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Public Agenda Alert -- March 7, 2013
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The Sequester
Parent Engagement
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The Sequester: How the Public Succeeds Where Politicians Have Failed 

This past week, in Columbus, Ohio,  residents convened at a local public library to converse civilly about how to get the federal budget on a sustainable path. Meanwhile, the bickering of our nation's leaders led to nonsensical slashes to the budget that affect everything from cancer research to our national security.


Perhaps our leaders have something to learn from their constituents.


We've seen scenarios like the Columbus forum play out repeatedly across the country: everyday citizens, from diverse walks of life, get together, talk through their differences in a civil manner, face up to the tradeoffs inherent in any option, and build common ground on the essential ingredients for addressing the debt.


This is not to say that the process is easy. It requires a lot of thought and planning. Optimally, such a process should be facilitated by trained moderators and use nonpartisan discussion materials.


Participants and moderators must also understand that common ground doesn't necessarily mean consensus, and they must agree that compromise is not a dirty word.


The fact is, we're going to have to forge a path forward, regardless of our differences. In all likelihood, this means that we will have to make some concessions, and many will not be 100 percent happy with the outcome. But we've seen many times, citizens understand that after talking it through, tradeoffs will be necessary and they are ok with that.


The question, then, is how to convey to our national leaders that their constituents are generally open to compromise. How do we encourage our leaders to thoughtfully consider various approaches to a problem and their tradeoffs? And how do we compel them to build enough common ground with each other and among their constituents that they can find a practical path forward? Obviously, what we're doing now isn't working.


These are questions that Public Agenda and other organizations struggle with regularly. There won't be an easy answer, but one approach is to accentuate the positive and publicize the people who are doing it right.

Are you interested in being one of those people? Organize a discussion in your community, school, organization or church. Use one of our Choicework discussion starters, designed to stimulate nonpartisan deliberation on complex issues, to frame the discussion. And let us know how it goes-we'll be happy to publicize your effort. Help us inspire our nation's leaders by being one of the people doing it right. 

The Challenge of Engaging Parents in Education

Parent and community engagement is one of the biggest challenges teachers and principals across the country say they face, according to the MetLife Foundation's latest installment of the Survey of the American Teacher.


Nearly three-quarters of principals (72%) and teachers (73%) agree that engaging parents and the community in improving education for students is challenging or very challenging.  In fact, parent and community engagement ranks with managing budgets and meeting the needs of diverse students as among the top three challenges they face.


These challenges, they say, go beyond the capacity of schools alone to address, making collaboration with parents and the community all the more urgent.


It's not that parents are unwilling to work with schools. Recent research from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation finds that parents do not believe schools can do it alone. The challenge now is determining when, where and how to best bring parents, teachers, principals and the community at large together to productively discuss their concerns about educating our nation's children.


What can school leaders, policymakers and funders do to improve parent and community engagement? Forthcoming Public Agenda research on parent involvement in the Kansas City region will include recommendations for best practices for engaging parents. All of these recommendations are applicable for schools and districts nationwide and informed by research into the views parents have of their role in school improvement.


Let us know if you would like to receive this forthcoming report and/or more information on our work in engagement and K-12 education. Send an email to to be added to our report distribution list.  

PA In The News


From the March issue of The Atlantic, our research on the American Dream.


5 steps on how to make growth-oriented teacher evaluations a reality, from Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt, co-author of forthcoming book Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform.


The nation's independent auditing agency added climate change to the list of high-risk threats to the nation's fiscal health. Can accountants succeed where others have failed on getting us to act on energy policy, asks senior fellow Scott Bittle.


Society's feelings toward higher education may have peaked around 2000, when we captured public opinion on the topic in our report, Great Expectations. A recent piece in Yahoo! Finance sites the report and make the argument that, as signs of weariness grow, the business of higher education may face some serious challenges. 

About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive 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

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