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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It's getting harder and harder to find quality special education teachers, which is why 49 out of 50 states report shortages.

Why? It's a tough sell.

Even if you're up for the low pay and noisy classrooms, special education adds another challenge: crushing paperwork.

Claudio Sanchez is the senior member of the NPR Ed team, with more than 25 years on the education beat. We asked him for his list of the top stories he'll be watching in 2016.

1. The New Federal Education Law

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Jordan Shapiro drew a lot of attention this year with his four misconceptions about the future of education. As with much of his work, he tries to take a cattle prod to the conventional education narrative.

Podcasts would sound pretty bland without music. When done well, the medium's music cues are evocative and tone-setting. In rare cases, they can become iconic (think of the plinking chords that let you know you're listening to Serial). But for the most part, the music is meant to be invisible: You wouldn't sit down to listen to it or put it on in your car, and you're unlikely to ever know who composed it. So where does podcast music come from?

This is one of the most popular pieces that ran on NPR Ed in the past year. Here's a brief update:

In 2016, the "self-authoring" curriculum will be tested at a school in the United States for the first time. Community High School, in Swannanoa, N.C., will test the program on 150 students in grades 11 and 12. This is an "alternative school" that receives students who have struggled elsewhere, due in part to issues like family substance abuse and homelessness.

José Anzaldo is a bright, cheerful third-grader in Salinas, Calif. He loves school, he's a whiz at math, and, like lots of little boys his age, he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. He also entered the country illegally, and his parents are migrant farmworkers who harvest lettuce.

US CPSC

When students return to class in January, their school buildings will be required to have carbon monoxide alarms.  A new law goes into effect Jan. 1.

It has been a high-stakes year for high-stakes standardized tests.

The debate over renewing the big federal education law turned, in part, on whether annual testing would remain a federal mandate. Republicans initially said no, Democrats said yes. Ultimately the overhaul passed with tests still in place.

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What do you get from a college education? And, given today's eye-popping costs, is it worth it? Through this academic year, we're following a group of college seniors from Montgomery County, Md., and asking them those questions. Among those students are three women on the verge of real life.

Alejandra Gonzalez is an in-state student at the University of Maryland, in College Park. She's one of 27,000 undergraduates. To help pay for college, she works at the admissions office.

The education at the Rose City Rowing Club starts long before oars touch the water. The first lesson from head coach Nick Haley is about punctuality.

Afternoon practice begins at 4 o'clock sharp at this club in Portland, Ore.

The next lesson is about respect. This one's a big deal at Rose City: Respect your fellow teammates, coaches, the sport itself and — today in particular — the equipment.

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Austin Martin, a junior at Brown University, stands in front of an eighth-grade class at Community Preparatory School in Providence, R.I. He's here to test out the website he developed, which he hopes will help junior and senior high school students learn the vocabulary they'll need for their college entrance exams.

He starts the class by connecting his laptop to a projector, and then he veers off the traditional path, away from rote memorization — and toward rap music.

A short song clip plays over speakers: "So rude that your mentality is distorting your reality."

Throughout this academic year, we're following a group of students who graduated from high school a few years ago in Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. We're asking about the choices they've made and about the cost and value of higher education.

Now that the Supreme Court is considering the issue of affirmative action in college admissions, all kinds of groups are weighing in. But we're not hearing from the people who will be most affected by the court's decision: college-bound teenagers.

Going to college today is a very different experience than it once was. The cost has soared, and the great recession cut into many of the assets that were supposed to pay for it. This week All Things Considered is talking with young people about the value of school and about their choice of college.

What do you get from a college education? And, given today's eye-popping costs, is it worth it? We're following a group of college seniors through this academic year and asking them those questions.

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Even some of those seeking the nation's highest office have weighed in on college debt with payment plans and relief proposals. Voters and the media ask for details on the campaign trail. And that highlights a remarkable shift: Policymakers and politicians are paying attention to this issue like never before.

And it's not as simple or cynical as trying to woo the important student vote. The fact is, the student loan burden in America is second only to mortgages in consumer debt. The government estimates that some 41 million students together owe more than $1.2 trillion.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Academic learning is usually in the spotlight at school, but teaching elementary-age students "soft" skills like self-control and social skills might help in keeping at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future, a study finds.

Duke University researchers looked at a program called Fast Track, which was started in the early 1990s for children who were identified by their teachers and parents to be at high risk for developing aggressive behavioral problems.

Eric Westervelt of the NPR Ed team is guest-hosting for the next few weeks on Here & Now, the midday news program from NPR and WBUR.

Gun control. Climate change. Donald Trump. Affirmative action.

The first presidential primaries are just weeks away and with all these debates and issues in the headlines, there's no question that students are going to want to talk about them.

But how should teachers handle these discussions?

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A court has ruled the Springfield District 186 School Board acted properly when it fired the former superintendent Walter Milton.  An agreement with Milton was negotiated and agreed to in private.  

The State Journal Register alleged the board violated the Open Meetings Act.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, talks about the Every Student Succeeds Act — the new law that’s replacing No Child Left Behind. Our conversation involves liquid diets and cemeteries. Click the link below to listen.

 

Fans of the Memphis Grizzlies can exult, after ranking first in a new national study. And there's a good chance they'll spell "exult" correctly: The team's fans were found to make the fewest grammatical mistakes in a review of comments about three of America's major sports.

NBA fans made the fewest mistakes, with NFL fans making the most. And while MLB fans were in the middle, a poor showing by the Philadelphia Phillies' followers was blamed for the city's fall from fifth to 24th place in the rankings of 42 cities with major sports teams.

For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday. Achievement gaps have narrowed, too, with graduation rates ranging from 89 percent for students classified as Asian/Pacific Islanders to 62.6 percent for English-language learners.

"It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.

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