The New York Times spoke to R. Jisung Park,, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about new research showing that hotter temperatures widen the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study found that students performed worse on standardized tests for every additional day of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, suggesting a fundamental link between heat exposure and reduced learning. While those detrimental effects were observed across 58 countries, the U.S. data revealed a surprisingly pronounced effect on Black and Hispanic students, the study found. Park, an assistant professor of public policy, said the gap seemed to reflect the fact that minority students are less likely to have air-conditioning at school and at home. Being exposed to higher temperatures throughout the school year appears to take a cumulative toll, he said. “It’s like a thousand little cuts to your ability to focus and concentrate and learn,” Park said.
Extreme heat deepens educational inequities for students around the world, according to new research by R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Just published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Park’s study analyzed standardized achievement data for more than 144 million 15- to 19-year-olds in 58 countries, as well as detailed weather and academic calendar information. The findings showed that the rate of learning decreases with an increase in the number of hot school days. “Temperature is a surprisingly disruptive factor for students — both for high-stakes test-taking and for learning over the longer term,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy specializing in environmental and labor economics. The new study broadens Park’s body of research into the effect of extreme heat on learning. Previous analyses of U.S. data showed that high temperatures can diminish student performance on standardized exams. In addition, minority and low-income students who attend U.S. schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heat, the research found. The latest study measured the effects on a global scale, showing that “heat disrupts learning across a wide range of climates and levels of development,” Park said. The research underscores the importance of policies aimed at improving physical learning environments. More broadly, it demonstrates that the impact of climate change on personal development can add up over time, possibly putting a brake on national economic growth and individual economic mobility.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was awarded a research grant by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth for a project investigating the impact of climate change on rising income inequality and declining labor market prospects in the United States. Park is one of 46 economists, postdoctoral scholars and other social scientists who received funding from the center this year to research the intersections between economic inequality and economic growth. Park’s award of $49,000 will support research into whether climate change exacerbates recent trends in economic inequality and will include recommendations for workplace adaptation and policy reforms. Growing evidence indicates that temperature stress may have significant impacts on cognitive performance, labor capacity and workplace safety, suggesting that extreme heat due to climate change may significantly reduce earnings and job quality for many low-skilled workers. Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, will use administrative data on 11 million workplace injuries in California; injury and fatality data from the federal Office of Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; and daily temperature variation data from the National Climatic Data Center. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth is a nonprofit research and grant-making organization dedicated to advancing policies that promote broad-based economic growth. The grant program aims to build a stronger bridge between academics and policymakers to bring relevant, accessible new research to the policymaking process.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park spoke to the New York Times for a story about the engineering and land management innovations that led to California’s tremendous growth but also left it vulnerable to climate disaster. For generations, the state has moved vast quantities of water and suppressed wildfires to transform its arid and mountainous landscape into the “richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation,” the article noted. While these accomplishments reflect the optimism that defines California, Park said, they were not designed to accommodate the increasingly harsh extremes of climate change. “The shocks are outside the range, in many cases, of historical experience,” he said. Park also noted that California’s engineered landscapes are not the only factor behind its high-impact disasters. The state’s size, geographic diversity and large population also expose it to an unusually wide range of extreme climate events.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was featured in a Sustainable LA Grand Challenges Spotlight article discussing his research on the links between heat and student performance. Park analyzed New York City standardized test scores over 20 years and found that students taking an exam on a 90-degree day do a “10-15% of a standard deviation worse than they would have otherwise.” He explained that the impacts of heat are disproportionately high for underrepresented minorities, who are significantly less likely to have air conditioning at school and home. “I would hope that this kind of research can at least help us make more visceral the impacts of climate change and make it less of a ‘other people over there 100 years from now’ problem and more of an ‘all of us today’ problem,” Park said. He stressed the importance of developing a short-term policy portfolio in addition to a long-term carbon mitigation plan.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park spoke to the New York Times about potential unintended consequences of climate change development restrictions on poorer communities. A new study found that many Americans support aggressive government regulation to fight the effects of climate change, including mandatory building codes in risky areas and bans on building in flood- or fire-prone areas. While development restrictions could reduce disasters in the future, Park noted that they could also hurt low-income and minority families who can’t afford to live elsewhere. If local governments follow public opinion and impose new restrictions on development, it’s important that they consider the effects of those changes on poorer communities, including communities of color, Park said. He suggested that governments could make it more expensive to live in vulnerable neighborhoods, but subsidize low-income residents who want to move. “Doing both is certainly possible,” he said.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park spoke to NBC News about the high risks of illness and injury associated with working in hot environments. As temperatures rise across the country, essential workers face increased risk of heat illness, a common problem for delivery workers that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. An increase in the volume of packages being sent during the pandemic has stepped up pressure on delivery workers to work harder and avoid taking breaks. Many delivery vehicles and warehouses are not air-conditioned, and mandating masks can make it more difficult for the body to cool down. Experts have found that high temperatures can have devastating effects on the body. “Heat illnesses, heat cramps — these can be deadly,” Park said. “But there’s evidence that finds that hotter temperatures raise the risk of other injuries, too,” with instances of fatigue or fainting sometimes leading to organ failure.
A Guardian story on the harmful impact of extreme heat on communities of color cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park. Data from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that U.S. counties with large Black and Latino populations experience a disproportionately high number of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the article said. Research by Park, an environmental economist at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, focuses on the effect of extreme heat on students’ ability to learn. His analysis of data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years found that minority and low-income students who attend schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable. “Adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” said Park, who also discussed his research in an interview with America Adapts, beginning at minute 3:18.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park discussed the effect of warming global temperatures on student learning in an NPR interview. Park and his colleagues analyzed data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years to explore the relationship between climate change and student academic performance. Park found that “students who experience a hotter than average year — let’s say a year with five more school days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit — appeared to experience reduced learning.” A one-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average temperature in a given year reduces learning on average by around 1%, he said. But his research showed that the same temperature change disproportionately impacts underrepresented minorities by closer to 2% or 3%. Park added that infrastructure affects student academic performance, explaining that “the effect of heat on learning is much smaller in schools that report having adequate air conditioning.”
An article in the Hechinger Report highlighted Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research findings on the relationship between heat and student test performance. Air pollution and heat are becoming increasing concerns as a result of climate change, and research indicates that these factors may inhibit student performance in classrooms. In a study conducted in New York City, Park found that hot testing days reduced students’ performance on Regents exams, which are required for graduation in New York, thus decreasing the probability of a student graduating from high school. He found that students are 10% more likely to fail an exam when the temperature is 90 degrees than when it’s 72 degrees. Park also co-authored a study that examined PSAT scores across the country and found that students “had lower scores if they experienced hotter school days in the years preceding the test, with extreme heat being particularly damaging.”