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Integrating schools is the single most effective way to reduce achievement gaps.

Here’s a great way to ring in the new academic year: Listen to two remarkable episodes of the podcast “This American Life.” The episodes are called “The Problem We All Live With” (broadcast on July 31, 2015) and “The Problem We All Live With – Part Two” (broadcast on August 7, 2015).  Both explore the single most important element in reducing the gap in achievement between white students and students of color: school integration.

The July 31 podcast tells the story of a totally unintentional integration experiment that took place right near Ferguson, Missouri. It will take you through the depths of despair — when you hear the suburban white families express their deep fears of welcoming black students into their schools — and the heights of admiration and inspiration — when you hear Maria and her mother talk with such pride and excitement about the educational opportunities this unexpected experiment opened up for them.

The August 7 podcast describes the opposite: a totally intentional integration experiment happening right now in Hartford, Connecticut. It is a thrilling account of a lawsuit that brought the abominable conditions of schools in inner-city Hartford to the courts’ and the media’s attention and, once the lawsuit was won, the ongoing high-stakes work being done to bring white suburban families to new inner-city magnet schools.

Both podcasts are just under an hour in length. Perfect for the commute to school, a few workout sessions, a good cleaning jag, or a lovely rock in the hammock. Listen and think about the future and the power of schooling and the value of teachers and the birthright of all children to a superb, challenging, caring education.

And welcome to the new academic year. May it be an amazing one for you and your students.