PMAP 3311 (Critical Policy Issues)
Professor Greg Streib
Aderhold 231, TTh from 4:45-7:15
Course Number: 53466

Critical Policy Issues

Policy is the study of choices, and few really think about these choices, how they impact our lives, or the possible alternatives. Sure, everyone has gripes, but we dig well below the surface in this class. Students will develop and apply critical thinking skills to public issues and policies, and they will develop arguments for change. We will also learn about how to make better personal and policy choices and study some of the most critical policy issues we face as a nation. The focus will always remain on the United States, but students will also gain a global perspective. How do policy choices in the US differ from those made in other countries? What different values are applied? How do outcomes differ? The goal is to offer students a dynamic mix of ideas, writing, critical thinking, and discussion. Producing more effective policy actors is the class goal. Completing this class will improve your abilities to assess policy options, lead, and advocate for change.

Required Textbooks:

Michael E. Kraft and Scott R. Furlong Public Policy, 4th Edition, ISBN 978-1-4522-0274-7. This is a required text for this class, and students are expected to read it. Notify me immediately, if you have problems getting this book.

I try to complement the book, but I do not teach from it. The book gives you valuable alternate perspectives on the issues we discuss, and it is an essential part of this class. I do not mess with the bookstore so much anymore. Why not rent this from Amazon or get a Kindle version? (I did successfully open a sample Kindle version of this book in the Kindle reader for Windows 8).

Learning Objectives:

    • Students will demonstrate understanding of the major steps in the public policy process.
    • Students will demonstrate knowledge of the main policy issues currently under debate today.
    • Students will apply knowledge of the public policy process to current policy issues.
    • Students will exhibit critical thinking about the policy process and policy outcomes.
    • Students will learn to write in a professional style that incorporates critical thinking, policy knowledge, and the communication demands of leadership positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

As described here, this syllabus provides a plan for this class. There may be errors that need to be corrected at some point, and deviations in this plan may occur for any number of reasons, illness, the weather, et cetera.

Office Hours:

I will hold formal office hours on Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 until 4:30 in room 316 of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. You can get me on the phone most of the time at (404) 939-1235. Stay on the line, if I am away, and you will get my voice mail. This is a Google Voice number, and it rings multiple phones, emails me messages, et cetera. There is no need to call multiple numbers to reach me. Electronic mail can be sent via the Internet to gstreib@gsu.edu. Online office hours are available on request. Online meetings are often very effective for issues involving student papers, which we can work on together in an online meeting, rather that discussing in the office. 

Class Technologies:

This syllabus may be a new technology to you. This is an electronic document that will be updated as needed. I will tell you about any major changes, of course, but minor update like spelling, typos, and murky language will be done without notification. Thus, printing the document is a bad idea. The current version is always available online. The transition away from paper has been going on for decades and it is time to move on. Electronic documents offer many important advantages and we are all online regularly these days.

Using Brightspace benefits everyone by speeding up the grading process, keeping all class documents in one convenient place, and giving students more information about their class performance. Help make it work!

All class work must be submitted on Brightspace, and there are no exceptions to that rule. I give students extra time if the system is down and occasionally if they experience a technical problem of some kind, but all work needs to end up on Brightspace in the designated folder.

Summer classes move fast, so you need to check Brightspace regularly. This system is our primary communication tool. I regularly post important updates to the questions and answers bulletin board.

Given that this is a writing intensive class, you must use Grammarly on everything that you submit for a grade. Writing quality matters in this class. Go to the GSU tech page and start practicing with Grammarly.

Using Grammarly is not a passive activity. This is a tool that you use to get additional perspectives on your writing. You will be learning more about my expectations in our upcoming classes, but the active writing style I require minimizes passive voice and wordy sentences. These are two big issue that Grammarly highlights, and it also catches additional problems like repetitive Word use. We use Grammarly as a tool. Running the software is not an end in itself.

I recommend the Word plug-in. We will check this out in class and I will give you some tips on using it.

Using Turnitin (that works within Brightspace) is also required; this is used to find plagiarism. Turnitin will run on everything you submit in Brightspace, and you will be taught how to interpret the results.

I also use the Collaborate tool available in Brightspace. I might do entire classes online if that suits our needs, but online help sessions are a certainty. Online meetings are a great way to improve your class performance because we can edit your work together. We can do these sorts of sessions most anytime.

Research is involved in the class assignments, so I do expect students to use electronic search tools, such as Google Scholar, ABI Inforum, and other specialized data bases that fit your goals. Just Googling stuff is not enough. Again, we will check this stuff out.

All of your work work must be submitted in Microsoft Word, and you are expected to use all appropriate word tools, such as grammar and spelling checking, page numbers, footnotes, and more.

One benefit of this class is that you will master the technologies I discuss above, and others. Better skills will get you better grades in your other classes!. Students need to apply themselves, but instructions will be offered.

Class Paper:

Position Paper Assignment

The goal of a position paper is to present a compelling opinion on a policy issue, large or small; in the context of this class, position papers will take the form of a recommendation for action. Position papers typically establish a justification for a single specific action or a collection of related possibilities. 

Specifying a specific audience is often a good idea, but always assume that your analysis would be widely distributed to elected officials, concerned citizens, other relevant stakeholders, and the press. Thus, you need to provide some information about the topic you address so those not directly involved will understand the logic of your argument.

Top grades are give for engaging papers with concise writing that present a compelling argument. Leadership requires the ability to make a convincing case, and learning how to do this will be an important part of this course. 

Your finished paper should be roughly 5 single-spaced pages in length, not counting extra pages like a title page, graphics and/or other optional items. One complete document should be submitted that includes your paper title, your name, the date and page numbers. Also, include your name on the electronic file name.

Students are also responsible for a 5 minute presentation with the goal of presenting a compelling case for action to our classroom audience. Again, the nature of your problem is important, but try to focus more on solutions. A workable solution is essential, so explaining how your solution will work should be addressed in your presentation. The time limit will be strictly enforced. PowerPoint slides are fine, but keep in mind that you only have 5 minutes.

Developmental Assignments/Position Paper Prep:

You must share and defend your position paper topic at the end of our first week. You are not locked into anything at that point, but I want to get you giving serious thought to what you are going to do. My perspective is that this may be the most important class you ever take. We get a big picture of how the world works, focus on decision-making skills, and apply writing skills intended to persuade. What more do you need?

Thus, I prefer topics that address real issues that matter to you and where you might have some impact. Immigration is probably a bad choice, for example. This kind of topic makes sense if you plan to be an immigration lawyer of something. Look for a topic that relates to your own personal concerns where you might actually exert some influence. This class will become an arcane academic exercise if you make it one.

You will present your topic idea and a defense in no more than 2 minutes, so get to the bottom line. Then we will discuss what we have heard as a group. Come prepared to make a case for your idea and to question (or improve) the ideas presented by others. You must be in class to get credit for this assignment, and it is worth half a letter grade. We want everyone to get a good start on this position paper assignment!

There will be a Problem Statement Assignment due later in the course that will get you started on the problem, issue, or concern that you will be investigating. This need not be more than three paragraphs, but there are some specific requirements intended to prepare you for the position paper project:

  • Post a Word file to the designated assignment drop box.
  • Give your project a meaningful title, and I will be discussing what I mean by this in class. In short, though, your title should say something about your goal. That is, what action do you plan to recommend in your position paper? You are able to change your mind as you do more work, of course.
  • You must use both Grammarly and Turnitin and demonstrate the memo style of writing.
  • You must cite 3-5 sources using footnotes. These footnotes must be created using the Word reference tools.
  • Get as specific as you can about the specific problem or issue that you want to address. What has gone wrong? What is your theory of the problem? In addition, identify at least one alternate view about the cause of the problem, issue, or concern that you intend to address.
  • Your position paper will argue for a specific solution; this will require a good understanding of exactly what needs to get done. Your theory of the problem will set the stage for your recommended solution. The problem statement is not the place to mention a specific solution, though the problem statement certainly hint about possibilities.

The Final Exam:

There is a final take-home exam in this class. Completed exams should be in the range of 4 single-spaced pages (in total for two completed questions out of 6 options). The format is simple, and it integrates the class readings and writing assignments. You must take a position on an issue presented in the exam question that has at least two possible actions. You take a position and defend it in a two-page answer. Knowledge of the class lessons readings matter. You must have at least 8 direct (cited) references to assigned book readings in your exam. You can also city the current events discussion board items from Brightspace, but these sources are not a substitute for the book readings.

Attendance and Class Participation:

I will collect an attendance sheet at the start of every class, but I do not have an attendance grade. However, I will take attendance into account should I find students unable to complete the class assignments properly. I will remove students from this class if they fail to make progress and do not attend.

The Mini-Debate Assignment

Participation in at least one mini-debate is a class requirement. These debates will help students develop their critical thinking skills and reinforce other class lessons such as making a claim and making a case, the development of cognitive skills, and communication skills. I know some are uncomfortable speaking in class, but this is something to work on and not a permanent condition. We train future leaders in PMAP. Work with me on this.

The debates will follow related class topics, and students can help me identify a problem, issue, or concern to debate. I give my ideas below, but changes are possible. These debates also reinforce the importance of class participation, because students should always be looking for a topic that is right for them. Some will take what they can get, of course, because some topics will generate more demand than others.

Once we have a topic, up to 3 students will be able to present both their theory of the problem and their strategy for addressing this particular problem, issue, or concern. These three to five-minute presentations are essentially mini position papers, so our class writing instruction is relevant. However, you are presenting your ideas verbally and not in writing. No written products will be accepted, but you can use visual aids.

Applying information from the book is a plus, as is your level of organization, knowledge of your topic, and the application of the judgment skills we learn about in class. For example, do you demonstrate asking questions? Do you show that you have considered other points of view? Do you use cognitive skills like synthesis, analysis, and evaluation?

In a nutshell, the goal is to apply ideas, materials, and skills from the class materials. Bringing in new ideas is also welcome, of course, but the failure to demonstrate your class engagement is a sure way to get a lower grade.


Final course grades will be determined as follows:

Course Component

Available Points

Topic Sharing and Defense

Mini Debate Participation



Problem Statement



Position Paper



Final Exam



1000 (Possible Points)

Students must earn 900+ points to receive a grade of "A," 800+ points to earn a "B," and 700+ points to earn a grade of "C."  Incomplete grades will only be given for nonacademic reasons when advance arrangements have been made.  In this class, a B is the expected grade for good, competent work.  Grades in the A range are reserved for excellent work.  Excellent work goes beyond the minimum in some important way. Plus and minus grades will be used in this class for final course grades when a grade is within 15 percent of a lower or higher grade.  For example, a final point total of 815 or less is a B-. Likewise, a score of 885 or above is B+.  An A+ is possible for work of extraordinary quality across the entire class.

You will be able to check your scores on the class home page. Grades will be presented on a 100 point scale, so that you can better evaluate your performance. A weighted point total will be provided around the middle of the course, which will allow you to see how well you are doing.

Grading Written Work

Students will have the opportunity to improve their writing skills in this class and I will provide grade incentives for doing this. Others will likely fall behind and get lower grades. This is a rough outline of how written work (the problem statement and the position paper) will be graded.

Poor writing and/or plagiarism=60. Students must use Grammarly and Turnitin to do well. Excessive writing problems and/or clear plagiarism will get you a 60, regardless of whatever else your work has to offer. I will provide training, so nothing like this needs to happen.

No Memo Style=70. Using the memo style, as I will define it in class is essential to your success. In general, this is a professional writing style focused on persuasion, clarity, and brevity. Good word choices are important. Again, there will be no mysteries about this. I will be discussing the memo style of writing in class.

Papers that rise above these basic requirements will be considered for scores in the C+ to A+ range, based on the assignment requirements. Each assignment will have a rubric and we will review the requirements in class. Research quality, topic knowledge, and persuasiveness will be important criteria in assessing your work.

The bottom line is that writing is hard work. I am going to provide help, but students need to make their own independent effort. Not using Turnitin, Grammarly, or the memo style is clear evidence of inadequate effort and a low grade is my response. I do allow revisions sometimes, but not for embarrassing initial drafts. Study the materials and follow instructions if you want a good grade. Sick with it, as I am focused on core writing and leadership skills that students need to succeed in professional positions.

Policy on Late Assignments:

I will accept late work without penalty as a rule, but students must keep in mind that this course is designed to spread the work out and avoid stressful last minute episodes. Those turning in work late only multiply their burdens. Students who turn work in late usually do poorly, so submit your work late at your own risk. There is one basic rule in this class: good work gets good grades. Procrastination is your enemy, though. and you need to fight this battle on your own. The summer session moves quickly.

Start Networking!

I try to focus on developing on the professional skills of my students, and networking is a part of that picture. I encourage students to use LinkedIn, and to add me to your professional network. You will likely find other faculty on LinkedIn that you know and other students and professionals in your interest areas. There is also a PMAP network, an MPA/MPP network, Governing Magazine group, et cetera.



Week One (June 9 and 11)

Introduction to the Course

Goals: Present students with the class goals and give them an opportunity to share their own personal goals. Our electronic resources will also be introduced.

Readings: Make sure that you read the syllabus carefully. Students who tell me about typos or confusing passages are much appreciated. .

Assignments: Share and defend your position paper topic in class on the 11th. This assignment is discussed above under developmental assignments.

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace. Get a better sense of what policy education is about by reviewing the programs at the top ranked Goldman School (including their undergraduate minor).


Week Two (June 16 and 18)

The Study of Public Policy

Goals: Learn about public policy as a field of study and the concepts and theories it applies.

Readings: Chapters 1-3 in Kraft and Furlong.

Mini-Debate One: There will be a mini-debate on political and economic control on June 18. Is it possible to identify specific parties and/or groups who control our political and economic future?

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.

Alert: Students not attending or seldom attending and not engaged will be removed from this course prior to our next class.


Week Three (June 23 and 25)

Introduction to Policy Analysis

Goals: Get an introduction to policy as a verb. How do we become actively engaged in policymaking?

Readings: Chapter 4-6 in Kraft and Furlong.

Mini-Debate Two: There will be a mini-debate on policy decisions on June 25. What are the preferred criteria when making policy decisions in the USA today?

Opportunity: There will be an online help session for the problem definition assignment from 9-11 on the 27th. You will find a link to the session in the news section of the news section on the Brightspace page. This session is optional, but participation is strongly recommended for those struggling with this assignment.

Assignments: Submit your Problem Statement Assignment on Brightspace by 2pm on Sunday, June 28.

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.


Week Four (June 30 and July 2)

Budget Challenges and Solutions

Goals: We will examine the state of the US budget and make comparisons to other countries

Readings: Chapter 7 in Kraft and Furlong.

Mini-Debate Three: There will be a mini-debate on budget policy on July 2. Can we effectively address the pay gap between those with a college education and those without?

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.


Week Five (July 7 and July 9)

Health/Welfare and Social Security Policy

Goals: We will examine our social safety net. We will briefly review the requirements for the position paper assignment on the 9th.

Readings: Chapter 8 and 9 in Kraft and Furlong.

Assignments: Submit your Position Paper Assignment on Brightspace by 2pm on Sunday, July 12.

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.


Week Six (July 14 and 16)

Environmental Policy

Goals: We will examine the development of environmental policy in recent decades and examine some current controversies.

Readings: Chapter 9 and 11 in Kraft and Furlong.

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.

Alert: We will have short position paper presentations on the 16th.


Week Seven (July 21 and July 23)

Translating Policy Thinking into Action

Goals: We will look at methods and challenges that may support or hinder efforts to translate policy thinking into action.

Readings: Additional readings may be assigned.

Mini-Debate Four: There will be a mini-debate on environmental policy on July 21. What levels of effort, investment, physical discomfort and social costs should we tolerate in the fight against global warming?

Mini-Debate Five: There will be a mini-debate on class lessons on July 23. How can we put knowledge of critical thinking, cognitive bias, research skills, and writing skills to good use as professionals and/or social activists?

Additional Tasks: Review the public policy blog postings on Brightspace.

Alert: There will be a brief final exam overview and review on July 23.


Final Exam: Available at 5:00pm on July 24 and due by 5pm on Wednesday, July 29. Note: You must submit your exam on the Brightspace home page. 


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