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05.24 Equity in Education Through Culturally Responsible Engagement: Lessons from Anchorage, Alaska

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 | NICOLE CABRAL

As in many cities, students and families in Anchorage, Alaska face inequities in the K-12 school system. These inequities are especially acute among Alaska Native students, an issue that a number of community-based initiatives are seeking to address.

On indicators that are often determinates of success later in life, Alaska Native children are not performing on par with their peers of other ethnicities, according to an initiative from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC). These indicators include third grade reading proficiency, eighth grade algebra 1 proficiency, high school graduation rates and attendance rates.

The CITC initiative, called Anchorage Realizing Indigenous Student Excellence (ARISE), is a data-driven, collective impact initiative committed to improving outcomes for Alaska Native students in the Anchorage school district. ARISE is currently working on a school-community engagement effort to address the stark disparities among Alaska Native students.

ARISE’s strategy in the Alaska Native community is forward-thinking because it incorporates the principles of equity, inclusion, long-term sustainability and respect for historical and cultural contexts.

While I was in Anchorage recently for a public engagement project, I met with several CITC staff to learn more about the unique struggles of Alaska Native communities around the preservation of native cultural traditions as well as progress made around equity and social justice. I also participated in a community conversation at the University of Alaska with Jonathan Larson of ARISE. Larson described several principles core to ARISE’s philosophy of advancing equity in K-12 education through culturally responsible school-community engagement.

Six principles in particular stood out in my mind as very much in line with Public Agenda’s philosophy on public engagement, especially when working with historically marginalized communities. The six principles are: 1) actively engage historically marginalized communities and communities of color, 2) continue to engage the community even after the formal engagement process ends, 3) integrate ALL stakeholders into the engagement process, 4) accept that engagement is a long-term process, 5) recognize and respect cultural and historical context and 6) institute cultural competency training.

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05.20 Engaging Ideas - 5/20

Friday, May 20th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Social Media's Place in Data-Smart Governance (Governing)

Cities can produce great value from social media, but only if they start talking a little bit less about themselves and start listening more to their residents.

What Should Philanthropy's Role Be When Public Systems Fail? Flint As Case Study (Inside Philanthropy)

When weak government leaves a mess, how should philanthropy help clean it up? We dig into that question—which will be coming up more often—as ten foundations band together to help Flint.

One Neighborhood at a Time (The New York Times)

David Brooks writes: “What’s the right level to pursue social repair? The nation may be too large. The individual is too small. The community is the right level, picking a piece of land and giving people a context in which they can do neighborly things — like the dads here who came to the pre-K center and spent six hours building a shed, and with it, invisibly, a wider circle of care for their children.”

K-12 Education

Low-Income High Schoolers to Get Grants for College Courses (Associated Press)

The experimental program allows high school students to apply for federal Pell grant money to pay for college courses. The "dual enrollment" program is designed to help students from lower-income backgrounds. The Education Department says the administration will invest about $20 million in the 2016-17 school year to help about 10,000 students. On Monday, the administration announced 44 colleges that are expected to participate.

Education Inequality: Why There’s an Uproar Over Trying to Increase Funding for Poor Schools (The New York Times)

Marguerite Roza, a Georgetown University scholar, has found that many districts spend up to a third less per pupil in poor schools compared with others. This can happen for various reasons: because wealthy parents unduly influence budget allocations, for example. It can also happen because most teachers are paid using collectively bargained salary schedules that reward longevity. Senior teachers tend to cluster in wealthy schools, while schools where many children are poor often churn through large numbers of novice, badly paid teachers. But fixing such funding inequities can be expensive, as well as disruptive to longstanding arrangements of which teachers get to be in which schools. That’s why the unions, districts and state leaders wrote the letter urging Mr. King to “refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law” — that is, to simply not regulate at all — “especially as it relates to the ‘supplement, not supplant’ provision.”

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05.17 Tackling Transfer: Why We Must Help More Community College Students Make the Leap

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

Improving transfer may not be as emotionally resonant as free community college or reducing student debt. Yet helping more students transfer from community college to a four-year school is among the most critical ways our county can meet its higher education goals.

Every year, millions of students aiming to attain a bachelor’s degree attend community colleges because of their affordability and accessibility. Most of these students will not realize their goals.

While the vast majority report they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 14 percent of degree-seeking students 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.

Together with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Community College Research Center (CCRC), we're working to help more community college students meet their attainment goals.

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05.13 Engaging Ideas - 5/13

Friday, May 13th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Room for Debate: Is Tyranny Around the Corner? (The New York Times)

A Washington Post piece claimed that a sizable number of Americans are supposedly wary about democracy, and Andrew Sullivan has written that Trump’s rise shows that we’re ripe for tyranny. Others have spoken of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as dual demagogues. But are Americans looking for an autocrat to take charge or simply a government that gets things done, works in their interest and truly represents them? Is America tired of democracy, or yearning for more of it?


Interactive: Where the Middle Class Is Shrinking (The Upshot)

Take a look at the 100 metro areas with the sharpest decline in the percentage of people in the middle class. In these areas, the middle class declined by more than 4 percentage points. (The decline in the New York-Newark-Jersey City area was not as steep, falling from 50.7 to 48.1 percent)


The Lessons of Boaty McBoatface (The Atlantic)

The parliamentary inquiry revealed one important way in which the campaign wasn’t a success: NERC and its partners in the British government don’t appear to have sufficiently planned for the day after launching the naming contest. They invited the public to engage with their project, but then didn’t clearly define what level of engagement they were ultimately seeking—and how to proceed if and when people actually engaged en masse. What’s the point of getting people involved if their involvement stops at voting in an online poll?

Report: Nonprofits Integrating Community Engagement Guide (Building Movement Project)

The Nonprofits Integrating Community Engagement (NICE) Guide is designed for organizational development experts, management support organizations, and internal and external consultants to facilitate efforts to integrate the voice of community members and constituents into the daily practice of nonprofit organizations.

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05.12 Now We Know: Participatory Budgeting in the U.S. and Canada

Thursday, May 12th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

Are you one of the 70,000 people who voted in participatory budgeting last year? Residents of the United States and Canada helped decide how their community should spend nearly $50 million in 2014-15 through this public engagement process.

Participatory budgeting (PB) has grown exponentially in the U.S. and Canada in the past few years. Until now, we haven't had a clear idea of its use and immediate outcomes: How do communities implement PB? Who participates? How much money is spent? What sorts of projects does PB end up funding?

Over the past year, we've been working with people coordinating and evaluating PB locally in order to answer these and other questions. We analyzed data from 46 communities in the U.S. and Canada to provide the first-ever comprehensive look at the state of PB in the U.S. and Canada in 2014-15.

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05.09 Higher Education Engagement and Collaboration in the Land of Enchantment

Monday, May 9th, 2016 | Erin Knepler and ZOE MINTZ

With the unprecedented amount of pressure it's under, it's clear that our nation's higher education system is due for change. Escalating costs are painful for students, families, taxpayers and schools alike. And the traditional college schedule doesn't work for many modern students.

Yet as we experiment with new ways to structure and deliver learning in higher education, we need to remember who's on the receiving end of these reforms: students. Changes to the higher education system could have real consequences for their future and, consequently, for our country's economic health.

It's important for our higher education system to adapt and change, but it's equally important for those changes to happen in a space that protects students and taxpayers and helps institutions learn from each other. One example of such a space is the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), for which Public Agenda is a supporting partner.

C-BEN was established in 2013 to help colleges and universities work together on common challenges to building high-quality, sustainable competency-based education (CBE) models. Competency-based education (CBE) is one of the major innovations in the higher education field. CBE is an education model that measures students' learning based on their demonstrated level of competency rather than by the amount of time they spend in a classroom.

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05.03 For Charter Schools Week, Resources that Keep the Issue in Perspective

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

This week recognizes one of the most controversial issues in K-12 education today: charter schools. For some people, charter schools are saviors of students and parents looking for alternatives to failing public schools. For others, they're the devil, a threat to America’s public schools and to the very idea of public education.

But while advocates and critics battle over charter schools, many people stand somewhere in the middle. Perhaps we're not quite sure what we think about charter schools. Perhaps we suspect the issues may be more complex than the narratives we hear in the media or from advocates on either side of debates over charter schools. Perhaps we're confused about what charter schools even are (we're not alone – even some presidential candidates are confused!)

On this divided issue, it's hard to get a handle on what resources and information to trust. The polarization and intensity of the debate over charter schools can make it difficult for policymakers, educators and community members to understand and weigh practical solutions to improve schools for all children.

Public Agenda seeks to present nonpartisan, non-ideological information about charter schools with a project called Charter Schools In Perspective. Our goal is to help people learn more about the pros and cons of charters and have better, more civil conversations about them. We want to help communities, educators, policymakers and journalists understand different approaches to educational policies and practices and the impacts those have on all kids.

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04.29 Engaging Ideas - 4/29

Friday, April 29th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


How Would You Spend $1 Million In Your Neighborhood? (WBEZ)

WBEZ Chicago city politics reporter Lauren Chooljian speaks with listeners about how they would spend the money, even if their aldermen aren’t participating.

Idea to retire: Technology alone fosters collaboration and networks (Brookings)

Jane Fountain writes: The fallacy that technology alone fosters collaboration and networks is so pervasive that I’ve written a white paper for the presidential transition recommending that the next administration include “management” as a key part of transition, specifically management to develop and sustain interagency collaboration. This paper notes the technology’s inability to foster collaborative networks by itself, and highlights an emerging ecosystem of institutions that support effective and sustainable collaboration across agencies. In the ecosystem, each organization fills a niche or specific role. These niche organizations interact to implement policies and manage initiatives across the federal government. While some dimensions of the ecosystem focus on information technology, most reinforce and support the many organizational changes that make interagency initiatives feasible and sustainable over time.


Constructive or Quixotic? Another Donor Devotes Millions to Improve Civic Discourse (Inside Philanthropy)

Repugnant and childish political mudslinging is as old as the country itself. Can a big university gift help to alter the dynamic that's seemingly embedded in our civic DNA? Jonathan and Lizzie Tisch, prefer to do something about it. The couple donated $15 million to the former Tisch College at the Medford, Massachusetts-based Tufts College, which will henceforth be known as the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, whose goal is to "develop a comment of leaders who are able to rise above the fray and bring positive change to the public sphere."

Why It’s Getting Harder to Learn What the Public Thinks (Governing)

Public officials need to understand how opinion research is evolving to meet modern challenges. Adam Davis, founder and principal of DHM Research writes: Done well -- using demographic quotas and statistical weighting to assure representative samples -- online panels should be accepted as a legitimate sample source for public-sector surveys.

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04.28 With Dialogue, People's Opinions Can Change and Do Stick

Thursday, April 28th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

Photo: Olivia Chow via Flickr.

I have a distinct memory of listening to the This American Life segment, "." I was cleaning my kitchen, nodding along to the story of how a group of canvassers and researchers found that a simple 20-minute conversation could change someone’s mind about controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion.

In our work, we've often seen how dialogue between people with different perspectives and life experiences often leads to a shift in thinking. It was exciting to hear this phenomenon broadcast on an immensely popular national platform.

I ran over to my computer as soon as the segment was finished and emailed my colleagues, telling them to listen to the episode.

If you followed the story, you know that shortly after the segment aired the study was found to have been falsified.

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04.19 A Lesson in Community Engagement from Austin, Texas

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

In Austin, Texas, residents are grappling with increasing development. Photo: Ed Schipul via Flickr.

At Public Agenda, we like to practice what we preach. So last week, I attended a neighborhood association meeting in Austin, Texas, where I'm visiting.

The community where I'm staying while I'm here is facing the impending development of property that abuts many neighborhood houses. This development has dominated neighborhood association meeting agendas for the past year. At last week's meeting, community residents had the opportunity to engage with local environmental officials on their questions and concerns.

Community members seem to generally support the idea of the development. They welcome new retail, restaurants and housing to the area. At the same time, they are rightfully worried about the impact the development will have on their property and the neighborhood. In particular, the neighborhood, situated along a creek, struggles with flooding and drainage issues. The traffic is also already something of a nightmare around here, and residents are concerned about the volume of cars that will be added to the road once the development is built.

Last week's meeting showcased many effective principles of public engagement. At the same time, there were a few ways in which the local association could improve their engagement processes, especially when it comes to inclusivity.

I'll start with the pros:

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