Problems in U.S. Schools, Conflict with Russia, Opioid Trafficking: RAND Weekly Recap

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February 11, 2022

This week, we discuss school district leaders' concerns about mental health and political polarization; how to bring stability to Russia's backyard; what satellite images reveal about China's treatment of the Uyghur people; the final report from the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking; what the U.S. military can do to prevent civilian casualties; and how expanding the child tax credit helped tackle child poverty.

National Guard Specialist Austin Alt assists a student as he fills in as a substitute teacher due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19 at Pojoaque Valley Middle School in Pojoaque, New Mexico, January 28, 2022, photo by Adria Malcolm/Reuters

National Guard Specialist Austin Alt fills in as a substitute teacher due to staffing shortages, Pojoaque, New Mexico, January 28, 2022

Photo by Adria Malcolm/Reuters

In U.S. Schools, Concerns About Mental Health, Political Polarization, and More

In November, RAND surveyed school district leaders about problems facing America's schools. Their top three concerns: mental health, mental health, and mental health—of students, teachers, and principals, respectively.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Three-quarters of district leaders said that political polarization about COVID-19 safety or vaccines was interfering with their ability to educate students.
  • Forty-three percent said the same about polarization related to critical race theory.
  • Compared with other school district leaders, roughly two to three times more leaders from urban districts, high-poverty districts, and districts serving mostly students of color expressed “major” concerns about declined enrollment and low student and teacher attendance.

To help ease the burden on educators and students, districts could consider creating contingency plans that reflect ongoing staff shortages; investigating alternative staffing arrangements; developing in-person school COVID-19 safety policies; and planning for future pandemics.

The Russian Southern Military District's 150th Rifle Division takes part in a military exercise at Kadamovsky Range, Rostov Region, Russia, January 27, 2022, photo by Erik Romanenko/TASS via Reuters Connect

The Russian Southern Military District's 150th Rifle Division takes part in a military exercise in Rostov Region, Russia, January 27, 2022

Photo by Erik Romanenko/TASS via Reuters Connect

How to Break the Cycle of Conflict with Russia

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has encouraged former Soviet republics to distance themselves from Moscow and deepen ties with the West. According to RAND's Samuel Charap, this strategy may have worked too well. “Many former Soviet republics, and especially Ukraine, now want to join the Western camp—and Russia is prepared to go to war to stop them,” he says. And until all parties involved agree to a new regional order, Russia's backyard will remain a flash point.

An ethnic Uyghur boy stands at the door of his home as Chinese security forces secure the area in Urumqi, China, July 10, 2009, photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

An ethnic Uyghur boy stands at the door of his home as Chinese security forces secure the area in Urumqi, China

Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

What Satellite Images Reveal About China's Uyghur Population

When China kicked off the Winter Olympics in Beijing last week, it selected two athletes—one of whom is reportedly a Uyghur from the Xinjiang region—to light the Olympic cauldron. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called this an attempt to “distract” from China's human rights abuses of the Uyghur people. Evidence from a recent RAND analysis of satellite data suggested that Uyghur detention camps—which Beijing claimed were closed—remained open and active.

Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking: Final Report

Background image by natrot/Adobe Stock; cover design by RAND Corporation

Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking: Final Report

The Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking was charged with developing a consensus on a strategic approach to combat the illegal flow of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids into the United States. RAND experts supported the commission in its research, analysis, and report writing. The commission's final report, released this week, identifies recommendations to address the overdose crisis, which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans between June 2020 and May 2021.

Boys gather near a building damaged by a U.S. drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in Shabwa, Yemen, February 3, 2013, photo by Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters

Boys gather near a building damaged by a U.S. drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in Shabwa, Yemen, February 3, 2013

Photo by Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters

Preventing the Next Civilian Casualty Horror

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued new guidance—informed by RAND research—to improve the military's procedures on preventing civilian harm. Our report emphasizes the need for institutional reforms, including devoting more resources, improved systems for managing data, and creating an infrastructure for learning. “Civilian protection should become the singular priority for a critical mass of people across the organization,” the authors say.

A woman with a child carries a box of food assistance at a mobile food drop event in Orlando, Florida, April 6, 2020, photo by Paul Hennessy/Reuters

A woman with a child carries a box at a mobile food drop event in Orlando, Florida, April 6, 2020

Photo by Paul Hennessy/Reuters

How Expanding the Child Tax Credit Tackled Child Poverty

Americans' incomes can vary a lot from month to month, causing many families to continually rise above and dip below the federal poverty level. Such income volatility can undermine the programs designed to help these families, says RAND's Kathryn Edwards. But the expanded child tax credit, which lapsed in December, accounted for this challenge. “It was uniquely well-designed to address the increasingly precarious economic reality that millions of Americans experience,” she says.

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