Thursday, May 16, 2013

Public Agenda for May 16, 2013

Public Agenda
Public Agenda Alert -- May 16, 2013
This Week's Headlines
Creating Lasting Change
Redesigning Teacher Evaluationss
Engaging Ideas
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How to Create Lasting Change
in Education Reform

How do you raise the graduation rates of non-traditional students, implement a new teaching technology, or re-design a teacher evaluation plan? Just as important, how do you do so in ways that will work across diverse schools and communities, and that won't require significant revision down the line?

Last weekend, PA's own Alison Kadlec, director of public engagement, met with a small group of innovative movers and shakers in the education world at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute to address these questions. The answers are manifold, but one of the ideas she shared with the diverse team was this:

If we hope to make complex and large-scale changes spread and stick, we need to give those affected by change the opportunity to thoughtfully consider their options free from persuasive influence.  

We call this framing for deliberation.

Framing is a hot term in social science circles. When we talk about framing, we refer to the way in which ideas, information and messages - such as media stories, political arguments and policy positions - are defined, constructed and presented. A lot of times, we see advocacy or lobbying groups frame issues in a way that tries to get the public or stakeholders to support their approach. This sort of issue framing is, by itself, limited, as it ignores the inherent tradeoffs of one approach while failing to explore the virtues of others.

Framing an issue for deliberation, on the other hand, means clarifying, without partisanship, the full range of values and positions surrounding an issue so that people can better decide what they want to do. (For examples of materials that frame an issue for deliberation, check out our Citizens' Solutions Guides.)

Framing for deliberation provides the space for people to bring their own experiences and prior knowledge to bear. It enables an appreciation for the complexity of an issue so they may overcome their own wishful thinking and come to a stable conclusion regarding the sort of change they'd like to see, as well as the sort of disruption they'd be willing to accept.

Because change is disruptive, and ever will be, it's human to react to such disruption defensively. But the truth is that there are no magical solutions to the problems we face in education and elsewhere. If we hope to create education policies and systems that work in diverse situations and don't send everyone back to the drawing board, we must give people helpful opportunities to grapple with the issues, learn about them, and join the conversation about how to move forward.

Redesigning Teacher Evaluation - Without Excessive Controversy 

Often, failing to provide the space for stakeholders to deliberate thoughtfully and contribute to a solution can cause major problems. Here in New York City, a controversial teacher evaluation redesign process provides an example.

The administration and the teachers union have been at loggerheads when it comes to designing a new evaluation system for the city. They failed to meet a deadline in January for a new system and risk losing $250 million in school aid. Last week, the city and the union submitted competing proposals for evaluation procedure, and common ground between the two seems to be a fading possibility. Meanwhile, teachers and students are caught in the middle as the issue becomes more and more polarized.

There are many issues at the root of the teacher evaluation debacle in New York City, but we still believe a better process could have led to a better outcome. That process is outlined in Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform, a forthcoming book from Public Agenda and American Institutes for Research.

To create an effective and lasting teacher evaluation system, those with a stake in the process - teachers, principals, district administration - need to work together. They should have the opportunity to weigh the various possible components of teacher evaluation and collaborate on a system that effectively measures teacher performance, provides meaningful feedback to improve performance, and is realistic in its implementation.

Everyone at the Table provides a set of impartial resources to help frame meaningful and unprecedented conversations about teacher evaluation. These resources help depoliticize this often controversial and fraught issue. They create a safe space for teachers and other stakeholders to deliberate and find common ground, in spite of the differing values and concerns they bring to the table.

Everyone at the Table arises from our project by the same name. The book digs deep on teacher evaluation and thoroughly outlines how you can initiate meaningful conversations on teacher evaluation in your school or district. You can download selected materials from the book for free right now at or pre-order a copy of the book today.

Engaging Ideas    

Public Agenda board member and Dean of Macaulay Honors College, Ann Kirschner discussed the future of higher education at the American Enterprise Institutes on Tuesday. Watch the discussion online here.

Training programs for in-demand jobs have been put in place at every community college that has received a portion of the U.S. Department of Labor's $2 billion in funding.
A new report on the choice between online and face-to-face community college courses found that overall, students prefer face-to-face because of increased teacher explanation and interaction. The report inserts student voices into the discussion of how to improve education for both traditional and non-traditional students.

The success story of the Cincinnati school district, in part attributed to data-driven collaboration, provides a counterweight to the bad news of cheating scandals in other urban districts throughout the country.

Due to aging Baby Boomers and falling fertility rates, immigration will be the leading cause for population growth in 15-25 years, beating out the natural birthrate, according to the Census Bureau.

We've been talking to people around the country about the steps to reduce health care costs - and which they'd be willing to accept. Here's one idea from a CEO: Get employees online so they have access to better information about their health. Do you think this would help?

While making the rounds promoting the release of her new book, Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress, former US senator Olympia Snowe said:

"People deserve... better representation. They deserve institutions that are going to solve problems. That means the president and the Congress have to work hand in glove and override their political differences or their political ambitions for the sake of the country."
                                                        - From NPR interview

Take a second to check out the Bipartisan Policy Center's question of the week: What's your favorite type of political service?

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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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