Education Desk

For this series, we've been thinking a lot about the iconic tools that some of us remember using — if only for a short time — in our early schooling. Things like the slide rule and protractor, the Presidential Fitness Test and wooden blocks.

For Whitney Bischoff, high school was tough. On the first day of her freshman year, a childhood friend committed suicide. Things weren't any better at home — her father died when she was 7 and her mom was an alcoholic with an abusive boyfriend.

She had a hard time making friends.

And when all the stress threatened to overwhelm her, she, too, considered suicide.

"I thought family was everything," Bischoff says. "I thought, if I didn't have family support – what am I going to do? Suicide seemed like the only way out."

Schools don't like to use the V-word anymore — "vocational," as in "vocational education." Administrators say the word is outdated, along with the idea of offering job-training courses only to students who are going straight into the workforce.

Nashville, Tenn., is trying a new approach. The public school system there is encouraging every high school student, regardless of college plans, to take three career-training classes before they graduate.

William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." And that's never more true than when people start arguing over how American history should be taught in school.

The current fight involves the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam. Nearly half a million high school students took the test last year, hoping to earn college credit.

In LA, Missing Kindergarten Is A Big Deal

Feb 24, 2015

In kindergarten, kids are learning really important stuff. Basic reading skills. Numbers and math concepts. And to keep from falling behind, one of the major things they need to do is make it to school every day.

In Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, kindergarten absence is a big problem, with some students missing 10, 20, 30 days or more. In 2012, district officials say that almost 10,000 students were chronically absent from kindergarten. Last year that number improved, but only slightly.

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How We Talk About Our Teachers

Feb 23, 2015

Male professors are far more likely to be considered "smart" or "brilliant" by their students, according to an analysis of reviews from the website Rate My Professor.

Like many schools across Colorado, Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder has seen an increase in overall drug incidents since recreational marijuana became legal.

While public schools aren't required to report marijuana incidents separately from other drugs such as cocaine, evidence compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News suggests more students are using marijuana.

In some ways, the questions young people grapple with are universal: Who are you? What's important to you? What kind of life do you want?

But at the same time, those questions are profoundly shaped by each person's experience.

As part of an ongoing conversation on Weekend Edition, four college seniors at a historically black university in Washington, D.C., are sharing insight into their experiences — both shared and individual.

Were you ever the teacher's pet? Or did you just sit behind the teacher's pet and roll your eyes from time to time?

A newly published paper suggests that personality similarity affects teachers' estimation of student achievement. That is, how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your abilities.

A lot of people saw their hopes and dreams fulfilled this week — for just a few hours.

Carnegie Mellon University emailed about 800 people who had applied to graduate school to say, 'Congratulations, you're in.' They were — to quote the message of acceptance — "one of the select few" to be accepted into Carnegie Mellon's prestigious Master of Science in Computer Science program.

A young woman in India who was accepted wrote on Facebook that she quit her job, bolstered by this act of faith in her future. Her boyfriend proposed marriage.

This week, every middle and high school student in Akron, Ohio, is getting a glossy, two-sided card giving them suggestions for dealing with police.

It's a collaboration between an anti-violence youth group and the city's police department.

The "You and the Law" cards begin with the big picture: Stay out of trouble. And then a rapid succession of 15 points — control your emotions, answer questions about your identity, put your hands on the steering wheel in plain sight.

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U Of I Responds To Governor's Budget

Feb 18, 2015

A top University of Illinois administrator says everything is on the table after Republican Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a thirty percent cut to state higher education funding.

Christophe Pierre, the U of I's Vice President for Academic Affairs, calls today's (Wednesday's) budget proposal disappointing. He says the university has other sources of revenue, but many come with restrictions on how the money is spent.

Every day, 17-year-old Kaday goes to school by turning on the radio.

She's one of the million school-age children in Sierra Leone who've had no classroom to go to since July. That's when the government closed all schools to curb the spread of Ebola.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

One of the few areas not threatened with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget ax today was public school education. But at a conference of school leaders, reaction was lukewarm. 

This is a story you have to hear. Click below to listen:

As the 500-year-old bell tower tolls, about 25 students from the University of Oxford cross a medieval cobblestone street. They duck under a stone archway and slip into a room named after T.S. Eliot, who studied here a century ago.

The students drop their backpacks and get ready for practice. They're here to hone their tongues. This week, an elite team of Oxford's six best tasters will battle the University of Cambridge to see which group has the most refined palate.

Dusty Rhodes

Governor Bruce Rauner was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a meeting of public school leaders today in Springfield. Instead, he sent his new education czar.  

Beth Purvis, a member of Gov. Rauner's transition team, had been in office just about two hours. In fact, her exact title hadn't been determined. But for the past 10 years, Purvis has been the CEO of the Chicago International Charter School. 


Last week, South Carolina lawmakers proposed shutting down the state's only public historically black college for two years.

"We are looking at a bankrupt institution," state House Rep. Jim Merrill told reporters. "No one takes any pleasure in recommending this."

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Faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield will be unionized for the first time in two decades. 

The campus last had a faculty union when it was known as Sangamon State University.  But that was disbanded when it became part of the University of Illinois in the mid 90's.  

137 faculty members voted in favor of a new union which will negotiate issues from wages and benefits to shared governance.  A final vote total was unavailable.

Listen up, cub reporters. Lesson 1: Never miss an opportunity to catch a good story. I was doing important hop research at my local craft beer emporium, aka my bar.

"This red IPA is great. What is this again?" I asked the bartender.

"That's Line 51. From Oakland. The owner, P.T., does it part time. He has a day job." What's he do? I asked. "He's a schoolteacher."

Bingo! Secret teachers, you can't hide from this NPR Ed sleuth, no sir.

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Chris Reynolds will never forget his first day at the University of Michigan. He and his dad got up superearly and drove nine and a half hours from Sellersville, a blue-collar factory town in Pennsylvania, to Ann Arbor.

"My father literally just dropped me off and then left," Reynolds says.

His dad couldn't afford a hotel, so they took about an hour to unpack the car, said their goodbyes, and his dad drove off.

Chris Reynolds was officially on his own.

Joshua Starr, a nationally prominent superintendent with the Montgomery County schools in Rockville, Md., this month was granted early release from his contract after 3 1/2 years.

More Tales Of Great Teachers

Feb 14, 2015

A French teacher who made the language come alive ... a drama teacher standing on his desk proclaiming, "I love you" ... the gift of reading through Shakespeare and Harry Potter. All week you've been sending in stories of your inspiring teachers.

Here's another installment:

Let's start with Meghan Sickmeier on Facebook:

Harriet Dickens-Plimmswood remembers a history teacher who taught her the value of tolerance:

Students aren't the only ones getting report cards these days. More than a dozen states now grade their public schools using the traditional A through F system. North Carolina is the latest to try it, and most of its high-poverty schools received D's and F's from the state education agency last week.

At Allen Middle School in Greensboro, N.C., nearly every student gets free or reduced-price meals. Between classes, preteens roam the bright hallways that are lined with inspirational quotes.

Dusty Rhodes

Another effort for overhauling school funding is taking shape in the Illinois legislature. 

Jason Barickman, a Republican senator from Bloomington, says he’s going to introduce three pieces of legislation to tackle the state’s infamous education funding inequity. He describes the first piece as an “evidence-based model," which he believes will be supported by Governor Bruce Rauner.

Our "Tools of the Trade" series is taking a look at some of the iconic objects that form a vital part of our educational lives. For an upcoming piece, I'm reporting on how young children learn through that most basic of preschool education tools: simple wooden blocks.

She gazed at the picture and then asked, "What's an ugly stepsister?"

The concept just didn't translate. In Mali, polygamy is commonplace but divorce is not.

Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal caused trouble too. The kids seemed unsure whether blueberries were real or the stuff of fantasy. Same with the bear Sal stumbles upon.

And then there was the whole question of Madeline's clothes. Why is she showing her knees? Everyone in this West African country knows knees are a private body part. We fixed the illustrations.