Remote learning likely widened racial, economic achievement gap

“In high-poverty schools that were remote for more than half of 2021, the loss was about half of a school year’s worth of typical achievement growth,” explained Thomas Kane, who heads up the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard. Credit: Rose Lincoln/Harvard file photo

A new report on pandemic learning loss found that high-poverty schools both spent more weeks in remote instruction during 2020–21 and suffered large losses in achievement when they did so. Districts that remained largely in-person, however, lost relatively little ground. Experts predict the results will foreshadow a widening in measures of the nation’s racial and economic achievement gap.

The report was a joint effort of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research, and NWEA, a nonprofit research and educational services provider. It analyzed achievement data from 2.1 million students in 10,000 schools across 49 states and is the first in a series that will be tracking the impact of catch-up efforts over the next two years.

The Gazette spoke with economist Thomas Kane, Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard Graduate School of Education and center faculty director, about the findings. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q&A: Thomas Kane

GAZETTE: What is the magnitude of students’ learning loss due to the pandemic? Which school districts have been the most affected?

KANE: We found that districts that spent more weeks in remote instruction lost more ground than districts that returned to in-person instruction sooner. Anyone who has been teaching by Zoom would not be surprised by that. The striking and important finding was that remote instruction had much more in high-poverty schools. High-poverty schools were more likely to go remote and their students lost more when they did so. Both mattered, but the latter effect mattered more. To give you a sense of the magnitude: In high-poverty schools that were remote for more than half of 2021, the loss was about half of a school year’s worth of typical achievement growth.

GAZETTE: What is the percentage of students who have experienced learning loss in the U.S.?

KANE: There are 50 million students in the U.S. About 40%, or 20 million students, nationally were in schools that conducted classes remotely for less than four weeks, and 30%, or 15 million students, remained in remote instruction for more than 16 weeks. In other words, about 40% spent less than a month in remote instruction, but about 30% spent more than four months in remote instruction. It is the dramatic growth in educational inequity in those districts that remained remote that should worry us.

GAZETTE: Are we at risk of losing the educational gains of the last three decades? How could this impact the racial achievement gap?

KANE: Over the last 30 years, there has been like a gradual closing in both the Black-white and Hispanic-white achievement gaps. The has been administering an assessment to a nationally representative sample every couple of years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Gaps have been narrowing for the last 30 years.

The latest assessment was conducted between January and March of 2022. Our results imply that when those results come out later this year (likely in October, before the midterm election) there will be a decline nationally, especially in states where schools remained remote, and gaps will widen sharply for the first time in a generation. What we should be focused on now is ensuring that the widening gaps do not become permanent. By helping students catch up over the next few years, I hope we can reduce the gaps again when the next NAEP assessment is collected in 2024.

Interestingly, gaps in math achievement by race and school poverty did not widen in school districts in states such as Texas and Florida and elsewhere that remained largely in-person. Where schools remained in-person, gaps did not widen. Where schools shifted to remote learning, gaps widened sharply. Shifting to remote instruction was like turning a switch on a critical piece of our social infrastructure that we had taken for granted. Our findings imply that public schools truly are the “balance wheel of the social machinery,” as Horace Mann would say.

GAZETTE: In which ways can learning loss affect high school graduation and college application rates and students’ life opportunities?

KANE: Some observers are going to say that we are too focused on the decline in test scores. However, given past relationships between test scores and other life outcomes, we would expect the achievement declines to translate into lower high school graduation rates (since students may not have the math or reading skills required for upper-level courses), lower college-going rates, and lower earnings. Recall that not every group of students saw the same decline—high-poverty schools were more likely to go remote and suffered larger losses when they did so. To be more concrete, students in high-poverty schools that were remote for more than half of 2020–21 would be expected to see a 5% decline in average earnings over their career, given past relationships between test scores and earnings. That may not sound like much, but when calculating losses for all 50 million students in K-12 education in the U.S., it would amount to a $2 trillion decline in lifetime earnings. It’s in that context that the $190 billion that the federal government has provided in supplemental aid for schools since the pandemic began sounds like a good investment, if it could be used to reduce the losses.

GAZETTE: What should school districts and states do to help students recover from their learning losses?

KANE: School districts need to start by assessing the magnitude of their losses and then assembling a package of interventions that is commensurate with their losses. Districts that remained remote during 2020–21—especially the higher-poverty schools in those districts—lost the most ground and will need to spend more of their federal aid on academic recovery. It’s all about magnitudes. From prior to the pandemic, we have estimates of the impact of interventions such as high-dosage tutoring or summer school or double periods of math instruction. Each district should start this summer by taking the estimates of the impact of each of those interventions, multiply each by the share of students they plan to serve under each and make sure the sum of expected effects adds up to the size of the loss their students have suffered. That’s going to be an eye-opening calculation for most districts, since most districts I see are planning intensive interventions for 10 or 15%t of their students, some voluntary summer school—and that’s about it. A barely-more-than-normal recovery effort such as that is going to be nowhere near enough in many districts.

Here’s an example. The students in high-poverty schools that were remote for most of 2020–21 lost about 0.45 standard deviations in math. There are very few educational interventions that have ever been shown to have an impact that large. One example is high-dosage tutoring—which involves tutoring sessions two to three times per week in groups of one to four students with a trained tutor all year. Pre-pandemic research implied that such a program would generate about 0.38 standard deviations. In other words, a district could provide a high-quality tutor to every single one of the students in a high-poverty school and still not expect to make up the decline. Of course, given the inevitable problems of maintaining quality while scaling up such interventions, the expected impacts from pre-pandemic research are likely to be over-optimistic. But districts need to start with a plan, which is commensurate with their losses and then scale up or scale down as necessary over the next couple of years.

GAZETTE: The federal government gave $190 billion to schools across the country for academic recovery. Is that enough?

KANE: Based on our estimates, those dollars would be enough if school districts, especially the high-poverty school districts that were remote for much of 2021, were to spend nearly all of it on academic recovery. Unfortunately, a lot of those funds have been going to things that weren’t necessarily related to academic recovery. That’s why we’re trying to sound the alarm now before those dollars are committed to other things.

School districts have never been through a disruption of this magnitude before. School districts have until the end of 2024 to spend the federal aid for academic recovery. Most of the district plans I have seen are undersized. Of course, districts will eventually learn that their efforts are not sufficient. However, the great danger is that they will realize that too late—after they have committed the federal aid.

You wouldn’t try to patch a hole without making sure that the patch was as big as the hole. Very few school districts have done the math to figure out if the effect sizes of the interventions that they’re planning and the share of students to be served by each match the loss their have endured. Troublingly, there’s nothing about the federal process that requires that district plans are commensurate with their losses, even on paper.

It’s worse than that. The American Rescue Plan—passed in March 2021, before the magnitude of the losses were clear—only requires districts to spend 20% of the federal aid on academic recovery. Most districts seem to be following the federal guidance, and spending between 20 and 30% on academic recovery. That’s not going to be nearly enough in the lower-income districts that spent much of 2020–21 in remote instruction. Local business leaders, parents, and school boards need to engage with their and make sure that the district recovery plans are commensurate with the losses. If not, these achievement losses will become permanent.

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Remote work doesn’t negatively affect productivity, study suggests

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A research team from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health found that employee and company resiliency may be enhanced through the opportunity for employees to work remotely during natural disasters and other events that cause workplace displacement.

The team, which was comprised of Kamrie Sarnosky, Mark Benden, Garett Sansom, Leslie Cizmas and Annette Regan, worked with a large oil and gas company in Houston, Texas, to analyze ergonomic software data from 264 employees. During the study period, the company was forced to close its offices because of flooding from Hurricane Harvey, which required employees to work remotely for an extended period.

The researchers looked at employee technology data before, during and after Hurricane Harvey. They found that although total computer use declined during the hurricane, employees’ work behaviors during the seven-month period of working remotely returned to pre-hurricane levels. This finding suggests that does not negatively impact workplace productivity.

This study, which was published in IOS Press in February, offers important insights into information workers who have become increasingly used to and interested in working remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the future, there will be a greater percentage of the workforce who is involved in some sort of office-style technology work activities,” said Benden, who is director of the school’s Ergonomics Center. “Almost all of the study’s employees were right back up to the same level of output as they were doing before Hurricane Harvey. This is a huge message right now for employers because we’re having national debates about whether or not employees should be able to work remotely or in a hybrid schedule.”

This study is part of a large effort by the Ergonomics Center that is looking at the health of information workers. Although seemingly less taxing than blue-collar work, information workers are prone to injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome. “The research says that if you work a certain way at a certain pace over a certain duration, you’re more likely to become injured from that work,” Benden said. “But if you work a little less or a little less often or break up the duration or have certain other character traits—like posture—then you’re less likely to develop a problem from doing your office work.”

The Texas A&M researchers believe this information can be used to promote healthy behaviors for employees, including those working remotely, and to inform corporate policies. They also will be looking at tracking the ergonomic environment in employees’ home offices. The team believes that tracking this type of data can help companies address remote health issues, including stress, depression and .

“The question was whether we could track people and rather than letting them stay in a bad place, a bad habit or bad behavior, could we give them a healthful nudge over the computer to remind them that it was time to take a walk or a break,” Benden said. “We as humans are not very good at keeping track of time, especially when we’re in the zone. In order to keep us from physically hurting our bodies, we need to have nudges and reminders, which people respond to, and which work really well.”

Benden noted that taking breaks does not hinder employees’ quality of work.

“The people who took the recommended breaks were more productive overall. They got more done,” he said. “We need to learn this about people, we need to teach people about it, and then we need to help people actually do it.”

More information:
Kamrie Sarnosky et al, Impact of workplace displacement during a natural disaster on computer performance metrics: A 2-year interrupted time series analysis, Work (2022). DOI: 10.3233/WOR-210707

Remote work doesn’t negatively affect productivity, s

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Hexbyte Glen Cove A remote control for functional materials

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An intense mid-infrared laser pulse hits a ferroelectric LiNbO3 crystal and kicks atomic vibrations only in a short depth below the surface, emphasized by the bright tetrahedra. Through anharmonic coupling, this strong vibration launches a polarization wave, also called polariton, which propagates throughout the remaining depth of the crystal to modulate the ferroelectric polarization. Credit: Joerg M. Harms / MPSD

Intense mid-infrared excitation has been demonstrated as a powerful tool for controlling the magnetic, ferroelectric and superconducting properties of complex materials. Nonlinear phononics is key to this end, as it displaces specific atoms away from their equilibrium positions to manipulate microscopic interactions. So far, this effect has been thought to occur only within the optically excited volume. Now researchers in Hamburg discovered that the polarization reversal in ferroelectric lithium niobate (LiNbO3) even occurs in areas well away from the direct light ‘hit’. The hitherto unknown phenomenon—called nonlocal nonlinear phononics—has been published in Nature Physics.

Ferroelectric materials such as LiNbO3 possess a static electric polarization generated by lines of positive and negative charge that can be switched with an electric field. This unique property makes these materials the basic building block of many modern electronic components in smartphones, laptops and ultrasound imaging devices. Using to change the ferroelectric polarization is a new approach that allows for extremely fast processes which would be a key step in the development of highly efficient ultrafast optical switches for new devices.

The researchers in Andrea Cavalleri’s group at the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics (MPSD) used mid-infrared pulses to excite the surface of a LiNbO3 crystal, launching a strong vibration throughout a region that spans a depth of 3 micrometers from the crystal surface. Then, they used a technique called femtosecond stimulated Raman scattering to measure ultrafast changes of the ferroelectric polarization throughout the complete 50 micrometer crystal thickness. The measurements revealed that light pulses with a very high energy density cause the ferroelectric polarization to reverse throughout the entire crystal. By using to simulate the effects of nonlinear phononics in LiNbO3, the authors found that strong polarization waves called polaritons emerge from the small volume traversed by the light pulse and move throughout the remaining depth of the crystal. These polariton waves are believed to play a significant role in altering the ferroelectric polarization throughout the sections of the crystal that are untouched by the light pulse.

The results reported by Henstridge et al. add an exciting new piece to the elusive puzzle of ultrafast ferroelectricity, the understanding of which can lead to new device components such as sustainable optical switches. More broadly, this work opens an enormous question concerning whether past and future systems driven by nonlinear phononics can exhibit a similar type of nonlocal character. The ability to manipulate functional properties at a distance could expand the realm of possibilities for incorporating nonlinear phononics into integrated devices and other complex materials, opening new avenues for controlling systems with light.

More information:
M. Henstridge et al, Nonlocal nonlinear phononics, Nature Physics (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41567-022-01512-3

A remote control for functional materials (2022, March 9)
retrieved 10 March 2022

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Radar remote sensing reveals magnitudes and patterns of large-scale permafrost ground deformation

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Seasonal and linear ground deformation on the central Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Credit: Chen Jie

Permafrost on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP) undergoes significant thawing and degradation under climate warming. Ground deformation is a key indicator of permafrost degradation, which can be quantified via the advanced multi-temporal Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) techniques.

However, due to the strong heterogeneity of freeze-thaw processes, the magnitudes and patterns of large-scale ground deformation on QTP is not fully understood.

Researchers from the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) developed a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)-Land-Surface-Temperature-Integrated InSAR approach to reconstruct the -related ground deformation, and they observed widespread seasonal and long-term ground deformation on the central QTP.

By applying the geophysical detector and spatial analysis, the researchers found that terrain slope is the main factor controlling the seasonal deformation. Strong magnitudes and variations of seasonal deformation are most pronounced in flat or gentle-slope regions due to the high water capacity.

In addition, according to the researchers, a linear subsidence is higher in the regions with high ground ice content and warm permafrost.

These findings reveal that under continuous warming, the transition from cold permafrost to warm permafrost may lead to more extensive ground ice loss.

This study demonstrates the capability of the permafrost-tailored InSAR approaches to quantify the magnitudes and spatial variations of the freeze-thaw processes and the melting of ground ice under different surface conditions (such as different terrains, , ice-rich or ice-poor permafrost) at a high resolution over a large scale.

In the remote or inaccessible permafrost regions on QTP or in the Arctic, this study provides practical permafrost-tailored InSAR methods and strategies to map and quantify the freeze-thaw processes and the degradation of permafrost over large areas, which is valuable for understanding the permafrost response to climate warming and local disturbance.

This work has been published in Remote Sensing of Environment. The ground deformation maps on the central QTP can be downloaded at National Cryosphere Desert Data Center.

More information:
Jie Chen et al, Magnitudes and patterns of large-scale permafrost ground deformation revealed by Sentinel-1 InSAR on the central Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Remote Sensing of Environment (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2021.112778

Radar remote sensing reveals magnitudes and patterns of large-scale permafrost ground deformation (2021, November 26)
retrieved 27 November 2021

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Remote control for plants thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Remote control for plants

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Plants have microscopically small pores on the surface of their leaves called stomata. These help plants regulate the influx of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. They also prevent the loss of too much water and withering away during drought.

The stomatal pores are surrounded by two guard cells. If the internal pressure of these cells drops, they slacken and close the pore. If the pressure rises, the cells move apart and the pore widens.

The stomatal movements are thus regulated by the guard cells. Signaling pathways in these cells are so complex that it is difficult for humans to intervene with them directly. However, researchers of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, nevertheless found a way to control the movements of stomata remotely—using .

Light-sensitive protein from algae used

The researchers succeeded in doing this by introducing a light-sensitive switch into the guard cells of tobacco . This technology was adopted from optogenetics. It has been successfully exploited in animal cells, but the application in plant cells it is still in its infancy.

The team led by JMU biophysicist and guard cell expert Professor Rainer Hedrich describes their approach in the journal Science Advances. JMU researchers Shouguang Huang (first author), Kai Konrad and Rob Roelfsema were significantly involved.

The group used a from the alga Guillardia theta as a light switch, namely the anion channel ACR1 from the group of channelrhodopsins. In response to light pulses, the switch ensures that chloride flows out of the guard cells and potassium follows. The guard cells lose internal pressure, slacken and the pore closes within 15 minutes. “The light pulse is like a for the movement of the stomata,” says Hedrich.

Anion channel hypothesis confirmed

“By exposing ACR1 to light, we have bridged the cell’s own signaling chain, thus proving the hypothesis that the opening of anion channels is essential and sufficient for stomatal closure,” Hedrich says. The exposure to light had almost completely prevented the transpiration of the plants.

With this knowledge, it is now possible to cultivate plants with an increased number of anion channels in the guard . Plants equipped in this way should close their stomata more quickly in response to approaching heat waves and thus be better able to cope with periods of drought.

“Plant anion channels are activated during stress; this process is dependent on calcium. In a follow up optogenetics project, we want to use calcium-conducting channelrhodopsins to specifically allow calcium to flow into the cell through exposure to and to understand the mechanism of anion channel activation in detail,” Hedrich says.

Basic scientific research can also benefit from the results from Würzburg: “Our new optogenetic tool has for research,” says the JMU professor. “With it, we can gain new insights into how plants regulate their water consumption and how carbon dioxide fixation and stomatal movements are coupled.”

More information:
Optogenetic control of the guard cell membrane potential and stomatal movement by the light-gated anion channel GtACR1, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg4619

Remote control for plants (2021, July 9)
retrieved 10 July 2021

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