportunities for collaboration and shared learning.

The specific priorities of the new administration regarding higher education remain unstated. However, if their goal is to help more people gain the skills they need for a reliable job with sustainable wages, the lessons above will be critical for deciding the best actions to take.

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