The National Center for Education Statistics released its latest assessment of educational progress on Thursday, finding decades of progress were erased during the pandemic. The average reading test score for 9-year-old students in the U.S. dropped five points from 2020 to 2022—the largest such decline since 1990—and the average math test score for 9-year-old students fell seven points, the first decline since the assessment began in the 1970s. Black students—who were more likely to attend schools that stayed remote during the pandemic and more likely to lose relatives to COVID-19—lost 13 points in math, while white students lost five.
The months-long ceasefire in Ethiopia appears on the verge of collapsing, with Tigray People’s Liberation Front officials claiming troops aligned with the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments recently began an offensive in four areas of the country’s northern Tigray region. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen didn’t dispute the charges on Thursday, saying the TPLF has been “violating the spirit of the humanitarian truce” with hostile rhetoric and child soldier recruitment—and that the government had acted with “utmost care to avoid civilian casualties.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on both sides of the conflict to “halt military operations and redouble efforts to bring a permanent end” to the fighting.
After several incidents involving warning flares earlier this week, Taiwanese troops reportedly shot down a civilian drone flying near Kinmen Island on Thursday after efforts to repel it failed. Geopolitical experts see the continued incursions as part of China’s “gray-zone” tactics and an attempt to humiliate Taiwan’s military.
Beginning Thursday, Finland is drastically reducing the number of Russian tourists it will allow in the country, cutting the number of visas it issues to 10 percent of the typical amount. “It’s important that we show that at the same time when Ukrainians are suffering, normal tourism shouldn’t continue business as usual,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said earlier this week.
The International Monetary Fund announced Thursday it had reached a preliminary agreement with the Sri Lankan government to extend a $2.9 billion loan—disbursed over four years—to “restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability” on the South Asian island that has been plagued by inflation and shortages. The financial rescue package is contingent on Sri Lanka adopting a number of austerity measures and the country’s creditors cooperating on debt restructuring.
A bipartisan group of 50 House members sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday requesting his administration provide Congress with the full text of any proposal to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and consult with Congress prior to rejoining. “We are deeply concerned about multiple provisions that reportedly may be contained in the final language of any agreement with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” the lawmakers wrote. A State Department spokesperson said Thursday night Iran’s latest offer in negotiations was “not constructive.”
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon signaled at a hearing in Florida on Thursday that she’s considering an order temporarily barring Justice Department investigators from reviewing the material FBI agents seized during their search of Mar-a-Lago last month, though she has not directed the agency to stop yet. Cannon also indicated she is still weighing the Trump legal team’s request for a special master to screen the documents for privileged material, telling Justice Department counterintelligence officials she’s not sure the issue of a former president’s executive privilege is “as cut and dried as you suggest.”
A Centers for Disease Control advisory panel on Thursday formally recommended Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s updated COVID-19 booster doses designed to target both the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and the BA.4/BA.5 strains of the Omicron variant. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the panel’s recommendation, clearing the way for the updated shots to hit pharmacies, hospitals, and doctor’s offices as soon as this weekend. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster is authorized for anyone 12 and older, while the Moderna booster is authorized for those 18 and older.
The average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States declined about 11.8 percent over the past two weeks according to the CDC, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 13.3 percent. About 31,100 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., down from approximately 35,300 two weeks ago.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 5,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 232,000 last week, the lowest level in two months.