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COVID Learning Loss, Russian Trolls, Artificial Intelligence: RAND Weekly Recap

July 17, 2020

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.

Two children on a couch watching TV and their phones, photo by patrickheagney/Getty Images

Photo by patrickheagney/Getty Images

The COVID Slide: How to Help Students Recover Learning Losses

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.

Examples of Facebook pages displayed during a House Intelligence Committee meeting on Russian use of social media to influence U.S. elections in Washington, D.C., November 1, 2017, photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Examples of Facebook pages displayed during a House Intelligence Committee meeting on Russian use of social media to influence U.S. elections in Washington, D.C., November 1, 2017

Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

How to Fight Russian Trolls

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.

Whitney Maddox and DeShaun Bradford stand in line with hundreds of others outside a career center in Frankfort, Kentucky, hoping for assistance with their unemployment claim, June 18, 2020, photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Whitney Maddox and DeShaun Bradford stand in line with hundreds of others outside a career center in Frankfort, Kentucky, hoping for assistance with their unemployment claim, June 18, 2020

Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Racial Disparity in Unemployment Benefits

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.

Supporters of the Houthi movement attend a rally to mark the 4th anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen's war, in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2019, photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Supporters of the Houthi movement attend a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2019

Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Will the Houthis Be the Next Hizballah?

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.

Jonathan Welburn stands on Santa Monica's nearly deserted Third Street Promenade in May 2020, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Welburn, an operations researcher at RAND, has been working to model and manage economic risk since the Great Recession in 2008.

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND

Jonathan Welburn on the Costs of COVID-19

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's flag superimposed over a computer chip, illustration by IvancoVlad/Getty Images

Illustration by IvancoVlad/Getty Images

U.S. or China: Who Has the AI Edge?

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.

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