January 15, 2015


Free Community College: Cost Just One Piece of the Puzzle


Last week, President Obama announced a plan to make community college free for all students. Many view the proposal as an encouraging step, with nearly everyone within and outside of higher education agreeing that increasing postsecondary attainment is important for the future of all Americans. You can read Public Agenda's statement on the President's proposal here. 


The proposal will certainly increase access to community college. However, with just a third of students enrolled in community college completing their associate's degree within 6 years, cost and access are just two factors in a very complicated issue. According to our research, balancing work and school is a key reason many students drop out, but it's not the only one. 


We've spoken to hundreds of students and faculty about the barriers to completion that students face and examined some of these barriers on our blog last year. If you're interested in digging deeper, the following reports also provide context:  

Read our statement on the President's free community college plan here.

How Can We Ensure That All Children Have Excellent Teachers?

Education reform is complicated, messy and often controversial. Even in this context, everyone agrees that all students, regardless of circumstance or background, should have access to excellent teachers. Our disagreements arise, however, when it comes to how we can make equitable access a reality.


Money, time and energy are limited - so where should our priorities lie? If we can only make a few changes to improve teaching, which ones should they be? What changes can we enact right away and what are the long-term changes we should consider? What can we do at the school or community level and what needs to be worked out in state or federal policy? The issue also brings to bear complex and sometimes uncomfortable questions about the teaching profession - what is effective teaching and how do we measure it? Are there underlying issues about preparation, support, compensation and retention that we must address?


These are questions that states and districts are going to have to reckon with quickly. The U.S. Department of Education has asked each state to analyze their data and engage teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations on plans that include locally-developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators. States must submit these plans by June 2015.


Engaging these stakeholders in a meaningful way on this complex issue is a tall order. To that end,  we've developed a discussion guide to help educators, administrators and other school and district employees sort through educator equity in a non-ideological way and reach common ground on the best approach for their context.




This new Choicework guide presents 3 approaches to the question, "How Can We Ensure That All Students Have Excellent Educators?":

  •  Give our best teachers a real incentive to work where they are most needed
  •  Give teachers better working conditions and more support
  •  Rethink the teaching profession and make fundamental changes

The guide lays out specific policy proposals related to these approaches, along with benefits and trade-offs often associated with each. The aim is not to confine discussion to these 3 choices or suggest that anyone should endorse any of the 3 strategies as is. Rather, the guide helps people think more broadly and critically about what can and should be done to promote and support effective teaching.


The guide can be used in informal discussions or more formal, focus-group style dialogue. The insights from these focus groups can inform policies and procedures around educator equity. Specifically:

  • Teachers can use the guide to host discussions with their colleagues. The guide is an excellent learning tool for professional development, or it can be used in a more formal way to collect teacher insights for policymakers.
  • Principals can encourage discussion among their faculty, staff and colleagues, and help bring the results of these discussions to local and state decision makers.
  • For state and local policymakers charged with the task of engaging stakeholders on their equity plans, this resource can help! You can use it in discussions you sponsor with principals and teachers to solicit good ideas for improving equity in their districts or improve the design of state education.

If you'd like to use this guide to foster discussion and/or gather insights in your school or district but are unsure of where to begin, start by contacting us! Send an email to Susan, our director of public engagement, at


PA in the News

A collection of stories citing work from Public Agenda and our Board and partners.

(Inside Higher Ed)
The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), which Public Agenda's higher education team coordinates, gets a shout out in this story about the U.S. Department of Education's decision to allow at least 40 colleges experiment with competency-based education. Learn more about what competency-based education means here

(The Daily Beast)
PA Board Member Philip Howard's essay on how modern law prevents people from doing what's right. The problem, he says, is that "we have reached a tipping point in the culture where Americans are now trained to look to the rules instead of their own judgement."

A look at public opinion research on how American's view torture references a Public Agenda survey on the use of torture in the war on terrorism

(Michele Borba Blog)
Advice from this blogger cites a Public Agenda study about parental involvement. To read about recent research on parental involvement in education, see our latest reports here

Here in NYC, Personal Democracy Media is looking to connect those working in tech to improve communities, cities and government in their Civic Hall space. You can attend an open house on Tuesday, January 20th. See more info on the project here.  


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

Help our nation make progress on its toughest challengesDonate today.