Engaging Ideas — 10/28

very week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: A reading list for those trying to make sense of the state of American politics. The New York Times follows three seniors from Topeka High School in Kansas as they journey towards college. What can an emergency loan can do for a student close to graduation? Lessons from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Academy Health’s work to generate and disseminate rigorous research that informs and strengthens health policy.

Democracy

A Reading Guide for Those in Despair About American Politics (The Atlantic)
Nearly three dozen book recommendations to help make sense of the state of U.S. democracy, from academics, comedians, activists and more.

What a liberal sociologist learned from spending five years in Trump’s America (Vox)
Hochschild is trying to do something different — to see if it’s possible for a liberal to empathize with Trump supporters. It doesn’t end with a grand theory or a prescription for how to bring America together or help Democrats win elections or anything like that. It’s mostly a book about listening — a rarity in American politics.

Mayors to Trump: Enough With the Hellhole Talk, Already (Politico)
Two weeks before Election Day, mayors can’t get anyone to pay attention to good news. And there really is some.

How social media creates angry, poorly informed partisans (Vox)
Social media sites like Facebook have democratized the media landscape, allowing anyone to create and distribute content to their friends and family. There are a lot of good things about this, but it’s also proving to have a serious downside: Without the quality filters traditionally supplied by mainstream media outlets, there’s a lot more room for total nonsense to circulate widely. The increasing polarization of news through social media allows liberals and conservatives to live in different versions of reality. And that’s making it harder and harder for our democratic system to function.

Community Engagement

Chicago Alderman Joe Moore to Host Premier Screening of Documentary Film ‘Count Me In’ on October 30 (eNews Park Forest)
At a time when voter frustration is mounting, there’s finally a good news story about money and voting: ’Count Me In’ highlights an innovative experiment in direct democracy that gives ordinary Chicagoans direct say over local public projects and monies. Pioneered in Chicago, participatory budgeting is rapidly spreading across the country and even the White House recently made it one of its key recommendations for open government. ‘Count Me In’ tells the compelling stories of regular Chicagoans who are rolling up their sleeves to make an impact in their neighborhoods. The film shows residents pitch ideas for street repairs, bike lanes, or community gardens. Projects get researched, proposals crafted, and at the end, the entire community is invited to vote.

K-12 Education

H.S. Classes Offer Bypass to Remedial Courses (EdWeek)
States are increasingly turning to 12th grade transition classes to build academic muscle to help students skip the remedial courses that can diminish their chances of earning a college degree.

College Is the Goal. Will These Three Teenagers Get There? (The New York Times)
It’s college application season, and The New York Times is at Topeka High School in Kansas, following seniors as they decide where to apply — and whether college is even the right choice for them. Follow along as we introduce you to students in Facebook Live chats, and bring in experts to talk through some major issues for families facing this often-confusing process.

What Are The Main Reasons Teachers Call It Quits? (NPR)
Teachers in the U.S. flee the profession at rates higher than other developed nations. Often, the reasons have little to do with pay, parents or students. Robert Lutjens, 39, is a former middle school science teacher in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston. “It sounds a little bit dramatic, but part of it was I was not allowed to fail students,” he says. “There was a phrase that kept going around that I heard from administrators: ‘We need to make sure they succeed, we need to guarantee their success.’ Which was code for: ‘They need to pass.’ “

Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education? (The New Yorker)
In the three Presidential debates, not a single question was addressed to the candidates about their views on education. And, apart from Hillary Clinton’s fleeting mentions of affordable child care and debt-free college tuition, neither candidate sought to raise the issue. Fifty million children are enrolled in public schools in the U.S., yet in none of the debates was there any discussion of the areas of concern that have occupied educators and parents in recent years: the Common Core, teacher evaluation, standardized testing, or the effective segregation of schools in many parts of the country, including in New York City.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

The Psychological Costs of Student Debt (The Washington Post)
Louis Tay, a Purdue assistant professor of psychological sciences, and fellow researchers Cassondra Batz, Scott Parrigon and Lauren Kuykendall culled information from the Gallup-Purdue Index, an effort supported by the Lumina Foundation to measure the well-being of more than 30,000 college graduates in five key areas, one of which is financial happiness. Their paper, “Debt and Subjective Well-being,” published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found that the financial strain caused by debt does lower people’s sense of well-being. Among the study sample were 2,781 college graduates who have been paying off college loan debt for at least seven years.

Fixing Capacity With Better Class Scheduling (Inside Higher Ed)
Colleges are re-examining their student enrollment data to better understand how courses are scheduled in an effort to fix capacity problems.

Emergency Aid for Students Nearing Graduation (Politico Morning Newsletter)
Students attending minority-serving institutions who need a financial boost to get to graduation day are the target of a new initiative that aims to make emergency funds available via the Education Department’s office of Federal Student Aid. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., speaking before the Annual National Historical Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference on Monday, said the effort will span multiple years and pair guaranty agencies with minority-serving institutions, including historically black colleges and universities. Some education policy experts, including the Gates Foundation, have increasingly focused on emergency financial aid to students as a way to help them complete college. They’ve found that small but unexpected financial emergencies can be a major barrier to students being able to finish their degree.

Report: College Promise Annual Report
The College Promise Campaign released its first annual report yesterday showing that there are now more than 150 programs across 37 states offering some form of free community college. The campaign says that in the first year of operation it has raised more than $1 million from foundations, corporations and individuals. The campaign has also teamed up with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education to build a new online database of “college promise” programs across the country. The database also includes a roundup of research on the effectiveness of such programs.

Health Care

Why It Matters: Health Care (AP) 
About 9 in 10 Americans now have health insurance, more than at any time in history. But progress is incomplete, and the future far from certain. Millions remain uninsured. Quality is still uneven. Costs are high and trending up again. Medicare’s insolvency is two years closer, now projected in 2028. Every family has a stake.

Politico-Harvard Poll: Obamacare Wars Outlast Obama (Politico) 
As Obamacare opponents intensify attacks on soaring rate hikes and shrinking insurance options, a majority of voters believe the health care law is failing and there’s no consensus on what to do about it — findings that bode badly for hopes of Obamacare becoming any less toxic politically when its namesake president leaves office. A new poll conducted for POLITICO and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that 54 percent of likely voters think Obamacare is working poorly.

Double-digit premium hikes unlikely to affect most ACA shoppers (Modern Healthcare)
Health insurance premiums for the benchmark exchange plans are set to rise 25% on average in 2017 — an eye-popping figure that has fueled another wave of finger-pointing among Republicans seeking to dismantle the healthcare law. But policy experts say the projected hikes are unlikely to affect the majority of people who enroll.

Do patients choose lower-priced facilities after checking procedure prices? (Beckers Hospital Review)
Providing patients with transparency tools that provide price information can help them identify lower-cost services and ultimately reduce healthcare spending, a study recently published in JAMA found. When payers provide patients with price information as well as insurance benefits for choosing lower-cost facilities for care, patients often choose the less expensive option. However, it has remained relatively unknown whether transparency tools alone could yield similar results.

How Can Research Be More Useful And Used? Lessons From A Long-Running Grant-Making Program (Health Affairs Blog)
Getting research into the hands of policymakers at the right time, on the right topic, and in an accessible format is fraught with challenges, including research timelines that don’t align with policy making; researchers’ lack of training in, and lack of incentives for, translating findings into simpler language; and the multitude of voices and priorities that compete for policy makers’ time and attention. For nearly thirty years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s and Academy Health worked to overcome these challenges as they sought to generate and disseminate rigorous research to inform and strengthen health policy. Here are some lessons they’ve learned over the years.

This post originally appeared on Public Agenda’s blog, On the Agenda.

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