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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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.

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."

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.

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.

Illinois Student Assistance Commission

When a police officer, firefighter or prison guard is killed or disabled in the line of duty, the state promises to provide their dependents with a college education. But the budget impasse has put that promise on hold, says Eric Zarnikow, director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

On any given episode of East Los High, the highly addictive teen soap on Hulu that just got a fourth season, you'll see love triangles and heartbreak, mean girls and bad boys, and some seriously skillful dancing. Think a Latino Degrassi meets Gossip Girl meets Glee.

Any classroom can get out of control from time to time. But one unique teaching method empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.

You can see No-Nonsense Nurturing, as it's called, firsthand at Druid Hills Academy in Charlotte, N.C.

"Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you're following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper."

Time to get together the transcripts, the test scores and put the final touches on those personal essays. It's college application season, again.

To a lot of students, the process seems wrapped in a shroud of mystery. What exactly happens when you send your application out into the unknown only to... wait?

Well, here's a glimpse behind the curtain at one school:

"What are some of the things that the monsters like to eat in this story?" teacher Marisa McGee asks a trio of girls sitting at her table.

McGee teaches kindergarten at Walker Jones Elementary in Washington, D.C. Today's lesson: a close reading of the book What Do Monsters Eat?

"They like to eat cake," says one girl.

"I noticed you answered in a complete sentence," McGee says. "Can you tell me something else?"

"Stinky socks!"

Illinois State Board of Education

State funding for public schools has remained stagnant or decreased for the past five years. Districts with low property values have no way to supplement that aid, leaving Illinois with one of the most inequitable funding scenarios in the nation.

But a plan approved by the State Board of Education on Wednesday would increase state funding to all but the wealthiest districts, by shifting about $300 million from special education into the general school funding formula. 

The first day back from winter break can be restless.

Many children are still coming down from the excitement of the holidays. Two unstructured weeks away from school — with strange food, rituals and relatives — can be overwhelming for many children, especially when it grinds to a halt after the new year and normality resumes.

But for students whose families are struggling in poverty, time away from school isn't an exciting blip on an otherwise calm school year. For them, it can be a crippling time of insecurity when it comes to food and shelter.

Here's a stark fact: Most American children spend more time consuming electronic media than they do in school.

According to Common Sense Media, tweens log 4 1/2 hours of screen time a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. For teens, it's even higher: nearly seven hours a day. And that doesn't include time spent using devices for school or in school.

In 2015, Khan Academy, which pioneered free, online video tutorials and lectures that have reached millions of students around the world, sought new ways of reaching new people.

It had already partnered with everyone from NASA to the Museum of Modern Art, and this past year Khan joined forces with the SAT's overlord, the College Board. The goal, in the parlance of our times, is to disrupt the billion-dollar test prep industry.

While most history courses start with the beginning of human civilization, roughly 10,000 years ago, Big History starts with the Big Bang. Humans don't get mentioned until halfway into the course. This is the second of three parts. Hear part 1.

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

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Once you graduate from high school, you're ready for college. At least that's the theory. But the Illinois State Board of Education recently released data that shows for a significant number of students, that’s not the case. 

Diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are up around 30 percent compared with 20 years ago. These days, if a 2-year-old won't sit still for circle time in preschool, she's liable to be referred for evaluation, which can put her on track for early intervention and potentially a lifetime of medication.

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