Education Desk

See the latest reports from NPR Illinois Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes. 

The NPR Illinois Education Desk is a community funded initiative to report on stories that impact you.  Stories on the state of education from K-12 to higher education written by Illinois and national journalists.

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Fans of the Memphis Grizzlies can exult, after ranking first in a new national study. And there's a good chance they'll spell "exult" correctly: The team's fans were found to make the fewest grammatical mistakes in a review of comments about three of America's major sports.

NBA fans made the fewest mistakes, with NFL fans making the most. And while MLB fans were in the middle, a poor showing by the Philadelphia Phillies' followers was blamed for the city's fall from fifth to 24th place in the rankings of 42 cities with major sports teams.

For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday. Achievement gaps have narrowed, too, with graduation rates ranging from 89 percent for students classified as Asian/Pacific Islanders to 62.6 percent for English-language learners.

"It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.

By now, we've all heard about how body cameras could prevent more police violence, or at least catch it in the act. But what about cameras to protect special-needs kids from their own teachers — and the teachers themselves from false accusations?

It'll be a reality soon in Texas. The Lone Star State passed a law in June that made it the first in the nation to make it mandatory for schools — if asked to do so — to videotape interactions between teachers and their special-needs students.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

This week, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act --- a rewrite of No Child Left Behind. The new law, referred to as ESSA, passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.


It replaces the wildly unpopular law that's come to be known as No Child Left Untested. Educators are so enthusiastic about this rewrite, the heads of two Illinois teachers unions flew to Washington to witness its signing.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

For the past eight years, federal lawmakers have been debating No Child Left Behind — a measure that led to a reliance on standardized testing as a way to ensure that students were getting a good education.

For Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 7-13), the nonprofit Code.org has helped organize nearly 200,000 "Hour of Code" events around the world. It's advocating for computer coding as a basic literacy and an essential ingredient for jobs of the future, and there's a lot of momentum behind the idea.

The biggest school systems in the country, New York City and Los Angeles Unified, each announced this fall that computer science will be a required course for all grades within 10 years. Coding is also part of national curricula in the U.K. and soon will be in Australia.

Eric Westervelt of the NPR Ed team is guest-hosting for the next few weeks on Here & Now, the midday news program from NPR and WBUR.

Now that President Obama has signed the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, a big question for many educators is: Will the changes help the populations most in need of better schools: students of color, students with disabilities and low-income students?

After images emerged on social media of cadets wearing white pillowcase hoods, The Citadel says it has suspended those involved in the incident. Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa says it seems the cadets "were singing Christmas carols as part of a 'Ghosts of Christmas Past' skit."

President Obama called it "a Christmas miracle. A bipartisan bill signing right here."

The "right here" was the South Court Auditorium, part of the White House complex. More importantly, the bipartisan bill being signed was the Every Student Succeeds Act — a long-overdue replacement of the unpopular federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

The CDC Gives U.S. Schools Low Marks In Sex Ed

Dec 10, 2015

Fewer than one-fifth of middle schools — and half of high schools — are teaching all of the sex education topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a new study reveals.

The CDC report found that, for every age group, the least likely topics to be taught were how to get and use condoms.

Affirmative action in higher education was once again under attack before the Supreme Court Wednesday.

In the past the court has allowed race as one of many factors in college admissions. But as it has grown more conservative, it has moved to reconsider the issue — including a test case from Texas that was before the court today for the second time.

The Senate voted 85-12 on Wednesday to pass the long-awaited rewrite of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law. President Obama says he'll sign it Thursday.

The new version — called the Every Student Succeeds Act — returns much government oversight of schools to the states and curtails or eliminates the federal role in many areas. Critics of NCLB are celebrating its demise.

But the question now is, what exactly are states and local school districts going to do that they couldn't do before?

Affirmative action in college admissions is once again under attack at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1978 and in 2003 the Court ruled definitively that colleges and universities could consider race and ethnicity as one of many factors in admissions, as long as there are no quotas. By 2013, though, the composition of the Court had changed and grown more conservative, and the issue was back in a case from Texas--a case that eventually fizzled that year but is back again now.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on replacing the nation's big education law, known since 2001 as No Child Left Behind.

And President Obama is expected to sign the new version, ending an era marked by bitter fights between the federal government, states and schools.

So as it dies, we thought an obituary was in order.

Yup, an obituary. Because the law's critics and defenders all agree on one thing: No Child Left Behind took on a life of its own.

If you pull into Hertford County High School in northeastern North Carolina, pass the bus circle and the soccer fields, and continue to a patch of woods, you find three, cheerful, two-story apartment buildings. Knock on any door here and you'll find the home of a teacher or employee of the local school district.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

As college students wrap up the fall semester, there is still a lot of uncertainty for the coming months. Those low-income student who rely on the Monetary Award Program to pay for tuition have no guarantee the money will arrive. Most colleges and universities have been fronting the money for their students, but even the University of Illinois has warned MAP recipients they may have to repay their grants if the budget impasse drags on through the spring semester.


How stressful is medical training? So bad that in a class that encouraged medical students to express their feelings by drawing comics, nearly half of them depicted their supervisors as monsters, researchers say.

Google products are growing as ubiquitous in classrooms as dry-erase markers. The most recent numbers show that more than half of classroom computers purchased for U.S. schools are low-cost Chromebooks. And 50 million students, teachers and administrators use Google Apps For Education, a group of tools that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and the purpose-built Google Classroom.

Children's personal information isn't supposed to be an online commodity. But whether kids are using Google apps at school or Internet-connected toys at home, they're generating a stream of data about themselves. And some advocates say that information can be collected too easily and sometimes, protected too poorly.

Every morning, the familiar routine plays out in hundreds of thousands of classrooms: A teacher looks out over the desks, taking note of who's in their seats and who isn't.

On any given day, maybe there are one or two empty chairs. One here, one there. And that all goes into the school's daily attendance rate.

But here's what that morning ritual doesn't show: That empty desk? It might be the same one that was empty last week or two weeks ago. The desk of a student who has racked up five, 10, 20 absences this year.

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, used the occasion of their daughter's birth to announce they'll be investing nearly all their fortune, some $45 billion, in good causes.

After months of negotiations, the battle over locker room access for a transgender student in Illinois ended late last night when Township High School District 211 — about 30 miles northwest of Chicago — approved a deal with the Department of Education.

For nearly three hours, the board met in a closed session — ultimately voting yes on the agreement which allows the transgender student to use private areas within the locker room.

Copyright 2015 Youth Radio. To see more, visit .

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The documentary The Hunting Ground, a searing look at the failure of American universities to grapple successfully with campus rape, has been embraced by CNN and shortlisted for next year's Oscars, while helping to sharpen the focus of college administrators.

For our Tools of the Trade series, we're exploring the iconic, seminal tools that some of us remember using in our early schooling. Things like the slide rule and protractor, the Bunsen burner and the planetarium.

Illinois has not funded its colleges or universities for the past five months. It's easy to overlook that fact, because professors have continued to teach, athletes have continued to compete, and students have continued to learn. But around the state, college administrators are saying they've burned through their financial reserves.

It's almost a decade overdue, but the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote later today on a bill to replace the No Child Left Behind law.

Since NCLB was signed by President George W. Bush in early 2002, the federal government has played a major role in telling states how to run — and reform — their schools. But this new bill signals a sea change in the federal approach.

Last year, Susan Avey, the principal of Bogle Junior High School in Chandler, Ariz., had a heart-to-heart with one of her new teachers about how he was relating to students.

In a previous year, this might have been a conversation based on subjective impressions. The teacher might have gotten defensive. But this year, Avey had a new tool up her sleeve: a survey of her students.

"He came in to talk to me and said, 'I felt like I had really good relationships with kids, but reading my comments, I was surprised that I wasn't rated as highly.' "

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Craig Ferris begins his morning with an unscheduled stop in his black suburban.

"I usually have to come get these guys at least once a week," Ferris says, honking his horn.

Ferris is best known around here as the basketball coach who's led Wyoming Indian High School to four state championships. But he also works for the elementary school as what's called a "home-school coordinator."

The job seems to be equal parts mailman, social worker and taxi driver.

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