Recovering from Pandemic Learning Loss

On January 31, Harvard and Stanford Universities released the Education Recovery Scorecard, an assessment of student achievement following the learning loss that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.1 The report detailed the gains third- through eighth-grade students in 8,000 school districts across the country have made in their math and reading scores.2 Results show that there has been significant recovery in these two subjects, though more needs to be done to help students reach basic levels of proficiency.

Students struggled when schools closed and pivoted to remote learning. These disruptions had real effects on students’ ability to learn foundational skills in the classroom. Last summer, I wrote about the decline in history and civics scores in the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Reading scores were also down three points, mirroring scores from 30 years prior.3 Math scores dropped five to eight points, their largest decline since the test began in 1990.4 During the pandemic years, students lost an average of half a year of learning; since then, they have recovered only between a quarter and a third of that time.5 This can have a compounding effect; once you’re behind, it’s easy to fall even further behind unless there’s serious intervention.

Signs of Student Improvement 

The 2023 data gives reason to be optimistic about the post-pandemic recovery. While the 2022 NAEP scores were historically bad, the Education Recovery Scorecard shows that, rather than continue to decline, math and reading scores have actually started to increase. Even with these gains, many states’ scores still fall well below the national average and students still struggle to reach the proficiency levels for their grades. Only one state, Alabama, has surpassed its pre-pandemic math levels, while only Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi have reached their pre-pandemic reading levels.6 Those pre-pandemic scores were often not great to begin with, so despite the improvements, students are still generally underperforming in both subjects.

The pandemic worsened existing inequalities, widening the achievement gaps between richer and poorer students. Students from richer school districts scored higher and made stronger improvements than students from poorer ones.7 Even within the same school district, this was true for richer families and poorer families.8 During the pandemic, students who were behind in math and reading fell even further behind. Low scores sunk even lower. As scores recovered this past year, students with lower scores faced an even deeper hole to climb out from—one that they are still stuck in today.

Reasons for Recovery

It was feared that the pandemic would permanently leave students behind—that once they lost learning time, they would never be able to fully make it up. However, the return to in-person instruction and innovative methods by teachers, administration, and school districts have succeeded in starting to get students back on track.

Schools have cut down on truancy, expanded tutoring opportunities, implemented after-school and summer school programs, and even increased the length of the school day.9 “This did not happen by accident,” said Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, whose students scored among the highest in math and reading according to the Education Recovery Scorecard. “Many, many people were involved at all levels across the district.”10

Though most education decisions are made at the local and state levels, the federal government sets goals and provides some funding to support schools. The actions schools have already taken, with much success, align with three major educational goals set last month by President Joe Biden’s administration: increasing school attendance, providing high-dosage tutoring, and increasing summer learning and after-school learning time.11

Schools across the country have also made use of federal funds—more than $122 billion—to aid in their recovery, though these funds will run out in the fall.12 There’s always a need for more money, more time, and more resources, especially now as many public schools find themselves underfunded and struggling to support their students.13

Continuing the Trend

What a student learns and achieves today affects their quality of life in the long run. Low scores can correlate to lower wages, fewer opportunities, and higher likelihoods of unemployment or incarceration later in life.14 That’s on top of the challenges students currently face in the wake of the pandemic: increased levels of stress, anxiety, and loneliness.15

Educational achievement impacts the U.S. economy and our ability to advance and compete as a nation. On a global level, math scores for 15-year-olds ranked 28th out of 37 among similarly industrialized countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.16 There will always be a need for skilled workers and a well-educated population that can think critically, analyze information, and problem-solve to improve their own lives and their communities. Without these foundational skills, individual people—and the country—fall behind.

The results of the Education Recovery Scorecard show that recovery is possible when multiple groups of decision-makers prioritize childhood education as the urgent issue it is. The improvements we’ve seen are good, but third- through eighth-grade students are generally still lagging behind. “We’re slowly recovering,” said former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, “but not fast enough.”17 Students still have a long way to go to reach basic levels of understanding in math and reading. This is just the first step in helping students make up what they lost so they can ultimately meet and exceed the proficiency standards for their grade levels. Schools must maintain this momentum with sustained support to accelerate this upward trend.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does your school offer any additional resources to help support students who may be struggling in math or reading?
  2. Check out the New York Times resource below. Is your school district’s data included? What does it look like compared to the average scores of your state?
  3. The Biden administration set three goals to improve student achievement: increasing school attendance, providing high-dosage tutoring, and increasing summer learning and after-school learning time. Can you think of additional ways to support student learning, both inside and outside the classroom?
  4. Should Congress provide more federal funds to help students recover from the learning loss? If so, what programs, trainings, or resources should those funds go toward?

Other Resources

Related Post


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Azul Sordo/The Texas Tribune
[1] Harvard University:
[2] Ibid.
[3] National Assessment of Educational Progress:
[4] National Assessment of Educational Progress:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Harvard University:
[7] New York Times:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] The Tennessean:
[11] The White House:
[12] New York Times:
[13] Economic Policy Institute:
[14] New York Times:
[15] CNN:
[16] New York Times:
[17] New York Times:


Revisiting the Child Tax Credit

What is the Child Tax Credit Proposal?

There is an ongoing bipartisan effort in Congress to pass legislation that would provide financial support for families with young children. The bill would allow parents and guardians to receive a larger tax credit of up to $2,000 with the entire credit being refundable. This would provide some families with an additional $700-$1,400 dollars each year.1

The House of Representatives has already passed the bill. The Senate is now considering it.

WATCH: “What’s in the Bill to Expand the Child Tax Credit?” from PBS

What Would This Bill Do?

According the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), this bill would benefit roughly 16 million children and would bring approximately 500,000 children out of poverty. In the first year:

  • Overall, more than one in five children under 17 would benefit from the expansion.
  • More than one in three of all Black and Latino children under 17 would benefit.
  • Three in ten of all American Indian and Alaska Native children under 17 would benefit.
  • One in seven of all white and Asian children under 17 would benefit.2

This bill would impact different families in unique ways according to income, the number of children they have, and whether or not they are single-parent families. According to the CBPP, these are some examples of the ways in which families could benefit:

  • A single parent with two children who earns $13,000 working part time as a home health aide would see their credit double (a $1,575 gain) in the first year.
  • A single parent with two children who earns $22,000 as a child care worker would gain $675 in the first year.
  • A married couple—with one parent earning $32,000 as a nursing assistant and the other parent staying home to take care of their three young children—would gain $975 in the first year.3

READ: “Child Tax Credit Proposal: Impacts by the Numbers” from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

What Are Legislators Saying About the Bill?

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a lead author of the bill, said, “Fifteen million kids from low-income families will be better off as a result of this plan, and given today’s miserable political climate, it’s a big deal to have this opportunity to pass pro-family policy that helps so many kids get ahead.”4

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the overall bill does not yet have his support but he is working with committee members to make changes. “We have not resolved everything yet,” he said. “I hope we are able to get a bill, and I’ve been working on this bill for three years.”5

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) expressed frustration that the bill doesn’t do more. “You know I’ve been told that a half a loaf is better than none,” he said. “This isn’t even half a loaf, but I’m going to vote for it because our families and businesses need help.”6

“The tax bill we are considering today contains several wins for families and our economy, but one piece falls short. The child tax credit expansion would still leave behind millions of kids in families that need it the most,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.). “I will still continue leading the effort to fully expand the child tax credit.”7

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also expressed anger at the bill not going far enough. “This bill provides billions of dollars in tax relief for the wealthy, pennies for the poor,” she said. “Big corporations are richer than ever. There is no even split.”8

Some lawmakers have argued that the bill goes too far. For example, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said, “What is a refundable tax credit? It’s welfare by a different name. We’re going to give cash payments, checks, to people who don’t even pay taxes.”9

What Are Others Saying About the Bill?

Steven Hamilton, a professor of economics at The George Washington University, said, “We know that the child tax credit is an incredibly effective, well-targeted mechanism for delivering relief to families with children.”10

Responding to criticism that the bill is too small, Nikhita Airi of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center said, “Even a small boost of income can pay really big dividends.”11

The American Enterprise Institute, a policy think tank, argues that the bill would lead to people leaving the workforce because of the tax credit. They argue that because the bill does not have a work requirement, some families may earn more from the tax credit than from work, which will lead people already in poverty to give up on jobs that might eventually help them increase their earnings.12

What Comes Next?

The bill now goes to the Senate, and it may be sent back to the House if significant changes are made. As the arguments outlined above show, there is still work to be done to develop a bill that can pass the Senate. This is a good time for the public to make their voices heard and express support for or opposition to the bill by reaching out to their members of Congress.

CONTACT: Reach out to your elected officials about this or any other issue!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is poverty an issue in the community where you live? What evidence do you see of poverty, especially child poverty, in your area?
  2. Which arguments about this bill do you find most persuasive? Do you think it is a good bill? Does it go too far? Not far enough?
  3. What do you think should be the role of the federal government in trying to reduce or eliminate poverty?
  4. If you were talking to a member of Congress about this issue, what would you say to them? What would you want them to do?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Erin Woodiel/Missouri Independent
[1] ABC 7 Chicago:
[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Roll Call:
[5] Ibid.
[6] ABC 7 Chicago:
[7] American Enterprise Institute:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Associated Press:,gives%20lawmakers%20on%20both%20sides
[10] CNBC:
[11] Ibid.
[12] American Enterprise Institute:


The Congressional Border Deal

On Sunday, February 4, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a compromise bill intended to address border security concerns and to provide further funding for Ukraine’s military defense against Russia.1 In this post, we will examine the immigration-related contents of the compromise legislation and explore different perspectives about the border security bill.

What Is in the Border Security Agreement?

The border security bill includes $20 billion in investments to:

  • hire new Border Patrol officials;
  • hire employees to process asylum requests;
  • provide funding for shelters and services in cities struggling to meet the needs of new immigrants;
  • expand detention facilities to hold those who cross the border illegally; and,
  • increase screenings for fentanyl and other illicit drugs.2

Additionally, the border security bill would increase the scrutiny of those seeking asylum to screen some applicants out of the process more quickly to preserve resources.3 The goal of many of the provisions connected to the asylum process would be to reduce the wait time from 5-7 years to six months. Over the next five years, the agreement would allow an additional 50,000 immigrant visas each year and would establish faster pathways to permanent status for people from Afghanistan who resettled in the United States.4

FURTHER READING: White House List of Provisions in the Bill

In addition to these provisions, the bill would give the president the authority to close the border if the number of migrant encounters exceeds 4,000 per day over the course of a week, and would automatically close the border if the number of encounters exceeds a daily average of 5,000 during a week or exceeds 8,500 on any single day.5

WATCH: The Associated Press Outlines the Senate Bill

What Are Supporters of the Bill Saying About the Immigration Provisions?

Although this border security bill was developed in a bipartisan manner in the Senate, there is no guarantee that the bill will pass. Advocating for the bill, President Joe Biden said, “It will make our country safer, make our border more secure, treat people fairly and humanely while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation.”6

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who was a lead negotiator on the bill, argued that fellow Republicans who are skeptical about the bill should appreciate that the legislation “clears up a lot of the long-term issues and loopholes that have existed in the asylum law and it gives us an emergency authority that stops the chaos right now on the border.”7

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I–Ariz.) was also a lead negotiator on the border security bill. “America is and continues to be a bastion of hope for true asylum seekers,” she said. “But it is not an open door for economic migrants. It has been, as we know, exploited dramatically by cartels in the last four to five years.”8

What Are Opponents of the Bill Saying About the Immigration Provisions?

This bill faces scrutiny both from progressive activists and from conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump. For example, Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, a progressive organization, said they oppose “bringing back failed Trump-era immigration policies, and we oppose handing a future Republican president new powers to inflict their cruel agenda on migrants and asylum seekers.”9

“I am still reviewing the text of this proposal, which was constructed under Republican hostage-taking and refusal to fund aid for Ukraine without cruelty toward immigrants,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a progressive member of the House of Representatives.10

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is a leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, said, “Joe Biden will never enforce any new law and refuses to use the tools he already has today to end this crisis. I cannot vote for this bill. Americans will turn to the upcoming election to end the border crisis.”11

Former President Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president, also opposes the bill and urged congressional Republicans to not pass the bill. “This is a gift to Democrats, and this, sort of, is a shifting of the worst border in history onto the shoulders of Republicans. That’s really what they want. They want this for the presidential election, so they can now blame the Republicans for the worst border in history.”12

What’s Next?

The bipartisan border security bill already appears to have stalled, as many Republican legislators have said they oppose the bill. “Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a joint statement with Republican leaders on Monday. “It is dead on arrival in the House. We encourage the U.S. Senate to reject it.”13

President Biden is continuing to push for the border security bill and will likely campaign on the issue. “Now, all indications are this bill won’t even move forward to the Senate floor,” said President Biden. “Why? A simple reason: Donald Trump. Because Donald Trump thinks it’s bad for him politically, even though it helps the country. He’d rather weaponize the issue than actually solve it.”14

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think immigration is a high priority issue for the government to address? Why or why not?
  2. Which of the provisions in the border security legislation do you support, if any? Which do you oppose?
  3. Members of Congress have attempted to create compromise bills to solve immigration issues many times since the presidency of George W. Bush. Each effort at major reforms has stalled. Why do you think that immigration is such a challenging issue for legislators to solve?
  4. What would be your priorities if you were proposing changes to immigration policy?

Related Posts


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Eric Gay/AP
[1] Reuters:,from%20the%20House%20of%20Representatives.
[2] Fox News:
[3] The White House:
[4] Ibid.
[5] New York Times:
[6] The White House:
[7] Associated Press:
[8] Ibid.
[9] The Hill:
[10] Fox News:
[11] New York Times:
[12] The Hill:
[13] New York Times:
[14] ABC News:


The Debate About Urban (Re)Design in the United States

Amidst the mosaic of national debates surrounding climate change, economic justice, and public health, there is a growing focus on the intersection of these issues and the design of our communities. The overwhelming majority of U.S. households own at least one vehicle, and the number of vehicles registered in the United States has continued to rise in recent years.1 Some argue that car dependency is a symptom of the design of American cities, others argue that it’s the cause.

Climate scientists have made the case that continued suburban sprawl and car dependency are detrimental to fighting climate change, and that urban life leads to a smaller carbon footprint.2 With Americans moving to the suburbs and out of urban and rural areas in greater numbers, many urban theorists and planners have been working to find ways to make cities more desirable places to live. Some communities around the country have already implemented radical programs with some measures of success.3

Highway History and Reckoning

The design of many U.S. cities is due to political battles in the early 20th century, when cities expanded rapidly. Typically, these cities expanded outwards rather than upwards. Many urban planners chose to build large highways to facilitate the movement of cars into and out of city centers each day.

In 2022, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced a $1 billion program, Reconnecting Cities, to help rectify the harm caused by 20th-century highway projects, particularly to lower-income areas and communities of color.4 This initiative, part of a larger investment in infrastructure by President Joe Biden’s administration, offers federal aid to cities and states that wish to add public transit, bike lanes, and/or highway crossings, or even partially remove highways.

The association of highways with racial justice drew some attention in the press, echoing a history of citizen action against highway construction in the 1950s.When the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads originally published the blueprint of the Interstate Highway System (all 41,000 miles of it), some Americans in larger cities pushed back on the urban redesign out of fear that the highways would disrupt or destroy certain communities. Citizens protested, blocked construction, and filed lawsuits. These efforts became known as the “highway revolts,” and they took place in cities around the United States, most notably in Washington, San Francisco, and New York City.5

A before and after of a small section of the Inner Loop removal project. Google Maps/City of Rochester

In recent years, some have pushed for the outright removal or urban redesign of the freeways that cut through the center of cities. One city that paved the way for urban freeway removal was Rochester, New York.6 The I-490 Inner Loop, a freeway that closely encircled downtown Rochester, was built in the 1950s and functionally divided the center of the city with a massive trench to bring commuters in and out of downtown. Starting in 2014, the city closed the eastern portion of the loop and began to fill it in with dirt, then paved a wide avenue with bike lanes, storefronts, and new housing in the form of apartments. The goal was to make downtown Rochester a more livable place. The popularity among residents was mixed, but the city considers the project a success and says it plans to remove further sections of the loop. Rochester transportation specialist Erik Frisch called the project “a bit of a proof of concept.”6

READ MORE: “Can Removing Highways Fix America’s Cities?” from the New York Times

Fifteen Minutes or Less?

Another concept that’s been gaining traction is the “15-minute city” design. Rather than requiring a personal vehicle to commute to work or school, go to the gym, visit friends, or buy groceries, residents of a 15-minute city design could reach all of these essential amenities within approximately 15 minutes by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. Internationally, Paris has led the charge on redesigning cities to dramatically reduce the need for personal vehicles. Mayor Anne Hidalgo championed the concept as a means to reduce emissions and fight climate change, and it was a major part of her reelection campaign. Streets were closed to vehicular traffic, old buildings were converted to housing or retail and office space, and new parks were built.8

TThe 15-minute city design concept was conceived by Carlos Moreno, a professor at Sorbonne University of Paris. Moreno advised Hidalgo for the Parisian effort, and now his ideas have spread to North America. Cities such as Cleveland, Portland, and San Jose have all expressed plans to redesign with this concept in mind.7 Fifteen-minute city proponents argue that denser neighborhoods can help urban planners make better use of land and allow people to live closer to work, school, and other amenities, so many are starting the effort by removing zoning ordinances that only allow for the building of single-family housing.

READ MORE: “’15-Minute City’ Planning is on the Rise, Experts Say. Here’s What to Know,” from the Washington Post

Highway removal and 15-minute city redesign have drawn detractors as well, both in the public sphere and in government. Critics argue that implementing the 15-minute city concept in the United States is considerably more difficult than it is in other countries, as our cities were largely designed during the automobile era. The transition would be very complex and resource-intensive, challenging social and economic habits and needs in American culture such as dependency on cars and perceptions of urban and public spaces. Highway removal projects also face opposition in some areas where they’ve been proposed. Rochester’s highway removal took two decades to get started, and it faced less opposition than it would have in other places (the portion of the highway removed carried very little traffic).

Still, urban redesign projects are often popular among Americans, especially younger generations, and may drastically change our cities in the coming decades.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should urban planners encourage these projects as a way to reduce car dependency and climate change?
  2. Would you prefer to live in a “15-minute city”? Why or why not?
  3. Does the urban design of the United States and its history being intertwined with racial injustice and segregation need a cultural reckoning?
  4. Can you think of any large- or small-scale projects that you’d like to see urban planners implement in your community?

How to Get Involved

Local city planning meetings are often open to the public and allow citizens to voice their opinions on new proposals. Check to see if there are any meetings in your community!

Related posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia; public domain
[1] Forbes
[2] Pew Research Center:
[3] Berkeley News:
[4] Associated Press:
[5] Bloomberg:
[6] New York Times:
[7] New York Times:
[8] Washington Post:


Middle East Conflict and the Regional and Global Impact

In the weeks since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, Israel has conducted a military campaign with the stated goal of eradicating Hamas as both a military and governing organization.1 The death toll in Gaza currently stands at around 22,000 Palestinians and 170 Israeli soldiers, in addition to the more than 1,200 people Hamas killed on October 7.2 While further negotiations over a second ceasefire are ongoing (as of January 3, 2024), officials in the United States and around the world are also concerned about broader regional and global conflict boiling over.3 Many in the United States share these concerns.4

For discussion of other aspects of the conflict, please see our previous posts about Israel and Hamas, including Teaching and Discussing the Conflict, Discussing Antisemitism and Anti-Islamic Bias, and U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions.

In this blog post, the final in our series exploring the Middle East crisis, we will take a look at the region surrounding Israel and Palestine and consider the challenges the United States faces in navigating it.

WATCH: “U.S. Working to Keep Israel-Hamas War from Spreading,” from CNN

Israel-Lebanon crisis

Lebanon shares a border with Israel, and there have been skirmishes between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah—which is based in Lebanon—several times in recent decades. In 2006, there was a month-long war in which almost 1,200 people died.5 Hezbollah remains a potent force in Lebanon. During this ongoing war in Gaza, Israel has also exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants along and across the Lebanon border.6 On January 2, senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in an explosion in a suburb of Beirut. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the attack.7

The Lebanese National News Agency condemned the killing, as did Hezbollah. Some see the strike as evidence that Israel is carrying out its stated goal to eradicate Hamas. The U.S. government continues to publicly support Israel’s actions taken since October 7.8 White House spokesperson John Kirby said, “Israel has a right and responsibility to go after the threat that Hamas poses, which means they have a right and responsibility to go after the leadership of Hamas.”9

Yemen’s Houthis

The Houthis—or Ansar Allah as they call themselves—are a Shiite Islamic movement that “has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004.”10 They are supported by Iran’s government, which is also Shiite. The Sunni-majority government in Yemen is supported by Saudi Arabia.11 One of the animating elements of Houthi ideology is to combat what they view as U.S. imperialism; they view Israel and Saudi Arabia—U.S. allies—as participants in the U.S. empire.12

In recent months, Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on ships traveling through the Red Sea. The United States has warned Iran that it might be held responsible for Houthi actions if this continues.13 Eighteen shipping companies are routing their vessels around South Africa to avoid Houthi attacks; this significantly increases shipping times and costs. As much as 15 percent of international trade typically flows through the Red Sea.

U.S. diplomat Christopher Lu said, “We also know that Iran has been deeply involved in planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.” He said the United States does not want a confrontation with Iran, but a confrontation is possible. “It can continue its current course,” said Lu, “or it can withhold its support without which the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels navigating shipping lanes through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”14

U.S. Involvement in the Middle East Conflict

Both the Israel-Lebanon crisis and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have the potential to draw the United States into more widespread, significant conflicts in the region. Already, in Iraq and Syria, there have been over 100 attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces, and the United States has struck facilities used by militia groups who are also supported by Iran.15 On January 4, the United States carried out a drone strike in Baghdad that killed at least four members of an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran.16

Iran plays an important role in supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and many other militant and terrorist groups around the Middle East. Some political leaders in the United States are calling for a tougher stance against Iran that could include military action. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “Without Iran there are no Houthis. … The Houthis are completely backed by Iran. I have been saying for six months now … hit Iran. They have oil fields out in the open, they have the Revolutionary Guard headquarters you can see from space. Blow it off the map. … If you really want to protect American soldiers, make it real to the ayatollah [that if] you attack a solider through a proxy, we’re coming after you.”17

Discussion Questions

  1. What questions do you still have about the Middle East crisis?
  2. What do you think the United States should do? What more would you want to know to help answer that question?
  3. How high a priority should the U.S. government put on each of the elements of the conflict discussed in this post?
  4. In general, do you support the continuation of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict? Around the world? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/U.S. Navy via Associated Press
[1] NPR:
[2] The Guardian:; NBC News:
[3] NPR:; The Guardian:; CNN:
[4] PBS:
[5] International Committee of the Red Cross:
[6] CNBC:
[7] USA Today:
[8] Associated Press:
[9] USA Today:
[10] Wilson Center:
[11] Ibid.
[12] Peace Research Institute Oslo:
[13] Associated Press:
[14] Ibid.
[15] CNN:
[16] Fox News:
[17] Newsweek:


U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions in the Israel-Hamas Conflict: Part 2

As part of our ongoing series centered on the Israel-Hamas conflict, this post will review the U.S. foreign policy decisions. Part 1 of the series focused on the effects of the conflict within U.S. borders and the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia. To complete the series, Part 3 in the coming week will review how the conflict may impact the interests of the United States in the Middle East more broadly.

What Has the United States Already Done in the Israel-Hamas Conflict?

There is a long history of the U.S. supporting Israel through foreign aid. In fact, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. This has included between $3 billion and $5 billion in annual funding for military and missile defense spending since 2000.1

On October 20, 2023, President Joe Biden addressed the nation affirming the country’s commitment to its alliance with Israel. President Biden connected U.S. support for Israel in the fight against Hamas to support for Ukraine in repelling Russia’s invasion. In addition to accusing Iran of aiding both Hamas and Russia, President Biden argued that both conflicts represent struggles to preserve democracy. He also emphasized that Hamas must be destroyed, making a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people as a whole.2

Since the start of the conflict, the United States has positioned two Navy carrier groups in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel and the Biden administration has sought $14 billion in military aid for Israel. The administration has also helped negotiate the release of Israeli hostages during temporary truces and secured humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.3

At present, there is a ceasefire: Gaza is receiving some humanitarian aid, Hamas is releasing some of the hostages it holds, and Israel is releasing some Palestinian prisoners. This ceasefire was negotiated through Qatari intermediaries with support from the United States and other nations. The ceasefire is not permanent; it is currently scheduled to end by November 30.4

WATCH: President Biden Remarks on Temporary Truces to Exchange Prisoners

Strongly Supporting Israel’s Response

The standing policy of every U.S. administration since Israel’s founding in 1948 has been a commitment to Israel’s right to exist. The United States has provided billions of dollars in aid and sales of military equipment to Israel as well as engaged in mutually beneficial joint operations and strategic coordination between militaries and intelligence agencies. Hamas’ attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis, represents one of the most significant terror attacks in Israel’s history and U.S. support for Israel shows no signs of wavering. Both countries have aligned on two primary goals for the conflict: the release of all 240 Israeli hostages and the elimination of Hamas.5

While some officials in Congress and the Biden administration have called for a ceasefire, the majority of Congress and the White House have remained in alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by publicly opposing any formal ceasefire.

Those who argue against a formal ceasefire lay out several reasons for their opposition. They argue that such a policy would hinder the efforts to destroy Hamas and simply provide the organization time to recover and rearm, ultimately prolonging the conflict. They note that Hamas continues to be dedicated to the death and destruction of Israel; thus, Israel should not be expected to agree to a ceasefire after the brutal attack on its citizens. They argue that a ceasefire would delay the return of the rest of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas, as Hamas would no longer feel the pressure of military raids coming from Israel. Underscoring the need to secure the release of all hostages, freed Israeli prisoners have given accounts of their time in Hamas captivity and suffering or witnessing inhumane treatment, including starvation, family separation, torture, and execution. And Israeli officials have voiced their suspicions of any ceasefire agreement, given Hamas’ history of violating past ceasefires.6

READ: A History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Conditional U.S. Support for Israel

While current levels of support for Israel among U.S. officials and the American public is high, there is a growing push for the United States to use its influence to bring the conflict to an end.7 Since the start of the conflict, nearly 15,000 Palestinians have died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza have been forced from their homes. Conditions in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated significantly, with many lacking adequate shelter, electricity, health care, food, and water.8 Additionally, as many of 1.7 million of the 2.3 million residents of Gaza have been displaced.9

Israel has come under increasing scrutiny from the international community, with some characterizing its tactics as indiscriminate or even accusing the country of war crimes. While these accusations are heavily politicized, international support for Israel has lessened as the conflict continues. Some 120 member countries of the United Nations have called for an immediate truce; notably, the United States and most of its European allies did not join this call.10

Criticism of U.S. support for Israel has even come under scrutiny within the State Department. The State Department makes a “dissent channel” available for staff to express their disagreement with official U.S. foreign policy. Normally, this channel is infrequently used, but it has seen significant volume since the start of the conflict, with participants questioning whether U.S. support for Israel is helping to create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Most prominently, Josh Paul, director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, resigned in protest, publicly stating that he found the administration’s approach to the conflict to be “short-sighted, destructive, unjust,” and contrary to American values.11

Critics of the U.S. foreign policy decisions have pointed to the lack of a clear end goal beyond destroying Hamas. They question the absence of a plan for what will become of Gaza and its Palestinian population when the conflict resolves.12 Some suggestions for how the administration might alter its policies have included:

  • Calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire;
  • A commitment to increase support for Israel’s defense;
  • Prioritizing humanitarian aid for both Palestinians and Israelis;
  • Only endorsing and supporting tactics which protect civilians and human rights; and,
  • Having the United States act as a third-party to advance a political solution which will avoid future conflict.13

At present, while the Biden administration continues to caution Israel against unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza, it has not significantly altered its policy of support for Israel.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree or disagree with calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict?
  2. Does the United States have the right to impose conditions on its support for its allies or is it important for allies to remain fully committed to each other’s policies?
  3. President Biden has argued that the conflict between Israel and Hamas represents similar stakes for democracy as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Do you agree or disagree?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit, civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the U.S. since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Dave Decker/Creative Loafing/Axios


U.S. Politics and Policy During the Israel-Hamas Conflict: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore complex domestic policy, foreign policy, and global issues connected to the Israel-Hamas conflict. In the United States, there has been significant discussion and debate about what to do, both in terms of foreign policy and on the domestic front. In this series, we will examine rising antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate in the U.S., evaluate what the United States could and should do in the Middle East from multiple perspectives, and examine the impact the conflict is having on the United States as it navigates issues in the region and around the world.


It has been over a month since Hamas executed a terrorist attack in Israel that killed over 1,200 people.1 (Initial reports put the death toll at over 1,400, but in early November, the Israeli government revised “the official number of people” killed by Hamas.2) In addition to those killed, Hamas took at least 150 hostages whom they are now holding in Gaza.3 Footage and reporting from October 7—including footage shot by Hamas itself—shows that Hamas militants committed rape and other acts of sexual violence during the attack.4 In the weeks since the terrorist attack, Israel has conducted a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza that has included bombing; blockading the city to cut off food, medical supplies, power, and communication; and sending ground troops to raid suspected Hamas strongholds.5 Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, claims that over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, with the majority of those killed being women and children.6

The conflict has spurred antisemitic and anti-Muslim responses in the United States and many other nations around the globe. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, antisemitism is defined as prejudice against or hatred of Jews.7

For more resources that explain and explore antisemitism, see:

Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hate, is “an extreme fear of and hostility toward Islam and Muslims which often leads to hate speech, hate crimes, as well as social and political discrimination,” according to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative.

For more resources that explain and explore Islamophobia, see:

Both antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate speech have been on the rise on social media platforms since the October 7 terrorist attacks. According to the New York Times, “Antisemitic content soared more than 919 percent on X and 28 percent on Facebook in the month since Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group. Anti-Muslim hate speech on X jumped 422 percent on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, and rose 297 percent over the next five days, said the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based political advocacy group.”

In addition to the online hate and incivility, biased anti-Muslim and Jewish incidents are also increasing in the United States. It is difficult to track bias incidents and hate crimes at the national level because of the ways that local law enforcement agencies gather and share such information. However, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, organizations that track antisemitic and anti-Muslim bias respectively, both report significant increases.9 Additionally, major police departments, such as the New York Police Department, have reported substantial increases.10

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning that hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, and Arabs are likely to increase in “the near-to-medium term.”11 DHS warned that houses of worship, political demonstrations, and memorial services are all potential targets.12

WATCH: “Antisemitic and Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes on the Rise in the U.S.,” from NBC News

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you seen or heard about the Israel-Hamas conflict in your community? On your social media accounts?
  2. Have you seen or heard incidents of hate speech or bias in your community or online?
  3. How do you think institutions like schools and universities should respond to antisemitic or anti-Muslim speech and behaviors?
  4. How, if at all, do you think social media companies should respond?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press
[1] Close Up Current Issues Blog:
[2] NPR:
[3] Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
[4] Times of Israel:; Haaretz:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Washington Post:
[7] U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
[8] Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University:; New York Times:
[9] ABC News:
[10] Reuters:
[11] ABC News:
[12] Ibid.


Teaching and Discussing the Israel-Hamas Conflict

In last week’s post, we provided some background about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. In this week’s post, we offer some additional resources that could help students and teachers understand what is happening.

Axios gathered a list of people, places, and terms that could help people engage with news stories about the conflict.

U.S. News and World Report created a timeline, going back to 1896, that gives historical context to the conflict. Additionally, the Council on Foreign Relations created a timeline, going back to 1947, to help people understand the conflict.

Our partners at A Starting Point created this explainer about the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense is considering deploying troops to Israel in an advisory capacity.


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To provide additional context for debates about the role of the U.S. in the world, A Starting Point also has background videos on different views about foreign aid and the question of why the United States should commit resources to conflicts in other parts of the world.

Instead of discussion questions, we close this blog post with two questions for teachers:

  1. What are your goals when teaching about or discussing the Israel-Hamas conflict with your students?
  2. What resources have you found helpful when teaching about this challenging issue?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters


The Israel-Hamas War

HamasThe Hamas Attack Launches

On the morning of October 7, 2023, the militant Palestinian nationalist group Hamas unleashed an unprecedented terrorist attack against Israel. Over 5,000 rockets launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip (one of two semi-autonomous regions of Israel designated for Palestinian residents). These rocket attacks were immediately followed by thousands of Hamas fighters tearing down fences and barricades and crossing into Israel on trucks, on armored vehicles, aboard boats, on foot, and in some cases via small paraglider aircraft. Hamas killed over 1,400 Israelis, wounded over 3,000 more, and took over 200 Israeli hostages who remain in captivity.1

Hamas has claimed its actions are justified by what it views to be the criminal treatment of Palestinians in Israel by the Israeli government, citing the conditions Palestinians live under in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israel has categorized the Hamas attack as unprovoked and unjustifiably brutal while also criticizing the role they have played in disrupting peace efforts and preventing government aid from reaching Palestinians living in Gaza.2

The Israeli Response

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel is in a state of war. The ensuing counterattack by Israeli Defense Forces, including ground operations by Israeli troops and bombing attacks in Gaza, have claimed the lives of over 3,000 Palestinians and injured an additional 12,500.3 The IDF has begun to amass hundreds of thousands of soldiers along the border for an expected invasion of the Gaza Strip.4 As the air campaign has continued and the invasion is prepared, the Israeli government has issued an evacuation warning to the over one million Palestinians currently living in the northern part of the territory, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.5 Another Israeli response has been to shut down water and electricity to the Gaza Strip which, as an already impoverished and overpopulated area, faces the possibility of a humanitarian crisis as access to food, shelter, clean water, and medical care dwindles.6

The Role of the United States and Allies

Adding to the stakes in the Israel-Hamas conflict have been a series of rocket and artillery exchanges between Israel and soldiers in southern Lebanon along Israel’s northern border on the opposite side of the country. These soldiers are suspected of belonging to another militant faction—Hezbollah—who have bases of power throughout Lebanon and Syria.7 Israel has also bombed airstrips in Lebanon and Syria in an effort to limit the supply lines of Hezbollah fighters.8 Hezbollah and Hamas have historically benefited from the support of many of Israel’s neighboring countries, particularly Iran. This has prompted suspicions that Iran may have been involved in both the Hezbollah and Hamas attacks.9 Meanwhile, Iranian officials have released statements warning Israel about the consequences of invading Gaza.10

While Israel does not have many close allies in the region and has been at odds with most of its Arab-majority/Muslim-majority neighbors since it was founded in 1948 (including several wars), Israel does benefit from strong relations with many powerful nations around the world, including most members of the European Union and, particularly, the United States. Since 1951, the United States has provided over $225 billion in military aid to Israel (adjusting for inflation), accounting for over 70 percent of all military aid Israel receives from other countries. U.S. aid to Israel accounts for a full 16 percent of Israel’s defense budget.11

In general, pro-Israeli policies are widely popular in the United States. Every president since 1948 has made a firm commitment to supporting the State of Israel and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself; nearly every member of Congress has gone on record expressing the same.12 A small minority of U.S. elected officials have expressed criticism of Israel and its policies toward its Palestinian citizens, but these statements typically are met with fervent opposition by colleagues.13 However, the United States has also directed several billion dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority over several decades.14

The U.S. role in the conflict was recently highlighted by two developments in the Israel-Hamas war. On October 17, a hospital in Gaza suffered a missile strike, drawing alarm from the international community. Initially, the strike was attributed to Israel. However, the IDF was quick to release intelligence suggesting that the incident was the result of a misfired missile from Islamic Jihad, a pro-Hamas faction within Gaza. The confusion surrounding the attack hung over President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel the following day, during which he announced an agreement between the United States and Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza from Egypt under the conditions that it be subject to inspection and that it be kept from pro-Hamas forces.15

The Fear of Escalation

The strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance, as well as the staunch opposition to Israel by Hamas, Hezbollah, and most of its neighboring countries—many of which also have unfavorable views of the U.S. role in the Middle East—contributes to fears of escalation. As the well-armed and organized Israeli military prepares to take action in Gaza, speculation swirls around what actions the international community will deem acceptable and what might be considered going too far. Conversely, on top of launching the first strike, Hamas has encouraged Palestinians to refuse to comply with IDF evacuation warnings and prepare to fight, and has shown no willingness to end the fighting.16 The stakes of the conflict have left many wondering if the Israel-Hamas war can remain confined and others asking whether it should.17

Discussion Questions

  1. Should the international community, including the United States, take a more active role in the Israel-Hamas war? What kinds of actions do you think would be appropriate? Are there any actions which should be avoided?
  2. At least 30 American citizens were killed in the initial Hamas attacks that began the war. Does this give the United States the right to take direct military action itself? Should the United States take such action?
  3. As explained in the article, the United States currently provides foreign aid to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Should the United States continue to support both groups or should these priorities be re-evaluated?
  4. Several countries around the world, not including the United States, have shut down and even banned protests that express pro-Hamas or antisemitic (anti-Jewish) messages on the grounds that they promote violence. Do you agree with this policy? How, if at all, should the U.S. government or state/local governments address similar protests in the United States?


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Samar Abu Elouf/The New York Times


Young Americans’ Views on the 2024 Presidential Election

Over the last two weeks, we have explored results from American University’s Reimagining the American Dream Survey, conducted in partnership with Close Up, the Generation Lab, and the Millennial Action Project. This third and final post will examine Gen Z’s 2024 election views and ideas.

As a reminder, the survey from American University’s Sine Institute of Policy & Politics explored “what the American Dream actually means for young Americans, who are trying to sort through the churning dynamics shaping their lives, including: spiraling technological innovation, major economic transitions, changing attitudes about social justice, and what constitutes a good, or ‘successful,’ life after a devastating global pandemic with profound impacts on their physical and mental health, the extent of which is still unknown.” The 2024 presidential survey explored a broad range of issues, including the upcoming election.

The first major finding is that young Americans do not yet feel fully engaged or invested in the 2024 presidential election, even though a majority agree that the outcome of the election will have a major impact on their lives. Gen Z leans toward supporting President Joe Biden, but almost a third lean toward the Republican Party and a quarter of respondents are undecided.

When young Americans were asked to list the top three issues that will drive their decisions in 2024, four out of the top five issues they listed were economic issues. Health care (25 percent), the economy and cost of living (24 percent), affordable housing (24 percent), and issues related to the workforce (21 percent) were all listed as a top-three issue by at least 20 percent of respondents, indicating the extent to which Gen Z is thinking about the economy. Three other issues—reproductive rights (23 percent), the environment and climate change (21 percent), and gun violence (20 percent)—were also listed as top-three issues by at least 20 percent of respondents.

Of course, the 2024 election is still over a year away, so there is plenty of time for Gen Z—and all voters—to become more engaged, to reassess their priorities, and to reconsider their vote. This 2024 presidential survey is only a snapshot, but it is a snapshot of young Americans’ views, and Gen Z tends to be underrepresented in the political discourse. That makes this snapshot important and useful for those who care about engaging young people in U.S. democracy.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you begun to pay attention to the 2024 election? What are your thoughts and observations?
  2. How do your political preferences align with the views of young Americans in Image 1? Are you leaning toward a Democratic, Republican, or independent candidate, or are you undecided?
  3. How does the list of priorities in Image 2 compare to your own list? Is there an issue that you would rank more highly than health care, affordable housing, or the economy?
  4. Are there any issues that you would add to the list of priorities that young Americans identified? (see Image 2)

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: EPA-EFE; AFP; Reuters (compiled by Straits Times)