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A newsletter from The Hechinger Report

Dear reader,

As millions of U.S. students head back to school, one recent plea from a teacher in Virginia captures our polarized times: “Just let me teach history. That’s all. That’s it.” Ed Allison, who is trying to teach the topic at Granby High School in Norfolk, shared that perspective with The Hechinger Report’s Christina Samuels. 

It’s no longer that simple: Teachers like Allison are under a microscope since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected portions of an African American studies course piloted by the College Board, insisting that it violates the state’s ban on teaching “critical race theory.” 

Our reporters spent time in three different cities and classrooms, looking at challenges teachers who are determined to comprehensively teach Black history are facing in these highly charged times. We’d love to hear more from our readers about what’s happening where you live. 

Also this week, The Hechinger Report takes an in-depth look at state takeovers, with a focus on Houston, where the Texas Education Agency took over the school district, removing the superintendent and elected board as a way of jolting better academic performance. Our story examines the controversy, but also dives into national research to see if such takeovers actually do improve student performance; several studies say they don’t. 

There’s a lot more to discuss and think about on our site this week, including efforts to stem teacher shortages via ‘grow your own’ programs, and a largely hidden legacy of the pandemic’s shift to virtual learning: schools that are forcing students with discipline problems out of the building and back online.  Many of our story ideas come from readers, and that’s why we hope to hear from you. Also, please remind others to sign up for our newsletters and become a member. 

Liz Willen, Editor

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Main Idea

How do we teach Black history in polarized times? Here’s what it looks like in 3 cities 
In Louisville, Ky., Philadelphia and Norfolk, Va., teachers are finding ways to give students an in-depth education on African American history even as the subject comes under attack 

Reading List

State takeovers of ‘failing’ schools are increasing, but with little evidence they help students 
Takeovers have had limited success in improving student performance. Opponents say their real purpose is to undermine the power of Black and Hispanic communities 

To fight teacher shortages, schools turn to custodians, bus drivers and aides  
‘Grow your own’ programs offer school employees a chance to become teachers at low cost. But whether the programs meet schools’ needs is an open question   

‘August surprise’: That college scholarship you earned might not count 
Half of colleges reduce their offers of financial aid when students win outside money 

The newest form of school discipline: Kicking kids out of class and into virtual learning 
School districts across the country have begun punishing students by forcing them into online classes, sometimes indefinitely 

PROOF POINTS: A spate of recent studies on the “Google effect” adds to evidence that the internet is making us dumber 
Newer research suggests it’s better to guess before Googling 

Shop class is grounded, high school aviation classes are taking flight 
With the aviation industry facing worker shortages, K-12 schools try to offer a runway into jobs in the field 

OPINION: We cannot stand by and watch the Black experience get erased from U.S. history 
While Florida is the latest example in the news, there is a nationwide problem with representation of the Black experience in school curricula 

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