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02.15 Good Governance Through Better Engagement Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find more details on the Sacramento workshop here.

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

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

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02.10 Engaging Ideas - 2/10/2017

Friday, February 10th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


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


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


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

K-12 Education

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

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

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

Higher Education & Workforce Development

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

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

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

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

Health Care

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

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

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


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

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA

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

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

People think the economy is working poorly for most Americans

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

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

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

Most do not resent wealth, they resent unfair advantage

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

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

On alleviating poverty

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

On Creating Middle-Class Jobs and Greater Economic Security

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

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

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

What do we do now?

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

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

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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.

Comment (1)

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.


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