Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D.
I first met Gretchen Robertson, a Basic Education for Adults (BEdA) faculty member from Skagit Community College at an event hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The event was a Pathways Institute, part of AACC’s Pathways Project, which supports colleges committed to rethinking how they serve and support students.
Gretchen approached me following a presentation I delivered which stressed the importance of engaging frontline faculty and staff in any serious change effort, and doing so early, often and authentically.
Gretchen asked what advice I had for a college that may not have attended as carefully as it should from the outset to deep and authentic engagement of faculty and staff, and as a result, was now experiencing hostile pushback from those whose commitment would be necessary for real progress. It’s a question I get a lot, and I gave Gretchen my standard answer: publicly own where you’ve failed to meaningfully engage, and move forward with a real and visible commitment to doing better to create the conditions for faculty and staff to become true co-owners of the hard work of change. Expect it to be hard, but don’t be deterred by that.
A few months after this initial meeting, I ran into Gretchen at another Pathways Institute. This time I was moderating a session with faculty from colleges implementing guided pathways, which AACC defines as “coherent and easy-to-follow college-level programs of study that are aligned with requirements for success in employment and at the next stage of education.”
During the session, a faculty member became visibly distressed by the conversation as she realized that, for her college to do this work seriously, it may result in some of her courses not being taught as often or perhaps at all.
As the conversation unfolded, and became increasingly heated, Gretchen raised her hand and intervened. It’s impossible to capture here exactly how that conversation unfolded, but I was struck by how constructive and empathetic Gretchen was as she explained how she thinks about this work and why.
Following that session, I asked Gretchen if she’d be willing to talk with me more about her experience of being a faculty member engaged in an ambitious change process. The following edited interview captures the highlights of our ongoing conversation.
10.07 Engaging Ideas - 10/7
Friday, October 7th, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: What talking to strangers can do to combat xenophobia and what happens to the Education Department with an administration change. How mayors and faculty in higher education shape community and dialogue to change policy and outcomes. And a new survey that outlines how health plans will need to improve price transparency to guarantee consumer satisfaction.
‘governing elite’ think Americans are morons (Wonkblog)
A new book argues that Washington bureaucrats have contempt for the Americans they play a big role in governing.
Hardened Divide in American Politics (The American Prospect)
When did hyper-partisanship begin? Pre-election polling data point to the mid-1990s.
Combat Xenophobia, Do Talk to Strangers (Observer)
Hundreds of sociological studies over the course of decades about an idea called the “contact hypothesis” have shown with an immense range of nuances that overall, positive experiences with people different than you lead to greater understanding and tolerance for the entire group. Recently, researchers revisited these studies and focused on the previously disregarded effects of negative experiences. They found that the weight of a negative interaction is profoundly heavier than a positive one. To increase tolerance in our society as a whole, we need to create an overwhelming density of positive experiences. This election cycle has given us much to overcome.
A Window of Opportunity II(The Opportunity Agenda)
A Window of Opportunity II, which revisits some of the key questions explored in our 2014 report. A Window of Opportunity II also examines new related variables, including public perception of the fairness of the economy, attitudes towards people suffering from homelessness, and public attitudes towards taxation and spending.
new research on inequality: ‘Whatever you thought, it’s worse’
America’s economic ladder is more broken than anyone realized.
Thursday, October 6th, 2016 | ALLISON RIZZOLO
Experts, including presidential candidates, overwhelmingly assert the importance of education beyond high school. Yet research we released last month suggests these exchanges are not reaching the public. Just 42 percent of Americans say a college education is necessary for success in the workforce.
This month, we seek to elevate the public's voice on the problems and solutions facing higher education, through new findings released today. We hope these findings will help policymakers, experts, and college and university leaders better understand how they can rebuild the public's faith in higher education as a path to a better life.
In a pair of surveys funded by The Kresge Foundation, Public Agenda asked over 1,000 American adults about prominent problems and reforms facing higher education.
What are the problems?
- 68% of Americans say cuts in state funding for public colleges is a problem. But they're just as likely to say colleges that are wasteful in how they spend their money is a problem.
- Americans are also concerned about high schools that fail to prepare students for college-level work. However, they are less likely to view student persistence as a problem.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER
Thanks for sticking with us throughout our series on deepening public participation! Whether dealing with an immediate challenge or building long-term infrastructure, participation skills are a valuable asset for anyone’s proverbial toolkit. In case you missed a post, we identified ten key talents (each with a set of specific skills) for public participation:
- Building Coalitions and Networks (coalition-building, finding and building online networks, developing cultural competence, working with young people)
- Recruiting Participants (mapping the community, creating recruitment plans, conducting one-on-one interviews)
- Communicating about Participation (clear messaging, creating a media plan, feeding the discussion about participation, reporting on results)
- Managing Conflict (understanding positions and interests, principled negotiation and interest-based problem solving)
- Providing Information and Options (issue framing, sequencing discussions, writing discussion materials)
- Managing Discussions (facilitating face-to-face groups, recording, moderating online forums, setting ground rules, giving feedback)
- Helping Participants Generate and Evaluate Ideas (brainstorming and visioning, using ABC standards)
- Helping Participants Make Group Decisions (dotmocracy, keypad polling)
- Supporting Action Efforts (planning action events, supporting action teams)
- Evaluating Participation (understanding process and impact evaluation, data collection)
We also discussed the importance of logistical and project management skills, and identified several free, online, commonly-used platforms and tools that can help with such tasks.
09.30 Engaging Ideas - 9/30
Friday, September 30th, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: The reason for skepticism about online polls and which institutions both Republicans and Democrats view favorably. A radio spot on what’s missing in the presidential debates. Plus, a detailed look at the Detroit public school system and an example of how civic engagement spread across six college campuses.
Americans know nothing about their government. Here’s a bold way schools can
fix that. (The Washington Post)
I am not original in saying that constitutional democracies require citizens who understand the ethos of democracy and are willing to do the hard work to improve it. Alexis de Tocqueville (yes, I am citing Tocqueville) noted that democracy is not self-perpetuating but needs to be fostered by succeeding generations. With the U.S. government now larger and more complex than ever, it takes deeper understanding to keep trying to shape it into one that works for all people, not just some of them.
universities to churches, Republicans and Democrats differ in views of major
institutions (Pew Research Center)
The public continues to express negative views of the news media. Fully 70% say the news media have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while just 22% say the media have a positive effect. Overall, only two of the six institutions included in the survey – churches and religious institutions (57%) and colleges and universities (57%) – are viewed positively by majorities of the public.
Civic Engagement Spread across Six College Campuses
“There is a public purpose to education that goes back to the founding of public schools. It helps make our democracy work better. Too often, our notion of democracy is voting and going home, and waiting for leaders to fix our problem. But that isn’t democracy. Democracy should be working with leaders, working across differences, parties, fixing things in our community. To do that we have to talk to people, figure out where they are coming from, craft solutions that don’t divide people.
Thursday, September 29th, 2016 | Ryan MacDonald
Paul Barnwell started his teaching career in one of Kentucky’s most troubled and underperforming schools. As a 22-year-old with no teaching experience, he felt unable to deal with the culture shock of managing a classroom or with pressure from the administration to solve issues on his own. He quit at Christmas and wrote, “the odds of me thriving and staying at my first school were miniscule, as were my students’ chances of actually learning.”
In recent years, the threat of a teacher shortage has loomed large over the education reform debate. And while there is no doubt that certain areas are affected by teacher shortages, primarily low-income and rural areas, there seems to be deeper problem at work—teacher retention.
Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. Ten percent of teachers will leave before even finishing their first year in the classroom. Statistics show that low-income schools deal with much higher rates of turnover than affluent ones. According to Richard Ingersoll, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s education school, 15 percent of teachers leave the profession every year and 40 percent of graduates with an undergraduate degree in education never use it.
So, if we have a large number of teachers either not entering the classroom or leaving shortly after they get there, what is going wrong? How do we keep effective teachers in classroom where they are needed?
09.27 Evaluating Participation
Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi
Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 15
Evaluation – the process of collecting, analyzing, and using information to understand how a program operates and/or the outcomes and impacts it has – is important for many reasons.
First, evaluation can help improve program implementation and management, for example by identifying what works, what does not and where improvements can be made.
Second, evaluation can help verify and strengthen accountability structures, for example by helping to keep the program within the scope of a project or decision statement, ensuring that money and resources are being used appropriately and efficiently and monitoring quality control.
Within the context of public participation, evaluation may be necessary to help determine whether the participation opportunity is complying with relevant laws, rules and mandates, and whether it is adhering to and upholding objectives and values such as diverse representation, fairness and participant understanding about how their contributions will be used. In turn, this can increase the perceived legitimacy and importance of public participation.
Finally, more and better evaluation can improve the study and practice of public participation. It can even challenge the notion that official, conventional participation processes are static, predetermined and impossible to change. If you ask a participant to rate the school board meeting or public hearing she attended, it may plant the seed in her mind that the process is not immutable and can in fact be improved. While critical, evaluating public participation can be challenging:
- Public participation is inherently complex and value-laden. There are no widely held criteria for judging its success and failure, and evaluating across all possible areas of interest is impractical.
- Evaluation results are likely to be important and of interest to a number of audiences, but various audiences may value different criteria and information.
- Evaluation can be a daunting task. The technical issues involved can be intimidating, as can be the idea of assessing one’s peers, colleagues and own professional work.
- Time, money, personnel and other valuable resources are often in short supply.
09.23 Engaging Ideas - 9/23
Friday, September 23rd, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Only 4 percent of Americans have a positive image of both presidential candidates and a set of guidelines for improving the debates. Lots of new research about teachers, including how their relationship to principals impacts retention. An essay on the rising cost of college and news on higher ed funding in Kentucky. Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman says the rising cost of deductibles might be the most pressing question in health care.
can't campaign as dividers and govern as unifiers (The
There are many ways to characterize this year’s presidential campaign — “polite” or “respectful” don’t come to mind. And it seems that voters are growing weary of the bad manners, the acrimony. A Gallup poll released in July found that one in four Americans have an unfavorable opinion of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But perhaps more indicative of national disgust was the contrasting statistic: Only 4 percent held positive images of both candidates. Lack of civility on the campaign trail has implications — for individuals and for the nation as a whole.
Simple Plan to Fix the Presidential Debates (The Atlantic)
The National Institute of Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona has just come out with guidelines for debaters, the debate audience and, importantly, the moderators, that need to be heeded. Most of the guidelines are simple and obvious: Debaters should be respectful of others, answer the questions asked, and stand against incivility; audience members should be respectful, not create disturbances, and listen to those speaking. (Public Agenda has signed on as a supporter of these rules.)
is no media (Columbia Journalism Review)
It seems perfectly plausible that just one-third of Americans trust “the media.” Liberals and conservatives alike have criticized “the media” over the course of this campaign, while presidential candidates have made “the media” a familiar target in stump speeches and fundraising emails. And herein lies the caveat journalists should consider before they wet the bed over Gallup’s latest data: There is no media. There is only my media and your media.
Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 | Public Agenda
As we make our plans for watching the first presidential debate on Monday, we are committed to encouraging civil and inclusive conversations. Will you join us?
In an effort to reset the tone of this election, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) has issued a set of debate standards. The standards call on presidential debate moderators, candidates and audiences to commit to more civil, informative and fair debates.
We join more than 65 other organizations in signing on to the standards. You can join the effort: sign the petition on Change.org. Your name will be sent to the presidential debate moderators, asking them to adopt the Debate Standards for the upcoming debates.
The Debate Standards are:
We want debaters to:
- Be respectful of others in speech and behavior
- Answer the question being asked by the moderator
- Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others
- Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions
- Stand against incivility when faced with it
Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi
Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 14
Ideas for action emerge naturally in many different forms of public participation. When people talk about issues that are important to them, they often want to:
- Develop new problem-solving partnerships and new ways to work with others.
- Express their ideas, concerns, and recommendations to public officials and other decision makers.
- Strengthen practices and policies within departments, agencies, community organizations, workplaces or other groups.
During participatory processes, people often think about action ideas they would like to take individually and as a community. It is important for participants to be able to hear one another’s ideas and decide together which actions to take.
In some single-day participatory processes, action ideas are shared at the end of the day. In others, there is a separate action-focused event where participants can come together to share ideas. Still others facilitate action efforts with online tools and tactics.
Two skills, planning action events and supporting action teams, can be helpful for all of these processes. (Many of these tips, along with more information on supporting action, are described by Everyday Democracy here.)
Planning an Action-Focused Event
Events that help people transition from dialogue to action typically have three elements: