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.

Ways to Connect

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

lllinois' Education Funding Task Force met yesterday to consider whether to change how the state finances education.

The current system is based on property taxes, so school districts with high land values  -- like those in the suburbs north of Chicago -- want to keep the status quo. 

Since he first announced his presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders has stuck to one simple promise. One that has many young people, in particular, #feelingthebern: free college.

As Sanders put it in his New Hampshire victory speech: "When we need the best-educated workforce in the world, yes, we are going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free."

The Pitch

Todd Rose dropped out of high school with D- grades. At 21, he was trying to support a wife and two sons on welfare and minimum wage jobs.

Today he teaches educational neuroscience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He's also the co-founder of The Center for Individual Opportunity, a new organization devoted to "the science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society."

In other words, Todd Rose is not your average guy. But neither are you.

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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama wants kids to learn to code. So much so, he's pledged billions of dollars to teach them.

"Now we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future – which means not just being able to work with computers, but developing the analytical and coding skills to power our innovation economy," he said in his radio address on Jan. 30.

A group of 10- and 11-year-olds giggle as professional cellist Frederic Rosselet flexes his wrist as if he's made of rubber. "Really flexible in your wrist," he tells the students. "It's your arm basically that does the work."

The cello students at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, Calif., drag their bows across their cello's strings, following Rosselet's wrist-shaking lead.

Screeeech. It needs work.

"Guys, wanna try that again? 'Forte' means?"

"Loud!" the students reply.

"I am outraged and tremendously disappointed in the behavior displayed by a group of students," says Texas A&M University President Michael Young, after a group of students from an inner-city high school were called racial slurs and told, "Go back where you came from."

In September of last year, a Flint pediatrician released stark findings about her city: The percentage of children age 5 and under with elevated levels of lead in their blood had nearly doubled since the city switched its water source a year and a half earlier.

The superintendent of Flint Community Schools, Bilal Tawwab, was listening. Even small amounts of lead can affect children's behavior and intelligence over time. With that in mind, he decided to keep the city's water out of his schools.

UIS Senior Photographer Shannon O’Brien

As the state’s budget impasse enters its eighth month, college students who relied on state grants to cover part of their tuition are being told they may have to come up with the cash themselves. That’s just the latest blow to a program whose mission hasn’t been fully-funded in years. 

At the beginning of every year, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission meets in Chicago to decide how to distribute MAP grants — the Monetary Award Program funds that help low-income students pay for college. 

Illinois' school funding formula relies heavily on property taxes, resulting in deep disparities in districts’ levels of spending. When the Illinois State Board of Education met Wednesday, members talked about a potential change to make the funding formula more equitable. 

Before he arrived in Omaha as a doctoral student in computer science, Jason Jie Xiong says, "I didn't even know there was a state called Nebraska."

Jie Xiong, 29, who hails from a small city outside Shanghai, had landed a full scholarship at the University of Nebraska to teach and do research. He says he only knew "more famous states like California and New York."

He admits he found the program initially "by randomly checking information," but he's quick to add that he's happy there.

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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Erika Christakis' new book, The Importance of Being Little, is an impassioned plea for educators and parents to put down the worksheets and flash cards, ditch the tired craft projects (yes, you, Thanksgiving Handprint Turkey) and exotic vocabulary lessons, and double-down on one, simple word:

Play.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.S. Department of Education says it wants to protect students from colleges and universities that claim they are better than they are, so it's created a new office to do that. NPR's Cory Turner explains.

University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch previously served as an administratro at Northern Michigan University.
University of Illinois

Susan Koch, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Springfield, met with the faculty senate Friday to talk about state funding and other issues. She told the roomful of college professors that she was hesitant to tell them news that might send them out onto the job market, but, she said, a recent study by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed state appropriations for colleges all over the nation rose over 4 percent. Not counted in that average were Pennsylvania and Illinois — the two states where lawmakers have failed to agree on a budget, and appropriations have fallen by 100 percent. 

Kung Fu Panda slurps noodles. An ugly/cute "puppy-monkey-baby" toddles into a living room. Kevin Hart stalks his daughter and her date to an amusement park via helicopter. Just three moments that various brands paid $5 million per 30 seconds to parade in front of Super Bowl viewers Sunday night.

Victor Vardanyan, 14, isn't having any of it.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Americans have about $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. And there's yet another survey out that shows students in this country are confused about their loans, in the dark when it comes to knowing what they've borrowed, uncertain about how to pay them back.

Can a kid succeed in school with only a mobile device for Internet access at home?

Lorena Uribe doesn't have to think about that one:

"Absolutely not," she says.

When her old computer broke down several years ago, she and her teenage daughter found themselves in a bind for about five months: homework to do and no computer or broadband access at home.

"I would take her to the mall and have her sit in Panera so she could use the Wi-Fi on her iPad from school," Uribe says.

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

"What they would do is they would start Googling the question, 'How does a novel represent humanity?' " Heick says. "That was a real eye-opener to me."

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan today announced that he will re-convene hearings on the state’s education funding formula. The state's current formula relies heavily on property taxes, creating a big disparity among schools based on their geographic location. Some districts can spend more than $32,000 per student every year, while others scrape by on a fraction of that amount. 

"Squat! Squat! Squat! Higher! Faster!"

In the basement of the Duane Physics and Astrophysics building at the University of Colorado Boulder, a science demonstration is going on, but it looks more like a vaudeville act.

One by one, students balance precariously on a rotating platform. Then they are handed what looks like a spinning bicycle wheel, holding it by two handles that stick out from either side of what would be the hub of the wheel. When you flip the wheel over, like a pizza, your body starts rotating in the opposite direction.

Acting U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. wants states and districts to focus on streamlined, higher-quality tests in a broader effort to win back some classroom time.

And here's the kicker: The feds will actually pay for (some of) the transition.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Courtesy of District 186

Springfield school board last night approved a request to add baseball to the athletic program at Franklin Middle School. 

Springfield currently has only one middle school team participating in America's greatest past-time -- baseball. That team represents the Lincoln Magnet School/Ball Charter collaborative. The board unanimously supported Franklin Middle School's request to field a team. It will be coached by Brett Troemper, a science teacher at Franklin and assistant baseball coach at Springfield High.

A Michigan emergency manager tied to two major controversies has resigned from his current post running Detroit's public school district.

Darnell Earley has faced escalating criticism over poor conditions in Detroit schools. Before that, he ran the troubled city of Flint. As Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta reports:

"He carried out the now-infamous decision to use the Flint River as a temporary source of drinking water for the city. The untreated corrosive river water caused lead to leach from old pipes into the drinking water.

The Science Of Getting Kids Organized

Feb 2, 2016

If you've ever gotten a glimpse inside a high schooler's backpack or locker, you know organization doesn't always come naturally to teens. Being scatterbrained in school can make make it tough to stay focused and do well.

That was the case when Lilli Stordeur was about halfway through her freshman year of high school in Northampton, Mass. She felt totally overwhelmed.

"I was being tutored for the classes I was having trouble in," she says, "but I would be having a hard time organizing my binders, and notebooks and stuff, and knowing when to hand things in."

About three months ago, Bill Nelson got an unusual phone call.

Nelson oversees data and assessment for the Agua Fria Union High School District in southwest Phoenix, Ariz. The call was from a former student, who left the district back in 2011.

He was "not quite a graduate," Nelson recalls. At the time, the young man had failed part of Arizona's high school exit exam, called the AIMS.

But in 2015, Arizona rescinded the AIMS requirement, and made that retroactive. So this former student was in luck.

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