Education Desk

Out Of The Classroom And Into The Woods

May 26, 2015

Kids in the U.S. are spending less time outside. Even in kindergarten, recess is being cut back. But in the small town of Quechee, Vt., a teacher is bucking that trend: One day a week, she takes her students outside — for the entire school day.

It's called Forest Monday.

Eliza Minnucci got the idea after watching a documentary about a forest school in Switzerland where kids spend all day, every day, out in the woods.

Students applying for college supply all sorts of information — financial records, letters of recommendation, the personal essay — to name just a few.

One big question they face: Do you have a criminal record?

The question appears on the Common Application — the website that prospective students use to apply to more than 500 schools across the U.S. and abroad.

Most students don't even think about it. But for some applicants, it's a reason not to apply.

Like lots of little kids, Jeremiah Nebula — the main character of a children's book called Large Fears — has big dreams. He wants to go to Mars.

But Jeremiah is also pretty different from the characters that Myles Johnson, the author of the Kickstarter-backed book, met in the stories he read when he was growing up. Jeremiah is black, and he really, really likes the color pink.

Timothy Killeen
Bill Wheelhouse / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Timothy Killeen, the new president of the University of Illinois, met with reporters on the Springfield campus last week. Flanked by the chancellors of the university’s three campuses, Killeen said they were touring the state as part of a strategic planning process that would culminate next spring in a “statement of shared vision.”

It's early evening in Friendship Cemetery, the local graveyard in Columbus, Miss. The white tombstones are coated with that yellow glow you only see right before dusk.

Students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science are spread out among the gravestones. They're dressed up in costumes: A tall brunette is wearing a dark maroon dress her grandmother made. A young man wears a top hat and leans on a walking cane.

The goat barn at the Putnam County fairgrounds in Greencastle, Ind., will soon be full of, well, goats. But right now it's full of folding tables stacked with clothes, books and housewares — including an anatomically correct coffee mug in the shape of a woman.

At the tables are families, lots of them. Some waited in line for more than an hour to get first dibs on the larger items, like furniture and appliances. Carrie Ardito was first in that line and ran to the back to claim a clothes dryer.

Updated at 12:01 p.m. ET

John Forbes Nash Jr., the Nobel laureate known for his groundbreaking work on game theory and differential equations, was killed along with his wife in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, police say. He was 86.

His death was first reported by citing a police official. NPR has confirmed the report through longtime colleague Louis Nirenberg. The couple were killed on Saturday.

A group of Asian-American organizations — more than 60 in all — recently accused Harvard of holding Asian-American applicants to an unfairly high standard, requiring them to score better than their African-American, Hispanic or white counterparts. The complaint was filed with the Department of Education and the Justice Department earlier this month.

Whether they're in a posh London school or in the slums of Kenya, in the midst of war or in a battle against bullies, kids take playtime very seriously.

That's what photographer James Mollison learned after spending five years photographing school playgrounds around the world. The project began in 2009, and took him to more than 50 schools in 17 countries.

Each photo tells a different story.

On a gusty Friday evening in Manhattan's Union Square Park, Francisco Ramirez is setting up his chairs and a big sign that yells, "FREE ADVICE."

The park is packed with street musicians, chain-smoking chess players and preachers yelling predictions

Ramirez just wants to talk.

One of the toughest jobs in education is the substitute teacher. The pay is low, schedules are unpredictable and respect can be hard to come by. But because the average teacher missed 11 days of school in 2012-2013, a sub like Josephine Brewington ends up playing a crucial role.

And this week — Brewington was rewarded for her efforts — winning the 2015 Substitute Teacher of the Year award.

It seems like a no-brainer: Offer kids a reward for showing up at school, and their attendance will shoot up. But a recent study of third-graders in a slum in India suggests that incentive schemes can do more harm than good.


May 21, 2015
Milo Skalicky / for WUIS


School administrators are typically too polite to say “Told ya so!” but they have every right to when it comes to the PARCC test -- the new standardized test associated with the Common Core curriculum. The chief complaint about the test, implemented this year, was that it took 10 hours. Schools had to suspend their normal schedules for up to a month at a time, as they shuttled classes into and out of computer labs. One section was given in March, and another in May, making a double dose of disruption.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


Students at statehouse.
Joanna Klonsky / VOYCE

A measure that would limit the way schools hand out discipline has made its way through the Illinois legislature and is awaiting Governor Bruce Rauner's signature.

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A group of more than 60 organizations has filed a complaint with the federal government claiming Harvard holds higher expectations for its Asian applicants than other minorities.

The coalition is made up of nonprofit organizations, including Chinese, Pakistani and Indian groups, and it claims Harvard uses racial quotas to control the number of Asian-Americans on campus.

"Asian-American applicants shouldn't be racially profiled in college admissions," says Swann Lee, a Chinese-American writer from Brookline, Mass. "Asian-Americans should have the playing field leveled."

David Wilson / davidwilson1949 via

Governor Bruce Rauner's proposed 40 percent cut in Amtrak funding drew objections from 16 university and municipal officials on Tuesday morning. 

 Schools as small as Spoon River College and as large as the University of Illinois flagship in Urbana-Champaign rely on Amtrak trains to bring their students to campus. They say the cut would reduce services and negatively affect enrollment at all downstate schools.  

To get a really good sense of why Caroline Solomon is a great teacher, you have to go into the field with her. On this particular morning, that means a boat on the Anacostia River.

We're about 4 miles from the campus of Gallaudet University, where Solomon is a professor of biology. She and a student — Anna McCall — are heading in a small boat to take water samples.

The Anacostia is no more than 8 miles long, but it meanders through and around Washington, D.C., past a naval yard, a golf course and I-95, the busiest interstate highway on the Eastern Seaboard.

Only a small number of Boy Scouts make Eagle Scout.

The feat is even harder when you come from inner-city poverty.

Yet for 27 years, Romy Vasquez has successfully encouraged boys from South Central Los Angeles to become Scouts, and he has seen more than a dozen members of Troop 780 go on to reach scouting's highest rank.

His pitch: You want to be in a gang? Scouting is the biggest gang in the world.

"It's global," he tells the Scouts. "We got some in Japan, China, Israel, all over. So guess what? You belong to BSA!"

Rabbi Evan Goodman runs Hillel, the campus Jewish center, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In recent years, he's had to rethink his job.

"Years past, when I was in college," he says, the Jewish organization "was a rabbi at a campus that put up a schedule of classes ... and drew the same 10 students to everything all year."

These days, chances are good that half the Jewish students he works with have a parent who's not Jewish. One in three of them says Judaism isn't his or her religion.

Our story last week about the connection between ADHD, movement and thinking struck a nerve with readers. We reported on a small study in which students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder performed better on memory tasks when they were allowed to spin and move around in a swiveling chair.

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Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



The commencement speech season is underway and recent grads are soaking up the advice and wisdom from speakers across the country.

Last weekend, Michelle Obama spoke at Tuskegee University in Alabama, one of the nation's premier historically black universities. She spoke openly about being black in America.

"There will be times ... when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are," she told grads.

"The road ahead is not going to be easy," she said. "It never is, especially for folks like you and me."

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS-Illinois Issues

These days, it seems like every agency in Illinois is complaining about cutbacks. Public school officials, however, are seasoned veterans, having seen the state slash their funding repeatedly over the past few years. Now, they argue how the pain is distributed.

On a sunny spring day at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., students line up at a table grabbing ice cream sundaes, milk and cookies, and, if they're interested, a hug from MIT parents including Sonal Patel.

"Yes!" Patel says, "giving away ice cream and now hugs."

"Oh, I want a hug," a student says, "that will be good."

The event — billed as "Stress Less Day" — is sponsored by the student mental health awareness group Active Minds. Volunteers are handing out fliers listing mental health facts and campus resources.

Sophomore Matt Ossa gets his ice cream and rushes on.

"How well do today's schools prepare for tomorrow's world?"

That's the question in a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This group administers the Program for International Student Assessment to 15-year-olds in 75 countries. The goal is to find out whether they can use their math and science knowledge to answer a series of questions that measure skills needed for young people to make a contribution to the economy.

Are you a pen-clicker? A hair-twirler? A knee-bouncer? Did you ever get in trouble for fidgeting in class? Don't hang your head in shame. All that movement may be helping you think.

WUIS Education Desk logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

All signs point to more charter schools in our future. So I got a crash course from Christopher Lubienski. Click below to listen.