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.
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.
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.
WBEZ Chicago city politics reporter Lauren Chooljian speaks with listeners about how they would spend the money, even if their aldermen aren’t participating.
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."
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.
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.
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:
Friday, April 15th, 2016 | Chloe Rinehart
Photo: Reynermedia via Flickr.
If you listen to the media or to candidate talking points, you may be under the impression that Americans hate taxes.
It's true that an anti-tax movement has taken root in the past few years, though this movement seems largely peripheral.
Still, the movement makes for a good media story and is supported by unscientific polling data. These polls purport to show how much Americans hate being taxed. Yet in reality, they really just show how much respondents like the IRS when compared with leading presidential candidates, the Pope or Kanye West.
Politicians seem to have largely bought in to this narrative. Republicans propose tax cuts and promise no new taxes. Democrats often propose only slight income tax hikes on wealthier citizens, and have kept many of the Bush-era tax cuts in place.
The result is that the country misses out on an honest, grounded reckoning about how much public money we ought to collect and how we want to spend it. And the public's true voice on the issue is at best ignored and at worst coaxed to extremes.
So, how do Americans really feel about taxes– about how much they pay, about where their tax money goes, about the tax code and about proposed reforms?
04.15 Engaging Ideas - 4/15
Friday, April 15th, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.
Column: How to Fix Politics (The New York Times)
David Brooks writes: Starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others. By 1981, the pollster Daniel Yankelovich noticed the effects: “Throughout most of this century Americans believed that self-denial made sense, sacrificing made sense, obeying the rules made sense, subordinating oneself to the institution made sense. But now doubts have set in, and Americans now believe that the old giving/getting compact needlessly restricts the individual while advancing the power of large institutions … who use the power to enhance their own interests at the expense of the public.”
Opinion: Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All (The New York Times)
Arthur C. Brooks writes: There is a Polarization Industrial Complex in American media today, which profits handsomely from the continuing climate of bitterness. Not surprisingly, polarization in the House and Senate is at its highest since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s.
Interactive: Mapping How the Public Gains Information (Democracy Fund)
Understanding the role of local news and public engagement requires a systems-thinking lens that takes into consideration not only the strength of individual news outlets, but also the influence of the local economy, demographics, technological infrastructure, and the policy environment — as well as the agency of citizens to find, interpret, and share the information needed for civic involvement. The Local News & Participation systems map is an open-source tool that welcomes engagement by researchers, media companies, government and nonprofit agencies, funders, and others. Through user involvement, we expect this map to be made more accurate, complete, and practical as a vehicle for improving how the public gains access to information and participates in democracy. We invite you to explore the map and its elements in Kumu. As you do, we hope you will tell us how to better describe and illuminate the dynamics of the Local News & Participation system. Throughout 2016, we will hold webinars and work sessions to involve new perspectives and strengthen this map.
In the experiment, a sample of 834 U.S. adults saw one of two online news articles, both reporting on the struggles of the working poor. The articles were nearly identical in length and reading level, had the same headline, and contained the same photograph. The only difference between the two was that one version focused on the working poor’s hardships, while the other reported on the hardships and how some organizations were coming to the aid of the working poor. In other words, one version was about a problem, while the other also included information about solutions to the problem.
Thursday, April 14th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
First published in The Huffington Post on April 14, 2016.
If you haven't read James Fallows' chronicle of local progress in The Atlantic, do yourself a favor and click over to read it when you're done here.
In it, Fallows writes about his small-plane travels to four dozen small cities throughout the U.S. Through his journey, we discover an alternate narrative of America, one celebrating the power of local determination, democracy and problem solving.
Nationally, we are utterly incapable of collaboration, compromise or making any progress on solving problems. The very rare exceptions only make the dominant pattern more visible.
Yet in cities big and small, where most people live and work, the ability of residents and officials to solve problems has not abated and may actually have picked up.
I would add this observation to Fallows' encouraging chronicle: There are two distinct strategies and styles evident in many local success stories. One is a more technocratic, top-down, data-driven, often tech-enabled approach. The other is more deliberative and democratic, centered on civic engagement and community empowerment. Both have their strengths and can help address different classes of problems or different aspects of the same problem.
Top-down, technocratic problem solving can be good for technical problems. For example, it can identify where the potholes are, and how to speed up response time to a 911 call.
In New York, for instance, the former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was a master of technocratic, top-down problem solving, and for many types of problems that worked very well-- but not for all. It created an efficient 311 system that serves citizens well, and strengthened New York's anti-terrorism capabilities. But technocratic attempts to improve schools and police-community relations through corporate approaches of measurement and accountability fell flat and, in many instances, were counterproductive.
There are no purely technocratic fixes for many problems cities face, including poverty, inequality, educational disparities or diminishing opportunity. Such "wicked problems" (as the literature sometimes calls them) prove amazingly resistant to purely top-down solutions.
Instead, such problems require ongoing attention from many disparate actors, durable public support so experiments can prove themselves and blossom into policies and practices that drive progress, and tough choices among competing priorities about how we want to live.
Solutions to such problems can be data-informed but not data-determined because they are, to a very great extent, matters of values, priorities and the trade-offs we are willing to accept as a community. Do the pros outweigh the cons of a much higher minimum wage? Are we willing to experiment to find out? Should we permit bigger buildings in historic neighborhoods if doing so will make rents more affordable? If not, what measures should we take instead? Are we willing to provide the resources to ensure that all schools have adequate and safe facilities and well-trained teachers, or not? If so, how?
This is fertile ground for deliberative democratic work, and in fact that's the only approach that will bear fruit in the long term. In his most compelling examples of renewal and progress, Fallows feature cities where many different groups of peopleâ€Š--â€Šexperts and non-experts, officials and everyday residents, conservatives and liberalsâ€Š--â€Šwork together on solutions.
As technocratic approaches reach their limit, we have the opportunity to help cities make progress on their more wicked problems. We can do so by engaging and empowering communities, building the public will needed to sustain sound policy, developing strong lines of communication, and by celebrating our successes rather than wallowing in our failures.
Thursday, April 14th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER
David Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics. Photo: Ryan Johnson via Flickr
As David Brooks pointed out in his column on “How to Fix Politics,” our political system has reached a perilous state of dysfunction and distrust, and it is unlikely that any solutions to this crisis will come from the political parties or their presidential candidates.
Brooks is also right that the partisanship and incivility that plague our politics are not just due to poor manners or bad process skills. They are based in much deeper structural flaws in how leaders and communities engage each other around important issues and resulting strains in the relationship between citizens and government.
Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics, and uses a 1981 quote from one of our founders, Daniel Yankelovich, to illustrate how long the weakening of those networks has been going on. “If we’re going to salvage our politics,” Brooks says, we’ll have to “nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within.”
This kind of argument is often dismissed as a sentimental notion, or a lament over our lack of civic virtue, but it shouldn’t be. There are specific proposals and measures that can accomplish it.
Strengthening networks for engagement should be one of our top public priorities, and there are in fact a number of concrete ways to move forward on it. Much of our work at Public Agenda centers on these challenges, and we are part of a field of other organizations and leaders – from neighborhood organizers to innovative public officials – who have pioneered more productive formats and structures for democratic politics.
There are two kinds of communication that need to be happening for those networks to strengthen and grow. One kind, as Brooks references, is “thick” engagement that is intensive, informed and deliberative. In these kinds of settings, people are able to share their experiences, learn more about public problems, consider a range of solutions or policy options and decide how they want to act.
Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo
Does your insurance company provide a website or other resource for you to look up health care prices? If so, they're part of a growing trend. More and more government agencies, insurance companies and nonprofit organizations have developed tools to help patients navigate the complicated and often opaque health care price system.
As these resources proliferate, some health care experts worry that, if patients assume price is associated with quality, they'll avoid low-price care. After all, it's only reasonable to believe that price and quality are related. Yet while health care prices vary widely throughout the country, there is no evidence that higher prices are associated with higher quality or better health outcomes.
A new analysis of our 2015 survey data on price transparency provides good news for those troubled experts: most Americans do not associate the price of health care with the quality of that care. , conducted by Public Agenda's David Schleifer and Carolin Hagelskamp together with Kathryn Phillips of the University of California, San Francisco, was published in the April issue of Health Affairs, a top health policy journal.
In the analysis, we found that a majority of Americans (ranging from 58-71 percent depending on how the questions were framed) do not think health care cost and quality are associated. Fewer than one-quarter (21-24 percent) perceive an association, while 8-16 percent are unsure.