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05.07 One Area of Immigration Reform We Can All Agree On

Monday, May 7th, 2018 | ANTONIO DIEP

As the public enjoys the brighter days of spring, leaders on Capitol Hill are weathering stormier times. Even while finding themselves in what is anticipated to be a momentous midterm year, both the executive and legislative branches are at an impasse on the issue of immigration.

Media narratives, pundits and voluble echoes of social media frame stalled talks as illustrative of a polarized and demanding public on the issue. But beyond the clamor, evidence reveals there is one topic within the issue of immigration that many Americans agree on: fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and providing relief to its estimated 689,000 recipients1, otherwise known as “Dreamers.”

While the extreme rhetoric surrounding DACA has surged, there’s been little action, despite consistent trends showing support for leaders to do something about the program and, in particular, to help its recipients. This has caused many in Washington to blame the opposing party or be dissuaded from doing anything at all—ignoring the will of the public.

Almost 80 percent of Americans say it should be a priority for Congress to grant legal status to children who came with their parents to the U.S. illegally.

As the election year progresses, all indications are pointing to a public ready to take action to help DACA recipients. A number of polls conducted throughout the year found strong and consistent support for Dreamers to stay in the country. For example:

  • A recent NPR/Marist poll found that a majority—almost 80 percent—of Americans say it should be a priority for Congress to grant legal status to children who came with their parents to the U.S. illegally.
  • In January, a CBS News poll found nearly nine in 10 Americans favored allowing immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay.
  • Another January poll by Pew found that 74 percent of the American public favored granting permanent legal status to young children who came to the U.S. illegally.
  • A February NPR/Ipsos poll found two-thirds of Americans support legal status for Dreamers.

Indeed, an overwhelming amount of surveys suggest the public are themselves engaged and willing to move the needle on a DACA resolution. Yet nothing meaningful has been accomplished. There have been bipartisan efforts, albeit imperfect ones, by a small coalition of lawmakers to come to a consensus. But such efforts continue to derail, leaving DACA recipients in limbo and making it even more unclear whether political leaders as a whole are prepared, or willing, to mobilize on an issue that has profound policy implications for the entire country.

Since the program was instituted in 2012 via an executive order by the Obama administration, DACA recipients (mostly ages 25 or younger2) have been able to remain in the country, obtain temporary work permits, earn income, pay taxes, access health services, pursue educational opportunities and enlist for military service. Regardless of political allegiance, Americans support enabling DACA recipients to continue to do so, perhaps because they recognize the valuable economic and practical impact Dreamers’ inclusion in society has on the country. Or maybe because they simply believe that it’s the right thing to do for law-abiding adults who were brought to the U.S. as children and have considered it their home for as long as they can remember.

When looking closer at the survey research, DACA appears to be an issue on which most Americans can find compromise. Independents, Democrats and Republicans mostly agree there should be some relief for the program’s recipients3. In listening to the opinion of the public, leaders have a real opportunity to leverage this common ground to shape policy reflective of the public will. But public opinion is not enough.

On the local level, people are wrestling with the issue of immigration on their own terms, trying to figure out what’s right for their community, not waiting for Congressional leaders to solve it for them. But national policy is important, and if lawmakers don’t deliver on what the public wants, Americans have an even greater opportunity this November to use their democratic voice to ensure they fill those seats on Capitol Hill with representatives who will deliver. Only by turning political talk into political action can the American people make clear that they will no longer tolerate political complacency from their elected officials.

There is no doubt immigration has always been and continues to be a polarizing issue for some citizens and certainly among political elites. But the considerable widespread support for a DACA fix shows that this issue, specifically, is a policy around which a minority is arguing loudly, drowning out the voices of the majority. It’s up to leaders in office to decide if they’re willing to tune out the zealous cries of the few and listen instead to the vast majority of those they represent.


05.04 ENGAGING IDEAS - 05/04/2018

Friday, May 4th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Why replacing politicians with experts is a reckless idea (The Guardian)
In the age of Trump and Brexit, some people say that democracy is fatally flawed and we should be ruled by ‘those who know best’. Here’s why that’s not very clever.

Facebook Can Still Save American Democracy From Itself (Fast Company)
Scapegoating Facebook for the ills of U.S. governance ultimately won’t get America anywhere.

The Public, the Political System and American Democracy (Pew)
At a time of growing stress on democracy around the world, Americans generally agree on democratic ideals and values that are important for the United States. But for the most part, they see the country falling well short in living up to these ideals.


Manufacturing jobs: Implications for productivity and inequality (Brookings)
Declining shares of manufacturing jobs in overall employment have been a concern for policymakers for years in advanced and some developing economies.

The Truth About Affordable Housing in Our Backyards (Next City)
Despite its place as the proverbial battleground between pro-development YIMBYs and anti-development NIMBYs, the literal backyard is, increasingly, common ground.

Private-Sector Solution to Affordable Housing Gets Off the Ground (Wall Street Journal)
Effort would boost land trusts, which acquire land and buildings in relatively affordable areas and sell homes to low- and middle-income families.


Madrid as a place of democratic innovation (Open Democracy)
An exuberant ecosystem of citizen practices and self-managed spaces has turned Madrid into an international reference of the urban commons

Does digital democracy improve democracy? (Open Democracy)
The effects of the digital world on politics and society are still difficult to measure, and the speed with which these new technological tools evolve is often faster than a scholar’s ability to assess them, or a policymaker’s capacity to make them fit into existing institutional designs.


Teacher Pay Is So Low in Some U.S. School Districts That They’re Recruiting Overseas (New York Times)
As walkouts by teachers protesting low pay and education funding shortfalls spread across the country, the small but growing movement to recruit teachers from overseas is another sign of the difficulty some districts are having providing the basics to public school students.

Everyone’s talking about the Upper West Side desegregation plan, but few families would be affected by it (Chalkbeat)
Under the plan, which is aimed at making schools more diverse, at least a quarter of seats at the district’s 16 middle schools would be offered to students with low scores on state math and English exams.

About 1,800 TNReady tests invalidated after students take wrong test for their grade (Chalkbeat)
In the latest glitch in Tennessee’s beleaguered online testing system, a “poorly designed feature” caused about 1,800 TNReady exams to be invalidated statewide.

Higher Ed/Workforce

The financial forecast for colleges is gloomy. How can they weather the storm? (Washington Post)
As another academic year winds down on campuses nationwide, the news about the financial underpinning of colleges and universities keeps getting worse. Two studies out in the past week show that key revenue sources at public and private universities continue to shrink without any immediate signs of slowing.

Harvard agrees to negotiate a contract with graduate-student union (Washington Post)
Harvard University agreed Tuesday to negotiate its first contract with teaching and research assistants, a victory for graduate students who have fought for years to gain a seat at the bargaining table.

High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University (NPR)
While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor's degree is softening, even as the price — and the average debt into which it plunges students — keeps going up.

Health Care

How States Can Begin Cutting the Costs of Health Care (Governing)
The only way to achieve the goal of affordable health care for all Americans is to cut the cost of care. Unfortunately, neither the Democrats' Affordable Care Act nor the GOP's failed American Health Care Act made great strides towards that goal.

Seniors are the health care industry's gold rush (Axios)
Health care companies are rushing to buy or invest in areas that focus on the elderly population, as baby boomers are reaching an age when they require more health care services.

Has Maine found a bipartisan solution to easing health care costs? (Boston Globe)
Might we ever see a bipartisan health care bill that addresses costs and receives unanimous legislative support? Although one emanating from Washington seems unlikely anytime soon, an innovative bipartisan health care bill — referred to as Right to Shop — unanimously passed the Maine Legislature in 2017 and merits a closer look.

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04.27 ENGAGING IDEAS - 04/27/2018

Friday, April 27th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Key findings on Americans’ views of the U.S. political system and democracy (Pew)
As part of a year-long effort to study “Facts, Trust and Democracy” Pew Research Center has conducted a major survey of public views of the U.S. political system and American democracy. The survey finds that while Americans are in broad agreement on important ideals relating to democracy in the U.S., they think the nation is falling short in realizing many of these ideals.

American politics is tribal. Are we ready to admit that? (The Guardian)
While Americans like to think that they transcend tribal thinking, Amy Chua’s new book argues that this is far from the case.

The Reinvention of America (The Atlantic)
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.


Why HUD Wants to Raise the Rent (CityLab)
A new bill is aimed at reducing long waits for federal assistance and increasing “self-sufficiency.”

Breaking the tragic cycle of intergenerational poverty (Deseret News)
Historically, most Americans have been able to achieve economic stability. The United States’ economic system has traditionally provided opportunity for determined, hardworking people to climb the ladder of stability and success. There is a pervasive feeling, however, that strong barriers to upward mobility have increased in today’s economy.

Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class (New York Times)
The anxiety and seething anger that followed the disappearance of middle-income jobs in factory towns has helped reshape the American political map and topple longstanding policies on tariffs and immigration.


This Small Southern City Is the Most Innovative in the Country (Governing)
Fayetteville, N.C., earned the top honors in the annual Equipt to Innovate report, a joint study from Governing and the nonprofit Living Cities.

Creating Spaces for People to Participate in Urban Planning (Next City)
Sometimes it takes leaving and returning home to realize what it is that truly makes us tick. Luisa Santos grew up in Miami and returned there after graduating from Amherst College. She got to work as program coordinator for an environmental service-learning program, and also got connected with the Miami Climate Alliance, a coalition of environmental organizations.

CivEd Talks – Doing Civic Engagement through a Wicked Problems Lens: The Case for Passionate Impartiality (EJournal Of Public Affairs)
Martin Carcasson made the case for taking a “wicked problems” perspective on tough issues to work toward improving the quality of public discourse and building the necessary civic skill sets and mindsets in our students.


Genes and environment have equal influence in learning for rich and poor kids, study finds (
A new study suggests that class may not affect their learning as much as previously believed.

‘They are so underpaid’: School support staff scrape by on meager earnings (The Washington Post)
They are often the essence of a school: the staff members who care for children with disabilities, who cook the food and clean the floors and tutor young readers. But as teachers in this state stood on the front lines of a two-week walkout that left classrooms empty, school support workers remained on the sidelines — and, sometimes, still toiled in schools because, unlike teachers, there would be no pay if they did not show up.

D.C. Council members propose independent education watchdog (Washington Post)
A majority of D.C. Council members are calling for the creation of an independent watchdog empowered to make sure the city’s schools rely on sound data as they emerge from a torrent of scandals.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Colleges are using consultants to manipulate student loan default rates, GAO says (Washington Post)
Fearing they could lose access to federal student loans and grants, colleges and universities hire consultants to keep student loan defaults in check. But these advisers too often encourage borrowers to temporarily postpone payments, rather than enroll in plans that would manage their debt long-term — a strategy that skews the default data and threatens the financial health of borrowers, according to a study released Thursday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The Top Jobs Where Women Are Outnumbered by Men Named John (The Upshot, New York Times)
In the corridors of American power, it can be as easy to find a man named John as it is to find a woman.

Seeking Rural Applicants and Perhaps Ideological Diversity (Inside Higher Ed)
Warren Wilson sees success in part of strategy to make campus more welcoming to conservative students. Swarthmore expands recruiting.

Health Care

Colorado’s big idea for lowering health care prices is more transparency. Here’s why some think that won’t work. (Denver Post)
Could a new bill that requires hospitals to reveal all their pricing secrets actually cause prices to rise?

This bill will control health care costs and protect California patients (Sacramento Bee)
Health care prices are just too high. Last month when Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued Sutter Health, one of California’s largest hospital chains, for anti-competitive practices and prices, he pointed to a problem not just with one provider, but to out-of-control health care pricing.

Why “Skin in the Game” Turns Out To Be Not Enough to Motivate Consumers to Check Healthcare Prices (Healthcare Informatics)
An experiment in Massachusetts reveals the limitations of offering consumers provider pricing information.


04.20 ENGAGING IDEAS - 04/20/2018

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Our democracy is broken. Why can't technology fix it? (Engadget)
Outdated election mechanisms like the Electoral College and potential interference from hostile foreign powers aside, Americans have historically proven themselves reticent to participate in choosing their leaders.

The populist challenge to liberal democracy (Brookings)
For those who believe in liberal democracy, it is sobering to review the events of the past quarter-century. Twenty-five years ago, liberal democracy was on the march.

The echo chamber has destroyed faith in our American democracy (The Hill)
American history often has its moments of tumult and discord. There is no greater a breach in our body politic than the years of the Civil War. The era of the Gilded Age laid bare the gap between our nation’s haves and have nots. The events of 1968 which we now commemorate looking back 50 years — the Tet Offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the rioting in American cities — all laid bare political, societal and racial strife that had been unresolved and echoes to this day.


American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden (Pew)
High housing costs threaten financial security and put homeownership out of reach for many.

The world’s economists can’t wait to get their hands on US tax returns (Quartz)
Over the past three months, about 150 million US households have filed their taxes. In doing so, they didn’t just fund the US government and fill the coffers of H&R Block and Turbotax. They also participated in the creation of one of the world’s most important datasets—numbers that have changed what we know about the state of the American Dream.

Is Housing Inequality the Main Driver of Economic Inequality? (City Lab)
A growing body of research suggests that inequality in the value of Americans’ homes is a major factor—perhaps the key factor—in the country’s economic divides.


Managing Citizen Engagement Overload (Governing)
The government gets more feedback than it can handle. In part, that's because public-sector leaders have asked for it. Public officials want increased citizen engagement.

Event spurs local momentum for participatory budgeting (Bike Portland)
Last Saturday over 100 people from around the region gathered at the Rosewood Initiative in East Portland for an event that could have significant implications for government budgeting in the region — including the allocation of transportation funds.

This Plan For An AI-Based Direct Democracy Outsources Votes To A Predictive Algorithm (Fast Company)
MIT Media Lab’s Cesar Hidalgo imagines a system of direct democracy fueled by personalized digital agents that vote on issues for us.


Can schools encourage students to be more involved citizens? A new study suggests yes they can. (Chalkbeat)
The study, conducted by independent researchers commissioned by Democracy Prep, took advantage of New York City’s charter school admissions rules to examine the impact of applying to, getting accepted to, and enrolling in the network’s schools on later civic participation.

Dual language charter schools attract the longest waiting lists in D.C.(Washington Post)
The D.C. Public Charter School Board released waitlist data Tuesday for the 2018-2019 academic year. The data shows that dual language and Montessori-style schools are in high demand. Six of the 10 schools with the longest waiting lists, including Mundo Verde Bilingual and DC Bilingual, are known as dual language schools.

25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools (New York Times)
Teacher protests have spread rapidly from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona in recent months. We invited America’s public school educators to show us the conditions that a decade of budget cuts has wrought in their schools. We heard from 4,200 teachers. Here is a selection of the submissions, condensed and edited for clarity.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Out of poverty, into the middle class (Hechinger Report)
As automation disrupts the labor market and good middle-class jobs disappear, schools are struggling to equip students with future-proof skills

Trump administration streamlining student debt forgiveness for permanently disabled veterans (Washington Post)
The Trump administration announced plans Monday to make it easier for permanently disabled military veterans to have their federal student debt wiped away.

Where Colleges Recruit … and Where They Don't (Inside Higher Education)
New study finds that colleges go where students are likely to be white and wealthy.

Health Care

Humana dives into value-based care for maternity health (Fierce Healthcare)
Humana is moving further into the value-based payment market with an announcement that it is contracting with physician practices for a bundled-payment model for maternity care.

Pioneer study: Despite better tools, consumers still aren't shopping for health care (Boston Business Journal)
A new report has found that though insurers are doing a better job providing cost estimates for their members, consumers still aren’t all that interested in shopping for their health care.

Would Americans Accept Putting Health Care on a Budget? (The Upshot)
If you wanted to get control of your household spending, you’d set a budget and spend no more than it allowed. You might wonder why we don’t just do the same for spending on American health care.


04.13 ENGAGING IDEAS - 04/13/2018

Friday, April 13th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Views of American democracy based on internet search data (Brookings)
In this paper, we look at views of U.S. democracy using internet search data. We examine public interest in democracy, fake news, money in politics, ethics concerns, the rule of law, and major political institutions in order to gauge how Americans are reacting to recent developments.

Maine's Fitful Experiment With a New Way of Voting (The Atlantic)
The state will be the first to implement ranked-choice voting in its June primaries, but not all the candidates will commit to accepting the results.

Facebook backs political ad bill, sets limits on 'issue ads' (Reuters)
Facebook Inc backed for the first time on Friday proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads and introduced a new verification process for people buying “issue” ads, which have been used to sow discord online.


Are We Ready for President Trump’s Plan for Poor People? (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Across the political spectrum, it’s agreed that too many Americans are living in poverty. That’s about as far as common ground goes, though. Partisanship rears its head whenever we set about trying to identify and address the causes of poverty. Illustrating that point is the fact that, over the weekend, President Trump issued a new executive order that he described as part of a plan to lift people out of poverty.

Is Social Mobility Essential to Democracy? (Kellogg Insight)
When social mobility is high, the thinking goes, people know they are likely to move into a different social class in the future—and will vote in the interests of those future selves, not necessarily their current selves.


Does Shiny New Tech Simplify How Government Delivers Services? (Government Technology)
Missouri CIO Rich Kliethermes says effective citizen engagement means focusing on making interactions as easy as possible.

Chicago Will Host the First in a Series of Specialized Smart City Forums (Government Technology)
The forums, run by nonprofit US Ignite, will help cities in their efforts to scale smart urban projects from pilot to enterprise systems


Teachers on Tech: Good for Student Learning, Bad for Student Health (Education Week)
A new nationally representative Gallup poll offers more evidence that teachers are of two different minds when it comes to educational technology.

Study Reveals Teachers Don't Have Enough Time for Peer Collaboration (Education Week)
Teachers in high-poverty schools collaborate just as much as teachers in low-poverty schools, researchers at the RAND Corporation recently found. However, teachers in both low- and high-poverty schools reported they didn't have enough time to devote to collaboration. 

Nation's Report Card: Achievement Flattens as Gaps Widen Between High and Low Performers (Education Week)
Across the board, struggling American students are falling behind, while top performers are rising higher on the test dubbed the "Nation's Report Card."

Higher Ed/Workforce

New Jersey Moves Toward Free Community College (Wall Street Journal)
Gov. Phil Murphy plans $45 million in grants for low-income students that will start in second semester of coming school year

How to Clean Up the Student Loan Mess (The New York Times)
New research on student loans is reinforcing a key lesson of behavioral economics: Seemingly minor details matter in a major way. Who answers the phone at the loan company, what choices you’re offered and how they are framed can have profound effects on your financial well-being.

College credits where credit’s due: Schools slowly come around to accepting transfer students’ work (Washington Post)
An enrollment slump is forcing private institutions to reconsider transfer students as a way to fill seats. So is new competition from community colleges in some states and regions that have been made tuition-free; those schools are seen as sources of potential transfer candidates for bachelor’s degrees.

Health Care

California’s ambitious plan to regulate health prices, explained (Vox)
California is exploring a bold and controversial new plan to rein in health care spending by letting the state government set medical prices.

Bipartisan Bill to Bring Transparency to Colorado Health Care Costs (9News)
A group of bipartisan state legislators will try to revolutionize the way Coloradans pay for health care. If they get their way, you would be able to access the true cost of what you might have to pay for any one of thousands of procedures, pharmaceuticals, and examinations.

Nurse executives are concerned nursing shortage is impacting care—and it's only going to get worse (Fierce Healthcare)
Staffing firm AMN Healthcare surveyed more than 200 chief nursing officers and found that more than one-third (34%) fear that nursing shortages have a "considerable" or "great" impact on care quality. In addition, 41% said that these staffing problems negatively impact the patient experience. 


04.06 ENGAGING IDEAS - 04/06/2018

Friday, April 6th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The Decline of Local News is Bad for Democracy (Pacific Standard)
Tracking the events in state legislatures and city councils requires skilled beat reporters. They're becoming an increasingly rare breed.

The 2016 Exit Polls Led Us to Misinterpret the 2016 Election (New York Times)
Crucial disputes over Democratic strategy concerning economic distribution, race and immigration have in large part been based on Election Day exit polls that now appear to have been inaccurate in key ways.

The Supreme Court struggles with partisan redistricting (The Economist)
The justices dislike gerrymandering but do not know what to do about it


Is Inequality in America Irreversible? (
We are living in a time of extreme and extraordinary inequality. There is now a genre of research looking at different dimensions of the income and wealth gap. This body of work chronicles the shapes and facets of inequality and its adverse impact on everything we care about.

What Americans can learn from British class guilt (The Guardian)
America is supposed to have greater social mobility. In the UK, everyone ostensibly has a rung but they are also trapped in that position. But these once-clear binaries are muddled

Income Mobility Charts for Girls, Asian-Americans and Other Groups. Or Make Your Own. (The Upshot)
Last week we wrote about a sweeping new study of income inequality, which followed 20 million children in the United States and showed how their adult incomes varied by race and gender. The research was based on data about virtually all Americans now in their late 30s.


City Council program lets you choose what public projects to fund in your neighborhood (am New York)
That park near your apartment in need of a little TLC; a city-owned vacant lot that would be perfect for a community garden; an intersection that could benefit from public safety improvements — if you’ve ever had an idea on how to improve the city, there’s a program that wants your input.

Digital Literacy Is at the Heart of a Thriving Smart City (Government Technology)
During the Smart Cities Conference in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this week, thought leaders broke down the issues facing technology deployments and the importance of bringing constituents along for the ride.

How to Decide, Fairly, Which Transportation Investments Are the Best Ones (StreetsBlog)
The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit, released a report today describing a three-step framework that can be used to help communities figure out which transportation investments best serve their needs.


New Teachers Report That They Feel Well-Prepared for Their Roles (Education Week)
The majority of public school teachers with five or fewer years of experience said they felt ready to lead their classrooms in the first year on the job, according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Larger Concerns Behind the Teachers' Strikes (The Atlantic)
The teachers’ complaints go far beyond compensation, and when viewed in the context of their other demands, it’s clear that the strike gets at the heart of some of the biggest issues facing America’s children: access to effective teachers, high-quality learning materials, and modern facilities.

High School Grade Inflation: Real But Maybe Not a Worry? (Inside Higher Ed)
Florida State shares data showing that high school students are in fact earning higher grades. Yet the predictive value of the high school GPA hasn't changed.

Higher Ed/Workforce

More Aid for Student Parents (Inside Higher Ed)
Congress triples federal funding for low-income student parents, and advocates welcome the support -- the first new investment in years -- but say much more is needed.

New federal program tackles spiraling costs of college textbooks (
The new grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, will support the creation or improved use of open textbooks for use at any college and university. Open textbooks are made freely available online by their authors. They can also be changed and combined by instructors who use them in their classes.

In Many States, Students at Public Universities Foot Biggest Part of the Bill (Wall Street Journal)
State funding cuts mean students in a majority of states are paying more in tuition than the government does

Health Care

Promise and Reality of Price Transparency (New England Journal of Medicine)
More than housing, food, or retirement, the cost of health care is now the most common financial concern for Americans, and almost half the adults in the United States have some difficulty paying their out-of-pocket medical costs.

Hospitals Fear Competitive Threat From Potential Walmart-Humana Deal (Wall Street Journal)
Walmart has been a very sophisticated buyer of health benefits, and could increase pressure on services provided within hospitals

How health care turmoil hurts the gig economy (Axios)
Independent contractors and freelancers make up an increasing share of the workforce, yet Washington is largely neglecting the market where self-employed workers get health insurance. That's bad news for people in the burgeoning "gig economy," where work is divorced from an employer — and thus from employer-sponsored insurance.


04.03 Waning Confidence in Higher Education

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

Is college necessary? Is it worth it? For a time, it appeared those questions were the fading residue of a passing age as people increasingly viewed college as critical to the American dream: Earn a degree, get a decent job, have a good life.

Thus, when Public Agenda asked people in a 2000 survey if a college degree is necessary for success in today's work world, only 31 percent said it was. But as we continued to ask that question over the years, we saw that number steadily rise until, in 2008, a full 55 percent of people surveyed said that a college education is necessary.

In the world of survey results, that's a dramatic ascent, and given the correlation between higher education and rising income, we expected that upward trend to continue. But when we ran the question again in 2016, just 42 percent agreed that college is essential to success in today's world.

What happened? While more research is needed to dig into the question, we hypothesize that several factors have combined, since the Great Recession, to cut away at people's confidence in higher education and its value.

Most obviously, people worry about the cost and crushing debt that comes with pursuing a college degree, especially in the face of an uncertain job market with fewer and fewer stable, middle-class jobs. For adults looking to return to school or start at a later age, add time away from family, child care expenses and working a full-time job. Then, factor in the rise of the gig economy, and people may be feeling they might as well piece together an insecure existence, rather than incur debt and be faced with a shaky economic situation anyway.

One more thing: About the same time that our research found people losing faith in higher education, we also saw a peak in the perception that colleges are more concerned with "the bottom line" than the success of their students. In 2007, a slight majority, 52 percent, said that colleges care more about the bottom line compared to 43 percent who said that colleges care most about "making sure students have a good educational experience," a gap of only 9 percent. Just two years later, in 2009, that gap had ballooned to 28 percent and has hovered around that level ever since.

Higher education should take from this that college needs to be both more affordable and more student-centered in our age of economic transition and uncertainty. Institutions should also be thinking about how to reconcile the waning confidence in higher education with the reality that in today's world, more and more jobs require some form of post-secondary schooling. Forward-looking higher education leaders are doing just that, as was the case when I recently participated on a panel for the New England Board of Higher Education.

We will explore these issues and attitudes in our upcoming report on the experiences and needs of adult prospective students. For a sneak peek, listen to what some of these "new traditional students" had to say in these captivating interviews:

Stay tuned for updates on this and our other work in higher education.

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03.27 Buenos Aires: A Global Model of Innovative Citizen Participation

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018 | NICOLE CABRAL

Civic participation not only matters, but is essential for a vibrant and inclusive city infrastructure. This is especially evident in places like Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although Buenos Aires is synonymous with tango dancing, steak, and fine wine, local leaders are positioning the city to be a global model of innovation in citizen participation. They will have the opportunity to showcase this in 2018 when Buenos Aires will be on the world’s stage as they host the G20 Summit and the Special Olympics later this year.

The promise and challenges of this work are evident in the way that citizens and government are working together in the poorer areas of the city. Far from the city’s trendy neighborhoods or barrios, are underserved neighborhoods called villas. Often known as pockets of poverty, violence and inequality, these informal settlements of mainly immigrants from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, are home to over a quarter million residents and make up approximately 10 percent of Buenos Aires’ population.

(Right) Nicole Cabral, Associate Director of Public Engagement, delivering remarks during the Governing With Neighbors convening in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I had the opportunity to witness these contrasts during a trip to Argentina, where I was invited by the office of the Undersecretariat of Strategic Government and Institutional Quality of the City of Buenos Aires to present at the Governing With Neighbours convening. The convening helped government officials from Buenos Aires and other cities around the country to reflect on different strategies to develop and strengthen civic engagement initiatives. Experts from around the world spoke about their expertise and insights on civic engagement and open government. I shared examples from my work at Public Agenda on strategies that I have found to be effective in building engaged and inclusive communities.

While there, I met with Maria Castaños of the office of the Secretary of Social and Urban Integration in Villa 31 - the oldest and largest villa in the city. We spent several hours walking through the neighborhood, which is located next to the central bus station and in between the business district and the affluent Recoleta district. We met with residents and Maria shared with me the city’s efforts to socially and economically invest in villas. The office of the Secretary of Social and Urban Integration, which is headquartered in Villa 31, is working on a number of initiatives, including a complex relocation project to move residents who have constructed their homes under a major highway by using the infrastructure of the highway overpass as the frame of their homes. Maria organizes the consultation process for the community members to decide how they want to redevelop the overpass once the residents are relocated. It was amazing to see a community that had been historically neglected and ignored by the government shape the design of capital improvements to their neighborhood.

A drawing of a proposed redesign of the highway by one of the children living in Villa 31.

Maria showed me renderings of the redesign of the highway created by the kids in the community that participated in a series of consultation processes. The kids envision turning the highway into a community space similar to the High Line elevated park and trail in New York City. They would like to see a school, library, community center, senior center, culture center and soccer fields -- all institutions and amenities currently unavailable to them. In the renderings you can see the participants grappling with what to name the new park and in so grappling with their identity. Should it remain Villa 31 or should it be renamed as a barrio and be integrated more fully into Buenos Aires society?

As the city leaders continue to integrate the residents of Villa 31 into the development process, I would love to see them included equally as co-governing partners. If this happens, when I visit the office of the Secretary of Social and Urban Integration in the near future, there will be residents of the community working in a variety of capacities, as well as in leadership positions working alongside Maria and her colleagues. That is a model of innovative citizen participation.


03.23 ENGAGING IDEAS - 03/23/2018

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The ‘value divide’ between Democrats and Republicans is getting bigger and bigger (Washington Post)
In the Trump era, Americans may be more polarized now than ever. But while Americans have always known they don't all share the same politics, more of them are now questioning whether their political opponents even share their same values.

I'm a political polarization researcher. Here's what I know in 2018. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
When we talk politics today, our voices are loud and fractious, always passionate and often divisive. Our conversations are rarely rational debates; they either become therapy sessions with like-minded partisans or devolve into shouting matches against the other side. But there is one thing that we can agree on, one feature of today’s politics that is beyond debate: We are deeply polarized.

Google Pledges $300 Million to Clean Up False News (New York Times)
In a move to combat the epidemic of false and unreliable information on the internet, Google is pledging to spend $300 million over the next three years to support authoritative journalism.


The sorriest urban scene: why a US homelessness crisis drags on (The Guardian)
Despite approving billions in funds to fight the problem, Los Angeles has seen its homeless population continue to grow. What can politicians do?

Sons of Rich Black Families Fare No Better Than Sons of Working-Class Whites (The Upshot)
Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.

In the Suburbs, Social Services Can’t Keep Up With Families’ Needs (Slate)
University of Washington social policy professor Scott W. Allard found that poverty has rapidly expanded in the surrounding Washington, D.C., metro: an astounding 125 percent increase in suburban poverty between 1990 and 2014, in comparison to a fractional 13.6 percent increase in the District of Columbia And the geography of social service capacity shows great variation within a metro area.


How Student Activism Could Potentially Impact American Politics (NPR)
NPR's Sarah McCammon speaks with Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University about the potential impact of student activism in American politics.

After Tempe fatality, self-driving car developers must engage with public now or risk rejection (The Conversation)
Residents don’t have the technical expertise of the autonomous vehicle developers. But they likely do have insights that would substantially enhance the safety and trustworthiness of the vehicles being tested.

Public opinion: Elected officials and agency staff need to care what their constituents think (The Journal)
An important aspect of the decision-making process of governmental agencies is the gathering and analysis of public comments. Unfortunately, that essential component has experienced some significant failures lately, and that failure is a threat to participatory democracy.


More high schools offer free college admission testing. But there’s a catch. (Washington Post)
Some of Maryland’s largest school systems have joined a growing national movement to provide college admission testing to high school juniors at no charge. But there’s a catch for many of these students and others around the country: The free exams won’t include the essay-writing portion that some highly selective universities require.

The barriers that make charter schools inaccessible to disadvantaged families (Brookings)
Poorer families have depended on public school systems to provide high-quality education in neighborhoods they can afford. Charter schools have the potential to expand families’ tuition-free options, closing the gap in school choices between wealthier and poorer families. However, they only expand families’ options if they are genuinely accessible—not just technically available. An assortment of barriers can get in the way.

Elementary school teachers sometimes follow a class of students from year to year. New research suggests that’s a good idea. (Chalkbeat)
Students improve more on tests in their second year with the same teacher, it finds, and the benefits are largest for students of color.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Harvard Drops SAT Essay as Requirement (Inside Higher Education)
Harvard University has announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit the essay portion of either the SAT or the ACT, even though they will still be required to submit scores for the other parts of the tests.

Pushing for Graduation in Four (Inside Higher Ed)
Texas A&M University at San Antonio pushes students to earn 15 credits a semester -- a task that may not be easy when many have responsibilities at home.

The Third Education Revolution (The Atlantic)
Schools are moving toward a model of continuous, lifelong learning in order to meet the needs of today’s economy.

Health Care

You’ve Heard of Single-Payer. What about All-Payer Health Care? (BU Today)
If you want to buy milk, Austin Frakt says, you could check prices at Shaw’s and Costco. Gas? Compare different stations’ prices at the pump. In both cases, the sellers charge every buyer the same price, allowing buyers to look for the best deals.

Report: Knowing prices could slash health care spending (Portland Tribune)
A report released Tuesday by two policy research groups found that giving patients, providers and insurers prices before health care decisions are made could reduce spending without compromising quality. The report makes a series of recommendations to Oregon lawmakers to increase price transparency.

Controlling Health Care Costs By Listening to Patients (Time)
Health care costs in the United States are in the trillions, and finding solutions to cut costs are becoming critical for medical care sustainability. During a conversation with health leaders about health care cost-cutting, experts made a simple argument: listen to patients.


03.16 ENGAGING IDEAS - 03/16/2018

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The Donald Trump Cabinet Tracker (The Atlantic)
The president’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo will give his Cabinet a new look a little more than a year into his term.

Will the United States ever get back on a bipartisan “Middle Way?” (Salon)
History provides a lesson about how the United States can return to bipartisanship and a civil political discourse

Nearly 40% of Americans say they've lost faith in American democracy (Axios)
"People’s expressed faith in democracy is tightly coupled with their partisanship in ways that threaten the system itself."


The Rise of the 1 Percent Negates Any Progress in the Racial Income Gap (Pacific Standard)
The income gap has been virtually unchanged for the last 50 years, and rising income inequality is part of the reason why.

Are You Underpaid? In a First, U.S. Firms Reveal How Much They Pay Workers (Wall Street Journal)
American workers, for the first time, are discovering how much employees earn at the biggest U.S. companies and how that pay compares with the chief executive’s.

Demographics Give a Big Head Start for Family Income and Wealth (Wall Street Journal)
New research suggests some economic advantages are inherited, rather than earned


Cutting Through the Complexity: A Roadmap for Effective Collaboration (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Collaborations and networks rarely achieve their ambitious goals. Here’s what it takes to make them actually work.

Why Demonstrating Is Good for Kids (New York Times)
Participating in political activism may be good for our teenagers, according to a new research report.

Gartner Says Citizen Engagement Is Critical to the Success of Smart Cities (Gartner)
Citizen engagement is critical to the success of smart cities, according to Gartner, Inc. Smart city initiatives are no longer about optimized traffic patterns, parking management, efficient lighting and improvements to public works.


Venture capitalist visits 200 schools in 50 states and says DeVos is wrong: ‘If choice and competition improve schools, I found no sign of it.’ (Washington Post)
Dintersmith traveled to every state to visit schools and see what works and what doesn’t — and his prescription for the future of American education has very little to do with what Gates and others with that same data-driven mind-set have advocated.

When Chicago cut down on suspensions, students saw test scores and attendance rise, study finds (Chalkbeat)
As school districts across the country have cut back on suspensions, critics claimed that the changes have led to chaos in the classroom. But there’s been remarkably little hard evidence either for or against that view.

What other states are poised for a teachers strike? (Daily Dot)
After more than a week on the picket lines, West Virginia teachers announced on Tuesday that they would return to work. They’ll be going back after winning some big concessions, most notably the five percent raise that brought them out on the line in the first place.

Higher Ed/Workforce

'Masculinities studies' finds renewed relevance in #MeToo era (Christian Science Monitor)
As academia confronts the reverberating effects of the #MeToo movement, increasing interest has turned toward 'masculinities studies' – a relatively new field, born out of sociology, that investigates why and how men act in society.

A Sector in Flux: How For-Profit Higher Ed Has Shifted (Inside Higher Ed)
Over the last two years, many of the industry’s biggest and best-financed players have altered their company structures, merged with onetime competitors, or left the education business altogether.

Race and Gender Bias in Online Courses (Inside Higher Ed)
Study finds instructors are much more likely to respond to comments from white male students than from others.

Health Care

UnitedHealthcare Finds Value-Based Care Closed 50M Gaps in Care (Health Payer Intelligence)
UnitedHealthcare research found that value-based care programs closed over 50 million gaps in care between 2013 and 2017 while lowering care costs.

US spends twice as much as other wealthy countries on health care (The Hill)
The United States spent twice as much on health care than ten other high-income countries in 2016, largely because of the high costs of prescription drugs, administrative overhead and labor, a new study released Tuesday indicates.

Two Minnesota House Bills Would Increase Healthcare Transparency (KEYC)
Two state bills introduced this legislative session look to bring more transparency to Minnesota's healthcare market.


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