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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If you're the parent of a Springfield student, you probably spent the winter holidays reminding your kid to study, or supervising homework projects. That's because this year, final exams began a week after students returned from winter break. District officials didn't plan it that way just to take all the fun out of Christmas.

  When you hear the word ACES, you probably think of kids who make good grades. But in the documentary Paper Tigers, ACES is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as the loss of a parent, that can affect how kids cope with school.

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In front of one of the colleges at Oxford University, a statue of Cecil Rhodes stands overlooking the campus. Rhodes, a South African businessman, started the De Beers diamond company and went on to become the namesake of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

He was also a colonialist who believed in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, and he enforced a policy of racial segregation in South Africa.

Now, because of that history, a growing number of students at Oxford say it's time to take down the statue of Rhodes.

The Los Angeles Unified School District welcomed a new superintendent who represents a first for the nation's second-largest school district on Jan.11.

Michelle King is the first African-American woman chosen for the job, heading more than 900 schools in the district. She is also an insider — she has worked in the system for three decades — unlike the string of outsiders who held the job before her.

On campuses across the country, millions of students have an app called Yik Yak on their phones.

It's like an anonymous version of Twitter. But because it's anonymous, it can get ugly and be a breeding ground for hate speech.

Black student leaders across the country have held sit-ins and protests asking college officials to block the app.

Yik Yak, an Atlanta-based social media app, has a presence on more than 2,000 college campuses. Users of the app post comments anonymously, and anyone in within a radius of a few miles can see, share and rate the comment.

This weekend, college hopefuls will line up for the last time to take the SAT.

That is, at least, the current version of the famous college entrance exam. The SAT, which remains a pillar of college admissions, has gotten a serious makeover (its first since 2005), and a new test will roll out in March.

By some accounts, education is a $7 trillion global industry ripe for disruption. Others see it as a sacred pursuit, nurturing developing minds while preserving tradition. Around the world, education means equal rights and opportunity.

People risk their lives for it every day.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois colleges and universities have gone seven months with zero state funding – that includes funding of MAP grants that help poor students pay tuition. Now, some business and labor leader have joined students calling for lawmakers to resolve the budget stalemate. 

WBEZ

Gov. Bruce Rauner says that if Illinois takes over Chicago Public Schools, he'll stand up to the teachers' union on contract negotiations. 

When the first Mac computer came out in 1984, it cost nearly $2,500 and had a floppy drive for storage. In 2016, a spate of computers with a price as low as $5 and a lot more storage are hitting the market, and they may be opening up a new era of experimentation.

Recently, I got a look at one of these low-cost computers — the $9 CHIP, which has 4 gigabytes of storage.

Nearly all of Detroit's public schools were closed Wednesday after teachers called in sick, en masse, to protest poor school conditions. The latest "sickout" comes a day after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address, in which he did not directly address teachers' protests or school conditions.

UIS

Lynn Pardie will step down from the Provost position in May, according to an announcement sent to the university campus today. 

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The state budget impasse has largely spared public schools, thanks to Governor Bruce Rauner’s decision to fund them for the entire year. But some school districts are still hurting. 

On a recent, chilly Sunday morning, children ranging in age from 4 to 6 waited with their parents in the cafeteria of a Brooklyn school. Each wore a name tag.

The kids chatted cheerfully (in several languages) until each was summoned upstairs to be tested for a spot in New York City's gifted program. Their parents sent them off with hugs and the promise of special treats for doing their best.

President Obama has increased college aid by over $50 billion since coming into office. And he's trying to do more.

Acting Education Secretary John King announced two new proposals today that would expand the Pell Grant program, the biggest pot of federal money for students with financial need:

  • Year-round Pell. Currently, students are only eligible for two semesters of Pell grants in a school year. Today's proposal would allow students to get extra money to cover a third session of, say, summer courses.

Things to know about Stephen Ritz, one of NPR's 50 Great Teachers:

He and his students made bow ties out of Scrabble tiles.

His Bronx classroom, a refurbished school library, has more plants than desks.

He calls the room his National Health, Wellness and Learning Center. It's got tower gardens, gleaming cabinets and counters, an industrial sink and a new, mobile cooking station.

"In this class, we go from seed to tower to table to plate in 20 feet," Ritz says.

Killeen: U of I Is "Fiscally Prudent"

Jan 18, 2016
University of Illinois

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen says he agrees with some of the concerns about excessive spending at public universities raised by an aide to Governor Bruce Rauner.

On Friday, the fifth-graders from Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C., gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to recite Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Each student delivered one line at a small lectern, and then the class sang songs from the civil rights era. This is the 14th year of the celebration.

Listen to a clip here:

At one high school in Maryland, fears of deportation are playing out in the classroom.

In Prince George's County, a suburb of Washington, D.C., about 70 percent of the students at High Point High School are Latino. It's a student population that's prompted the school's principal, Sandra Jimenez, to term it "Central American Ellis Island."

Principal Jimenez says the fear of deportation raids is making many immigrant students scared to come to school, despite assurances from government officials that there are no raids happening at schools.

All over the United States, schools are scrambling to find qualified special education teachers. There just aren't enough of them to fill every open position.

That means schools must often settle for people who are under-certified and inexperienced. Special ed is tough, and those who aren't ready for the challenge may not make it past the first year or two.

Really good teacher preparation might be the difference. At least, that's what the Lee Pesky Learning Center believes.

Take two 18-year-olds with equally stellar academic abilities. One comes from the socioeconomic bottom and one from the top. That lower-income student is one-third as likely to enroll in a selective college.

For three straight days earlier this week, some Detroit public schools were closed because too many teachers called in sick.

These rolling "sickout" protests have picked up steam in recent weeks, and they've drawn fierce criticism — and attention to a school district in freefall.

Detroit resident Crystal Fischer saw it on the news Monday morning: Her 5-year-old son's school was closed because too many teachers had called in sick.

Fischer made do for that day.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama talked about the progress he's made on big issues, including education. And he laid out a new goal: expanding computer science in America's schools.

"In the coming years," the president said, "we should build on that progress, by providing pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one."

press conference
Dusty Rhodes / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Legislation filed Wednesday asks the state to provide $168 million owed to low-income college students who were promised MAP grants last fall.

Ring, ring.

Hello?

It's reality calling. People are shallow, and life isn't fair.

In a new paper, a pair of researchers looked at the student records of tens of thousands of students at their university. They compared the students' class grades to ratings of their physical attractiveness, as judged by outside observers from their student ID card photographs.

Fair to say this was a brilliant day for Boston.

General Electric Co. announced on Wednesday that it will be moving its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston, starting this summer.

That decision makes Boston the winner of an intense competition among dozens of cities — all hoping to become the hometown of one of the world's largest companies.

President Obama used his final State of the Union address Tuesday night to reflect on his legacy. But he also put forth some specific proposals for his remaining year in office. And the very first one was "helping students learn to write computer code."

In the Navajo culture, teachers are revered as "wisdom keepers," entrusted with the young to help them grow and learn. This is how Tia Tsosie Begay approaches her work as a fourth-grade teacher at a small public school on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz.

For Navajos, says Begay, your identity is not just a name; it ties you to your ancestors, which in turn defines you as a person.

"My maternal clan is 'water's edge'; my paternal clan is 'water flows together,' " she explains. "Our healing power is through humor and laughter, and I try to bring that to my classroom."

Just because a toy's packaging says it's educational doesn't make it so. That's the finding from a new study in JAMA Pediatrics that found some toys being marketed as language promoters got in the way of learning.

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