Engaging Ideas — 8/26

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.

Democracy

State Budgets’ Forecast: Cloudy (Governing)
At a time when every budget “yes” may mean saying “no” to something else, it can be painful for politicians to be forthright about the decisions they are making. But holding public debates about priorities is an essential part of leadership.

Public Engagement

A Scorecard for Public Engagement (Governing)
Involving members of the community in policymaking is tricky, but it’s worth the effort. Those who do it well share some approaches.

Philanthropy

The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee (The Atlantic)
Strangely, though nonprofits are increasingly expected to perform like businesses, they do not get the same leeway in funding that government-contracted businesses do. They don’t have nearly the bargaining power of big corporations, or the ability to raise costs for their products and services, because of tight controls on grant funding. “D.C. is full of millionaires who contract with government in the defense field, and they make a killing, and yet if you’re a nonprofit, chances are you aren’t getting the full amount of funding to cover the cost of the services required,” Iliff said. “Can you imagine Lockheed Martin or Boeing putting up with a government contract that didn’t allow for overhead?”

Opportunity

Finally, Some Middle-Class Job Growth (The Atlantic)
After decades of expansion at only the high and low ends of the pay scale, the economy appears to be seeing an uptick in medium-skill employment.

K-12 Education

Schools Turn a Corner on Mental-Health Education (EdWeek)
One final step schools can take to improve mental-health education is equipping teachers with the knowledge to implement cognitive-behavioral skills-building, and encouraging them to deliver this content as part of their routine classroom exercises.

One Answer to School Attendance: Washing Machines (CityLab)
When washers and dryers were added to 17 schools through a new program, attendance rates shot up. It turned out that when students didn’t have clean clothes, they often stayed home from school out of embarrassment. Logan, an eighth-grader, spoke about how difficult it is for others to understand his problem: “I think people don’t talk about not having clean clothes because it makes you want to cry or go home or run away or something. It doesn’t feel good.”

Putting the Power of Self-Knowledge to Work (The New York Times)
Social scientists now see so-called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, as a major factor behind an array of social ills and chronic diseases. And today, a growing network of health care professionals, educators, government officials, social service workers and community leaders are working to get knowledge about ACEs into public consciousness. “There are about 100 to 200 state, county and city ACEs initiatives around the country,” said Jane Stevens

Fed Up With K-12 Policies, Okla. Teachers Run for Office (EdWeek)
Angered by cuts to K-12 budgets, low pay, and other grievances, a scrappy group of teachers is attempting to upend Oklahoma’s political establishment this election season.

Report: High Hopes and Harsh Realities: The Real Challenges to Building a Diverse Workforce (Brown Center On Education Policy at Brookings)
Making serious progress toward a teacher workforce which is as diverse as the students it serves will require exceptionally ambitious patches to fix the leaky pipeline into the teaching profession.

Higher Education

Speeding It Up: Advocates Say Full Academic Load Is Key to On-Time Graduation(Community College Week)
“States and institutions have also adhered to this definition for full-time and set their financial aid policies at 12 credit hours for full-time enrollment. The decision to use 12 credits as full-time has created a ceiling rather than a floor, thus exacerbating the problem and causing ramifications far beyond the Pell program,” said a Complete College America report.

Myths and Facts about the Consequences of Switching College Majors (Inside Higher Ed)
Should we believe the conventional wisdom about the consequences of changing majors? A study of tens of thousands of college students from the Education Advisory Board finds that those who waited to declare their major were more likely to graduate than those who decided right away.

College Presidents: Rankings Least Vital Measure of Success (Gallup)
A college’s ranking is the least important of 16 factors for evaluating the success of a college president, according to presidents themselves. Just 3% of U.S. college presidents say university ranking scores are an “extremely important” factor. About two in three presidents describe student enrollment (68%), ensuring graduates have the skills necessary to find jobs in their field (66%) and student retention rates (63%) as “extremely important” factors in measuring success.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (Inside Higher Ed)
If we are going to use taxpayer dollars for job training, we must be assured the programs will create new jobs, argues Anthony P. Carnevale.

Health Care

Is Obamacare failing? (Vox)
Obamacare was meant to be the beginning of America’s transition to a new health care system — it was common in those days to hear the law spoken of as a “platform,” or “a first step.” Instead, Obamacare is proving to be something much more familiar, and much more limited. Interesting discussion in here regarding why government partnerships with private insurers worked in Germany and Switzerland but not here.

Whose Lives Should Be Saved? To Help Shape Policy, Researchers In Maryland Ask The Public (The New York Times) 
For the past several years, Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins, and colleagues have led an unusual public debate around Maryland, from Zion Baptist Church in East Baltimore to a wellness center in wealthy Howard County to a hospital on the rural Eastern Shore. Preparing to make recommendations for state officials that could serve as a national model, the researchers heard hundreds of citizens discuss whether a doctor could remove one patient from lifesaving equipment, like a ventilator, to make way for another who might have a better chance of recovering, or take age into consideration in setting priorities.

Health Care Is a Business, Not a Right (Bloomberg View)
Megan McArdle writes: A true national health care system, along the lines of Britain or Canada, would have advantages and disadvantages over what we have now. But one advantage that it doesn’t offer is to free us from the need to think about our health care in the cold logic of dollars and cents, rather than warm and fuzzy altruistic ideals. Health care cannot be a right, full stop; it has to stop before we run out of wallet. Which means that no matter how much it horrifies, we have to stop hoping for a system that will make those hard decisions and unhappy trade-offs go away.

Tales from the healthcare shopping front: Good luck finding a cheaper MRI (Modern Healthcare)
Some policymakers and theorists say price transparency is the silver bullet that will help solve the nation’s healthcare cost growth problem. Consumers will use information about the price and quality of services offered by different providers to get the best deal, saving themselves and the country lots of money, they argue. But my personal experience over the past year trying to find a lower price for an MRI shows that shopping for a healthcare service based on price and quality is very hard, even for someone with above-average knowledge about how the system works.

In Florida Keys, Some Worry About ‘Science And Government’ More Than Zika (The New York Times) 
So when, several years ago, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District offered up the peninsula of Key Haven, a tiny suburb of Key West, for the first United States test of genetically modified mosquitoes built to blunt the spread of dengue and Zika, it was only a matter of time before opposition mounted. Today, even as federal officials have told pregnant women to stay away from parts of Miami-Dade County because of the Zika virus, Key Haven’s hardened position against the trial — or the experiment, as they call it — is hard to miss amid the bougainvillea and hibiscus flowering on lawns here. “No Consent to Release of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes,” red-and-white placards declare.

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

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