This week, we discuss helping students recover from learning losses; fighting Russian trolls; racial disparity in unemployment benefits; the Houthi movement in Yemen; economic and public-health costs of COVID-19; and the race for AI leadership.
States and school districts are grappling with whether and how to bring students and teachers back to class this fall. Beyond the health and safety concerns, many educators and parents are worried about learning loss. A decade of RAND research shows that student progress slows during the typical summer break, especially among low-income children. If we already see negative outcomes after three months, then what will we see after six?
“The story when schools reopen is really going to be one of inequity in the opportunities that students had during the long break and in how far disadvantaged students have fallen behind,” says RAND's Catherine Augustine. Fortunately, evidence shows that high-quality summer learning programs can help close this gap.
Russian trolls aren't just trying to influence who you vote for in November. According to RAND experts, Moscow's objective is to “create an illusion of deep-seated divisions between people like you and people who aren't like you, so that you won't be able to agree on anything.” That's why everyone—tech firms, political leaders, social media users—must fight back. Most importantly, people should be more careful about what they share online.
Each state has its own method for calculating unemployment benefits. This approach presents a concerning problem, says RAND economist Kathryn Edwards: States with more Black workers generally have less generous unemployment benefits. At the national level, this means that Black workers receive less financial support in unemployment simply because of where they live. These troubling inequities may be another reason to reform the U.S. unemployment insurance system, she says.
Iran has dramatically increased its investment in the Houthi movement in recent years. Could this transform the Houthis into an enduring proxy group that protects and promotes Tehran's interests in Yemen—as Hizballah does in Lebanon? According to a new RAND report, if the Houthis can become a competent governing and political force in Yemen, then Iran might gain a formidable regional ally. If they cannot, then the Houthi-Iran relationship will likely remain transactional.
As the COVID-19 crisis worsened—claiming lives, jobs, and companies—Jonathan Welburn and a group of his fellow RAND researchers developed a tool to help policymakers navigate tough decisions. The tool estimates the economic and public health effects of easing or maintaining disease-fighting measures. “Putting physical-distancing policies in place was the easy decision,” he says. “Taking them off is not.” In a new Q&A, Welburn discusses how the tool can be used, his concerns about economic recovery, and what he's working on next.
China aspires to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. If it succeeds, then China would gain a substantial military advantage over the United States and its allies. How do these two powers compare today? Authors of a new RAND report say that it's difficult to determine which country has the edge in AI. But there are steps that the United States can take to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage.
Listen to the Recap
Get Weekly Updates from RAND
If you enjoyed this weekly recap, consider subscribing to Policy Currents, our newsletter and podcast.