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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Chicago State University has announced the elimination of spring break this year to ensure its students will finish the semester before the school may be forced to close down due to a lack of state funding. 

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One cold Monday this month, all the students of Park Ridge High School stayed home: wearing their PJs, munching on pretzels and Oreos, hanging out on the couch.

It wasn't a snow day or measles epidemic. It was the school's first Virtual Day, where in-person classes were replaced with written lessons and real-time video chats delivered online.

The idea arose because the school, just north of New York City in Park Ridge, N.J., issued every student a Mac laptop last year, says Tina Bacolas, the school's head of instructional technology.

Book publishers love stories about first-year teachers. The narrative arc is familiar: Exuberant idealism fades as the teacher battles entrenched bureaucracy, stale curriculum and disengaged colleagues or kids. The young educator then tries to overcome despair with creative grit and determination and struggles to make a difference.

The books often teeter between self-promotion and slams against the public education system. Some, however, actually shed light on the yawning gap between reformist rhetoric and classroom reality.

High school students nationwide are filling out college financial aid forms — and it's not just seniors this year.

Some changes are on the horizon to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. For one, the form can be submitted much earlier. One student capitalizing on the early deadline is Isaac Horwitz-Hirsch, a junior at Santa Monica High School.

But Horwitz-Hirsch and his parents, Joshua Hirsch and Ruth Horwitz have found that the new changes to the FAFSA are hard to understand.

"The financial aid part is really confusing," Horwitz-Hirsch says.

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Tens of thousands of Tennessee students steadied their clammy, test-day hands over a keyboard several days ago. And, for many, nothing happened.

It was the state's first time giving standardized exams on computers, but the rollout couldn't have gone much worse.

In lots of places, the testing platform slowed to a crawl or appeared to shut down entirely. Within hours, Tennessee scrapped online testing for the year.

The move comes after schools spent millions of dollars to buy additional PCs and to improve their wi-fi networks.

Many middle and high school science teachers are getting climate change wrong.

That's according to the results of a new, national teacher survey backed by the National Center for Science Education and published in the journal Science.

Before we get to those results, a quick, climate science refresher is in order.

NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce says the world's major scientific organizations are now clear on global warming:

Courtesy of IBHE

The budget that Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed yesterday recommends a 16 percent cut to higher education. This year's proposed cut sounds gentler than the 32 percent reduction Rauner recommended last year. But instead of being spread across higher education, virtually all of the pain would fall upon the state's universities.

ACES Too High

Next fall marks the launch of a new school discipline law that limits suspensions and expulsions. To help teachers prepare, the Illinois Education Association brought in Jim Sporleder, an expert in getting even the worst kids to behave.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Public schools were singled out in Governor Bruce Rauner's budget address yesterday as one of the rare state services he’s happy to fund. In fact, he said increasing education funding is the one thing that he will not back down on.

When Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking in 2012, it was a big success. The book made the cover of Time magazine, spent weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list and was the subject of one of the most-watched TED Talks, with more than 13 million views.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Democratic lawmakers led a group of college students to the office of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner yesterday. They asked him to fund tuition grants promised to low-income students.

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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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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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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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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