Education Desk

The Education Desk is our education blog focusing on key areas of news coverage important to the state and its improvement.  Evidence of public policy performance and impact will be reported and analyzed.  We encourage you to engage in commenting and discussing the coverage of education from pre-natal to Higher Ed:

Dusty Rhodes curates this blog that will provide follow-up to full-length stories, links to other reports of interest, statistics, and conversations with you about the issues and stories.

Additional Education Coverage

About Funders

The University of Illinois at Springfield recently presented its Alumni Achievement Award to Wenguang Huang -- a Chinese-born writer, journalist and translator who earned his masters degree at UIS in public affairs reporting.

Ryan Michalesko

VICE News has published an investigation of American universities with ties to the military, police, and intelligence communities. Southern Illinois University in Carbondale ranked number 23, due to the number of alums who work in “top secret” jobs. The amount of funding SIU receives from national security and defense agencies was another factor.

Illinois Report Card

The Springfield school district received good news late last week when graduation rates were announced through the Illinois Report Card. All three District 186 high schools saw their graduation rate jump by at least 7 percentage points in 2015, and Superintendent Jennifer Gill is pretty happy about that.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Schools that serve a large number of low-income children qualify for federal grants, called Title 1. Many schools use that money to provide extra reading and math teachers, to help needy kids catch up with their more privileged peers. But the state of Illinois is increasingly tapping into those funds to pay down the Teachers Retirement System’s pension liability. 

The school system losing the most money in this scheme is Springfield’s District 186. So I asked Larry McVey, coordinator of Springfield’s Title 1 programs, to explain how this happened.

Illinois State Board of Education

Members of Illinois' House Government Administration Committee hoped to grill Superintendent Tony Smith about expensive perks he gets on top of his $225,000 salary. But the invitation was declined by Board Chair James Meeks, who sent a letter to the committee saying he wanted to discuss the request with the school board. A day later at the state board’s meeting, Smith referred reporters to Meeks.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Timothy Killeen, president of the University of Illinois, joined top executives from eight other public colleges making the rounds of legislative leaders' offices at the statehouse yesterday in an effort to remind lawmakers that their campuses are hurting without state funds. Killeen said they were simply making the case for the future of Illinois.

Top officials of the state board of education declined to appear before a House committee yesterday to answer questions about costly perks being paid to the board’s superintendent, Tony Smith. Smith was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, and receives a stipend on top of his $225,000 salary.

Schools in Illinois’ neediest districts are being forced to spend federal funds to prop up the state’s Teacher Retirement System. 

Courtesy of Pete Carney

Five years ago, Pete Carney and a friend wrote a little textbook and got it printed up at Kinko’s. Within a few months, it was adopted by the prestigious International Baccalaureate program. It’s now used in more than 200 schools, several colleges and universities, and is up for adoption by the Los Angeles school district and the state of Florida. That’s not bad for a guy with zero credentials in education.

UIS Senior Photographer Shannon O’Brien

Jamie Anderson grew up in the foster care system. She relies on her 4-thousand-dollar MAP grant to pay tuition at the University of Illinois Springfield. She says she works two jobs totaling 50 hours a week to cover living expenses.

A teacher friend of mine shared THIS ARTICLE about the book "Teach Like a Champion 2.0" with no comment, but the style of teaching described in it is something I'm hearing about more and more, as the wave of the future, especially in charter schools.

If you have time, please read the blog post and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

PARCC Parsed

Sep 18, 2015
Illinois State Board of Education

News director Sean Crawford quizzes me about what the just-released preliminary PARCC scores do -- and do not -- say about Illinois students.

Illinois State Board of Education

Today, Illinois became the first state to release results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- or PARCC -- assessment. It's the new standardized test linked to the Common Core. 

" by US Department of Education / Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Illinois students will get a hint about how they scored on the PARCC test — the standardized test based on the Common Core — when statewide results are announced tomorrow. State officials have warned that scores will be lower than with previous tests. But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says it’s time for an honest assessment.

Andrew Conneen


There's good news for high school students taking advanced placement courses: Thanks to a new law, they'll get more credit for passing AP tests than before.

Bud Worley

The following interview aired Aug. 20, and provides background and context for our series, Black & White.

I’m Sean Crawford, I’m the News Director here at WUIS, and our Education Desk reporter, Dusty Rhodes, has spent much of her time this summer researching racial disparity in school discipline. Starting next week, we’ll be airing a series of reports -- it begins on Monday. I asked Dusty to give us a preview of what we’ll hear.

So what got you interested in this topic?

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

In 2007, Springfield middle schools began implementing a new discipline system that allows teachers to send a kid to the corner for infractions as minor as rolling their eyes. 

Mike Zimmers, president of the District 186 School Board, was principal at Jefferson Middle School when he brought BIST to Springfield. 

Springfield School District 186

Jennifer Gill has been superintendent of Springfield School District 186 only since May 2013, but she is already confronting racial issues in the district. She has chosen a diverse cabinet of administrators, and she has sent key employees to training sessions in restorative practices. Below is an excerpt of our lengthy conversation about race and discipline:

  How did WUIS decide to do this series?

Joanna Klonsky / VOYCE

In May, we reported on the passage of legislation that would limit school suspensions and expulsions, and introduced listeners to some of the young activists who lobbied lawmakers for two years to get the bill passed. This week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it into law. Below is the press release from the activist group VOYCE, or Voices Of Youth in Chicago Education. 

Governor Rauner Signs Groundbreaking Law Disrupting “School-to-Prison Pipeline”

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS

If you’ve got a kid in school, chances are you’ve got a handbook with a long list of rules and expectations. But data suggests that, in many schools, enforcement may be unequal, with black students getting more disciplinary actions than white students.

“If you’re an African American male, you’re going to get targeted at Springfield High, regardless. You can be a person who’s into school; they still gonna watch you.”


A researcher on national education issues came to central Illinois this week to give teachers a back-to-school pep talk and to give them ideas on how to improve kids' learning.

John Draper, a former middle school teacher and principal, works for the National School Public Relations Association. It's his job to tout neighborhood schools, and he did plenty of that in his presentation to Macon County teachers this week. 

But Draper also pitched a few ideas that would shake up traditional school calendars. 

If you want your kids to get into an Ivy League school, you might want to read this fascinating story from Fast Company. And btw, my kids call me mom.

Courtesy of Gwen Harrison

Ted Harrison is proud that his son, Malik, plays football for Eastern Illinois University on a full scholarship. But ask Harrison about his son’s history of concussions, and he’s not sure he knows the exact number. He thinks the first one occurred during an afternoon practice early in Malik’s playing career at Springfield High School.

The Harrisons weren't notified by the coaching staff.

“We were alerted by Malik," Harrison says. 

Chicago Tribune reveals info about new science test required for 5th, 8th and 10th graders this year.

Our next-door-neighbor state has legally ended its relationship with the curriculum associated with Common Core.


The highly-touted 25-year-old program that boasts it's more selective than Harvard comes under criticism from its own alums in a new book edited by T. Jameson Brewer.

Courtesy of Funding Illinois Future

Governor Bruce Rauner has approved the portion of the state budget earmarked for public schools. His move yesterday ensures schools will be able to open on time.

The legislation even increases funding for education by more than $200 million dollars over the previous year. But the new money has strings attached.

US CPSC/flickr

A bill awaiting Governor Bruce Rauner’s signature would require Illinois schools to install carbon monoxide detectors.

One Monday morning last fall, some students and teachers at North Mac Middle School in Girard weren’t feeling well. The health teacher, Alan Love, who also happens to be a registered nurse, told superintendent Marica Cullen the school might have a gas leak.


The American Association of University Professors voted today to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the state’s flagship university. Censure is a means of informing the academic community worldwide that the administration of an institution “has not adhered to generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure.”

A couple of years ago, two people in Urbana were hit by darts fired from a blow-dart gun. They weren't seriously injured. That’s not what this story is about.  

The attacks were so random, and frankly so weird, that most people found them humorous. One of those happened to be a middle-school teacher, who posted a comment on Facebook.