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04.17 The Common Core – Why Isn't Public Support More Robust?

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Jean Johnson

Bill Gates and the U.S. Army back it, along with a whole slew of educational associations, business leaders and think tanks. And despite the partisanship we often see in politics today, the development and adoption of the new, voluntary Common Core learning standards in literacy and math got off to an amazing start. Set in motion in 2009 by an alliance of Republican and Democratic governors, Common Core standards were quickly adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.


Cyrus McCrimmon/ Denver Post/ Getty Images

So how did an idea that started off with such impressive support become so controversial?

A wide range of critics, including some parents, teachers, education experts, Tea Party activists and liberal groups have begun pushing back against the Common Core — or at least the way it’s being implemented. One state, Indiana, has already dropped the standards, and other states are considering doing so as well.

In surveys, most people seem open to the general idea of national standards and guidelines for learning. A 2010 study from Public Agenda showed that about 8 in 10 parents see having national standards in math and science as helpful. A new survey from the education reform group Achieve shows that 69 percent of voters support implementation of Common Core when presented with a description of it. And support is even stronger among African-Americans, Hispanics, and "public school moms."

But the Achieve study also exposes a fault line. Just 16 percent of voters have read or heard "a lot" about the Common Core; and, among those who have, about 4 in 10 oppose it. Analysts at Achieve say the growing controversy is "leaving a more negative 'impression' among voters." Surveys from Education Next-Harvard PEPG showed that the percent of people opposed to the Core nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013.

A closer look at public and parent thinking suggests some additional reasons why the Common Core hasn’t been attracting more robust support. Consider:


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04.07 How Dialogue is Helping Transfer Students

Monday, April 7th, 2014 | Megan Rose Donovan

Earlier this semester, a group of transfer students gathered in room 3-190 at Baruch College to read and discuss approaches to creating, consuming and conserving energy sources. First, students read through a Choicework discussion guide, which outlined the debates about energy production and consumption. Then, they immediately dove into a lively conversation about their visions to address energy issues in the future.

These group discussions are part of a semester-long seminar to help transfer students acclimate to student life at Baruch. Over the course of ten weeks, students come together to discuss their transition and receive support and advice on the many facets of college life. They also spend six sessions sharing their perspectives with fellow students about three social issues that may hit close to home: jobs and the economy, immigration and energy. Their discussions are framed with tailored versions of our Citizens' Solutions Guides.

We've heard about and been troubled by the hurdles college students face when continuing their education at a new institution. The sessions at Baruch are part of an effort to see how group dialogue on politicized social issues can help transfer students build community while also conveying the mission of their new institution. What we’ve seen so far is more than just acclimatization – it’s collaborative problem solving and community building.


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04.01 Research Team Expands at Public Agenda

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo

We'd like to extend a warm welcome to the newest, and cutest, member of the Public Agenda team: Franka Valentina Gastelo. Franka is the first child for Carolin Hagelskamp, our director of research, and her husband Francisco. Weighing in at 8 pounds, Franka was born February 24th.

Carolin, Francisco and Franka are all healthy and happy. Congratulations to all!

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03.19 For Better Internet Discourse, "Respect" This

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo

With the arrival of spring, we're trying a fresh approach to the way you can interact with our online content.

We believe that engaging with fair-minded perspectives that we may not agree with is good for democracy. This practice helps us break out of a simplistic "for or against" framework toward an issue and come to a rounder comprehension of the issue and approaches to resolving it.

Unfortunately, the civil exchange of opposing perspectives is hard to find on the Internet, where interaction feels like the Wild West. Inherent anonymity doesn't help, and neither does the click-bait game. Conflict, after all, is newsworthy. (This is something we certainly struggle with here!) All of this animosity on the Internet could actually be doing some real damage.


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03.18 What's Missing When We Talk About Regulating Higher Ed

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 | Allison Rizzolo

Ask a college president or a higher ed policy wonk what they think about for-profit colleges, and they'll likely have a strong opinion. But ask the same of a student who's attending a for-profit college and you'll probably receive a blank stare.

For-profit colleges dominate headlines - not only in education media, but also in mainstream press. One of the reasons for-profits are so newsworthy is because they're controversial.

Not all for-profits are the same. Many innovate quickly, offer skills and training directly applicable to the workforce, and provide the flexibility modern students need. At the same time, many are unscrupulous, leaving students saddled with debt and without a legitimate credential.

The federal government is trying to crack down on these less-scrupulous institutions. Via what's known as the gainful-employment rule, the government will withhold federal financial aid from any career education program (for-profit or not-for-profit) that fails to meet certain criteria. For example, average loan payments should not eat up 8 percent or more of a typical graduate's total earnings.

The gainful-employment conversation is mainly relegated to experts, and is relatively meaningless to many students who remain ignorant about for-profit higher education. Forty-seven percent of current undergraduates at a for-profit college say "nothing comes to mind" when they hear the term "for-profit college." Students at community colleges are also unfamiliar with the term, as are adults without degrees who anticipate returning to college. Furthermore, 65 percent of students enrolled in a for-profit college are unsure if their school is for-profit or not.


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03.11 Do Americans Really Loathe The Federal Government?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 | Jean Johnson

What does it mean when fewer than 1 in 5 Americans say they are satisfied with the federal government? Over the last few years, survey researchers have fielded dozens of questions that seem to show the public’s contempt for the federal government.

In a Pew poll last year, just 12 percent of Americans said they were “basically content” with the federal government, while 30 percent were angry about it, and 55 percent were frustrated. Just 19 percent of the public says it trusts the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time. It’s a stunning number. When Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were in office, that number was above 70 percent.

But if so many Americans are so dismissive of government, then why were so many of us appalled by the government shutdown last fall? Is this just further proof that Americans will happily indulge in anti-government rhetoric, but that they really like government and what it does for them? Or are there more complex and consequential questions lying beneath the surface—questions that deserve much more careful analysis and discussion?

Here is a quick tour of some of what lies beneath.


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03.07 Joint Ventures Between Communities and Schools

Friday, March 7th, 2014 | Public Agenda

The following is an interview with Carolyn Farrow-Garland, of the Kettering Foundation, about recent research from Public Agenda and Kettering. The research, "Joint Ventures," explores what could happen when communities and schools work together to tackle improving local education.

Carolyn, why did Kettering and Public Agenda take on this project?

For communities where education reform has gotten bogged down, we wanted to offer an idea for a process they could use to spark progress. This project also enables us to highlight how different actors in public education— administrators, teachers, and parents— feel about the accountability trends in education, so that everyone involved in the problem can see other actors' side of it. It’s an outgrowth of research we conducted over the past few years looking at how the public defines “accountability” compared to how experts and professionals generally think about it.

Accountability has been such a strong theme in education reform over the past decade, but we’ve seen key differences in the way leaders and members of the public talk about it. Leaders often focus on holding teachers, principals, and schools accountable for student learning and using test scores as a main way to judge that. Parents and the broader public often bring a broader set of issues to the table, including the idea of holding parents and communities more accountable for children’s learning. Parents interpret accountability as being relational rather than informational, so they want school officials to use communication strategies that help them understand why certain policy changes are implemented.

So our question for this project was: Can education leaders and professionals join with parents and community members to “co-frame” goals for their schools, and what happens when they do?


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02.05 Facing the Facts on Health Care

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 | Stephen C. Schoenbaum, MD, MPH

Stephen Schoenbaum is a physician, former executive director of the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System, and a special advisor to the president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

Passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act raises questions about how to achieve cost control, including how best to replace the current fee-for-service payment system and how to rethink what exactly our health insurance plans cover.

But beyond these important policy questions, this research raises concerns about some Americans’ values related to health care. Persons in most developed countries are used to the idea that every member of society should have coverage and is entitled to access to health care. They do not understand, and frankly neither do I, why in the United States a sizeable minority of the population feels that health care is a privilege.


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01.29 In Health Care, Is Complexity More Problematic Than Cost?

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 | Nancy Metcalf

This commentary offers reflection on the findings and implications from "Curbing Health Care Costs: Are Citizens Ready to Wrestle with Tough Choices?" Nancy Metcalf is a senior editor at Consumer Reports magazine who reports on health. She has answered thousands of consumers’ questions about health care and insurance in her “Ask Nancy” column.


Here is what consumers in other advanced industrial democracies need to understand about their health care systems: practically nothing. From cradle to grave, their health care needs are met nearly automatically by mechanisms that operate behind the scenes. No one has to worry about picking the “wrong” health insurance plan, or not being able to afford the cost of a serious illness or injury. There are no serious public debates about whether doctors make too much money, whether governments are in the pocket of the drug companies, or whether some people are “free riders.” It just never comes up, because these countries long ago reached a political consensus that health care is a human right, and that “social solidarity,” a term that most Americans have never heard, dictates that it be available on an equal basis to all.

The citizen groups convened by Public Agenda illuminate how Americans interpret their experience with an impossibly complex system that offers far less and demands far more of them as consumers than any other country’s.


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01.23 To Curb Costs, We Must Engage the Public on Health Care

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 | Daniel Yankelovich

This commentary offers reflection on the findings and implications from "Curbing Health Care Costs: Are Citizens Ready to Wrestle with Tough Choices?" Daniel Yankelovich is a public opinion pioneer and cofounder of Public Agenda.


Though the recent Public Agenda study on health care costs is small in scale, it leads to several far-reaching conclusions. I want to use my nickel to comment on one of them.

The study presented three strategies for health care cost containment to average, older adult Americans (ages 40 to 64): make the public pay more for services; hold doctors and administrators responsible for reforms in efficiency; and/or, have the government control prices. Frankly, I am surprised by how clear-cut the implications of these discussions were. For a variety of reasons, the first and third strategies seem hopelessly impractical, leaving only the second for consideration. I have spelled out below the reasoning behind this conclusion.


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