Education Desk

Credit Dan LoGrasso / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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.

Funders include:

  • Anonymous Individual Donors
  • Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln
  • Hope Institute for Children and Families
  • Horace Mann Company
  • HSHS St. John's Hosptial
  • Illinois Education Association
  • Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance
  • Illinois State Board of Education
  • UIS College of Education & Human Services

Ways to Connect

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There hasn't been a more controversial pick for secretary of education, arguably, in recent memory than Donald Trump's choice of Betsy DeVos. The Senate confirmation hearings for the billionaire Republican fundraiser and activist from Michigan start today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Since he began running for president, Donald Trump has been talking about a smaller federal role in education.

The confirmation hearings begin Tuesday for the person he has nominated to carry out his vision, Betsy DeVos. In her home state of Michigan, DeVos has been a powerful advocate of school choice and a larger private role in education. If confirmed, she'll take over a huge federal bureaucracy of some 4,400 employees and a $68 billion budget.

Sixty-three years after the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many schools across the country either remain segregated or have re-segregated.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal.

This time last year, Stephanie Johnson was miserable.

She was in her third year teaching special education at a junior high school in Lindon, Utah, about 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City.

On the outside it looked like she was doing great. Her classes ran smoothly, students loved her, parents loved her, but like many special education teachers, inside she felt as though she was drowning.

She said she thought about leaving all the time: "I don't know how to describe it, it's just so much work. I just feel like I cannot do it."

Small classes. High standards. More money. These popular remedies for school ills aren't as effective as they're sometimes thought to be. That's the somewhat controversial conclusion of education researcher John Hattie.

Over his career, Hattie has scrutinized more than 1,000 "meta-analyses," looking at all types of interventions to improve learning. The studies he's examined cover a combined 250 million students around the world.

Courtesy of Sen. Karen McConnaughay

On Wednesday, state senators filed a package of bills designed to break the partisan logjam that's led to the state going more than 18 months without a budget. The first of those bills deals with changing the school funding formula, and the commission charged with accomplishing that task appears headed toward a compromise.

When President Obama took office in January 2009, the country was on edge, the economy in free-fall. The federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, was also in need of an update after earning the ire of teachers, parents and politicians alike. In short, there was much to do.

In time, that update would come, but President Obama's education legacy begins, oddly enough, with his plan to bolster the faltering economy.

Race To The Top

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Once again this year, President Obama hailed the nation's high school graduation rate as it reached another record high — a whopping 83 percent.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a dispute that advocates describe as the most important case involving public school special education in three decades.

At issue is whether federal law requires public schools to provide more than the bare minimum in special services for children with disabilities. With millions of children qualifying for these services, the court's ruling could have a profound effect.

On campuses today almost every educational interaction leaves digital traces. Assignments and feedback are given through online portals; debates and discussions happen via learning management systems as well as in classrooms, cafes and dorm rooms.

Those and other digital crumbs give technologists the opportunities to examine the processes, practices and goals of higher education in ways that were largely impossible a decade or so ago.

Courtesy of Illinois General Assembly

Flint, Michigan's discovery of lead-laced drinking water has inspired Illinois lawmakers to look for similar problems here. A measure approved by the General Assembly last night would require schools and child care centers to test for lead in water from drinking fountains and kitchen taps.

The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, the billionaire philanthropist who is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for secretary of education, has been delayed for almost a week.

DeVos' hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, but late on Monday night, the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions announced it had been delayed until Jan. 17, next Tuesday.

He didn't have long. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 after President Obama's long-serving secretary, Arne Duncan, stepped down at the end of 2015. No matter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, King knew that Obama would be out in a year and replaced by a president who, regardless of party, would almost certainly replace him.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

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Jan 7, 2017

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borken piggy bank on classroom desk
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The state’s ongoing budget impasse has hit community colleges particularly hard, with funds to these schools and the students who attend them drastically reduced. The Illinois Community College Board is distributing $3 million in emergency aid, divided among seven campuses.

Office of Sen. David Luechtefeld

A new law designed to relieve the statewide shortage of teachers and substitute teachers was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner today. The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Dave Luechtefeld, a Republican. He taught  history and government at Okawville High School for more than 30 years, so it’s hard to argue with him about what it takes to be an educator. That’s probably why the bill he sponsored passed unanimously in both chambers of the Illinois legislature.

Michelle Obama used her last official White House speech to deliver a passionate pep talk to the nation's young people, especially immigrants, Muslims and others who might feel slighted by the incoming Trump administration.

"Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter," the first lady said, "or like you don't have a place in our American story, because you do."

colonnade on UIS campus
University of Illinois Springfield

University of Illinois employees will receive a 2 percent raise in March after the school had to put pay increases on hold for the last two years.

Counselors play a big role in helping students succeed: They help with scheduling, college applications and with issues like mental health.

Since 2015, first lady Michelle Obama has honored a school counselor of the year in a ceremony at the White House. Friday, the honor goes to Terri Tchorzynski of the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Mich., where she works with 11th- and 12th-graders drawn from 20 public high schools in Calhoun County.

Video monitors of commission meeting
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than any other state in the country, Illinois relies on property taxes to fund public schools. As a result, districts in prosperous areas can spend a lot more per student than districts in low-income or rural areas. A group of lawmakers charged with revamping this scheme has been meeting since summer, facing a deadline of February first. But the group isn’t moving fast enough for State Senator Andy Manar. He’s the leading Democrat on the commission. He’s also considering running for governor.

It's Monday, 8 a.m., and these teens have already mucked stalls in the barn and fed the goats, alpacas and miniature cows. They've rounded up eggs in the henhouse, harvested cabbages and a few green-tinged tomatoes, and arranged them in tidy tiers to sell in the Agriculture Store. Now they're ready to put in a full day of classes.

"Free" is a word with a powerful appeal. And in the past year or so it has been tossed around a lot, followed by another word: "college."

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time talking about free tuition. And this week, the promise has been taken up by one of the largest public university systems in the country: New York state's.

Eastern Illinois University

Campus communities in the state feel the consequences of drastic higher education cuts. 

There are more than 80,000 educational apps in Apple's app store. It seems like a great way to encourage brain development and make your little one the smartest baby genius. But just sticking a tablet in your kid's hands might not be as helpful.

Sure, use the app. But it's not a babysitter — you've got to help them use it, too.

It's been 150 years since Fisk University opened in Nashville to educate freed slaves after the Civil War. The school's later students would become prominent black leaders of the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.

But the small school is still grappling with a dilemma that's been there since the start: how to become financially sustainable.

Fisk is perhaps most widely known for its music, but that legacy is intertwined with money.

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