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 Hospital
  • Illinois Education Association
  • Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance
  • Illinois State Board of Education
  • UIS College of Education & Human Services

Ways to Connect

When principal Kelli Hoffman ran into her students at a McDonald's during summer break, she knew they weren't there for the McNuggets.

The two rising eighth-graders at French Middle School had invested in a Coke to unlock a bigger prize: free Wi-Fi. They sat logged into their school-provided Chromebooks studying exercise ideas from their sports coaches.

Hoffman's district, Topeka Public Schools in Kansas, is one of a rising number of systems that are letting students take their school-issued devices home over the summer months.

Welcome to this week's edition of our national education news roundup.

DeVos appoints current student loan company CEO to head student loan agency

Wayne A. Johnson will be the new head of Office of Federal Student Aid after James Runcie abruptly resigned last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced this week. FSA is the agency responsible for administering $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans from 42 million borrowers, plus other aid programs for millions of college students.

"Upstate/Downstate"

If you had to place a bet on where student test scores have plummeted over the past decade and a half, where would you put your money? Chicago Public Schools? Galesburg? Urbana? A new study on student achievement in Illinois shows some surprising results.

Today we're going to update a story we first brought you back in 2004. That September, NPR set out to document what may be the most important day in any young child's life — the first day of kindergarten. For parents it's a day filled with hope, anxiety and one big question: Is our child ready?

The answer back then, as far as 5-year-old Sam Marsenison was concerned, was, "No, no, no!"

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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Louisiana has become the first state to prohibit all public universities from asking applicants about their criminal history.

By some estimates, as many as 70 to 100 million Americans have some kind of criminal record.

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

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There's a good chance something you've bought online has been in the hands of a "picker" first. These are the workers in warehouses who pick, pack and ship all those things we're ordering.

This year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention got heated over a resolution that demanded the official denouncement of white nationalism and the alt-right. The resolution was put forward but not actively considered until outcry picked up, and a revised resolution was ultimately accepted.

Photographer and journalist Katie Hayes Luke reported throughout the year on an innovative school for homeless children in Oklahoma City, Okla. We're not using the first names of students and family members to protect their privacy.

On the last day of school, the fifth grade students at Positive Tomorrows perform last-minute rehearsals for the inaugural "Classy Awards."

The growing number of fatherless children in this country poses one of the the most serious problems in education today, according to best-selling author Alan Blankstein.

He has spent most of his life advocating for kids who struggle in school. He wrote Failure is Not an Option, a guide to creating high-performing schools for all students.

The land border crossing between Tijuana, Mexico and San Ysidro, Calif. is one of the busiest in the world. Every day 25,000 people cross the border on foot. Among the crowd are students whose families live in Tijuana. Each morning their families commute many hours to bring the children to school in the U.S.

Juan and his mom, Maria, wake up at 5:30 a.m. each day to make the trek from their home in Tijuana to Juan's high school in San Ysidro. Some mornings, crossing the border can take up to an hour and half.

It's the weekend, and that means our rollup of education news around the country — starting this week with some rollbacks.

Freeze of for-profit college regs

The U.S. Department of Education is rolling back two regulations introduced during the Obama administration and designed to protect students, especially those at for-profit colleges.

Alaska is home to about 18,000 fishermen who harvest nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood each year. Salmon dominates the catch, five species in all: chum salmon, sockeye, king, coho and pink.

For a taste of Alaska fishing life, we head out with a father-daughter fishing team as they go trolling for king salmon in the waters off Sitka, in southeast Alaska.

The school funding debate continues to revolve around the issue of Chicago Public Schools.
Wikipedia Commons

Earlier this week, a group of Illinois Republicans announced a series of compromise measures they said could lead to a state budget. It includes a revised school funding plan, sponsored by State Senator Jason Barickman, of Bloomington.

Barickman calls his latest plan quote a huge step forward.

At Yale University's commencement ceremony last month, hundreds of graduating students and their supporters staged a labor protest. The dispute pits graduate student teachers who voted to form a union in February against a Yale administration that refuses to bargain and disputes the election's validity.

Growing up, Kelly Jenkins spent his spare time playing sports. He was an all-star player on the baseball team at his school in the mountains of east Tennessee. And sometimes, he wore lipstick to practice.

As he grew up, Jenkins felt like he wanted to become a teacher.

"Everybody told me it was a horrible idea," Jenkins remembers. "They said, 'Nobody will ever hire you as a transgender woman.' "

Waylon Faulkner, a 12-year-old from Jersey City, N.J., is headed off to a sleepaway camp in upstate New York this summer.

By 2025, two million jobs will be unfilled because U.S. companies won’t be able to find the skilled labor they need. Many of these jobs provide a middle-class salary — some pay six figures annually — and don’t require a four-year-degree.

Neuroscience isn't on many elementary school lesson plans. But this spring, a second grade class at Fairmont Neighborhood School in the South Bronx is plunging in.

Sarah Wechsler, an instructional coach with wide eyes and a marathoner's energy, asks the students to think about the development and progress that they've made already in their lives.

The opportunity to go to college for free is more available than ever before. States and cities, in the last year especially, have funded programs for students to go to two-year, and in some cases, four-year, schools.

Tennessee has taken the idea one step further. Community college is already free for graduating high school students. Now Tennessee is first state in the country to offer community college — free of charge — to almost any adult.

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

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hello, and welcome to another excitement-filled edition of our weekly news roundup!

Questions about federal law and discrimination for DeVos

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and Democrats pounded her with questions about civil rights protections, particularly for LGBTQ students and those with disabilities. After facing similar questions in a House subcommittee appearance last month, DeVos this time took a new tack, repeating the same answer at least 14 times:

The fate of school funding reform in Illinois hinges on downstate sentiment about Chicago Public Schools, and legislators' grasp of a complex, new formula. The governor has already pledged to veto the legislation. And now, the battle has State Sen. Andy Manar accusing Education Secretary Beth Purvis of lying.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made it clear, appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, that she sees no connection between school funding and school performance. As evidence, she criticized the Obama Administration's $7 billion grant program to improve struggling schools, an effort that yielded no significant impacts in test scores or graduation rates.

According to the latest Pew Research data, college graduation rates are up for Americans in nearly every racial and ethnic group.

Last year, former President Barack Obama spoke about how crucial this is for the U.S. economy.

Kankakee Community College

The ongoing budget impasse has been particularly difficult for Illinois' institutions of higher education, which have received a mere fraction of their usual state funds. Community colleges depend on the state to supply 30 percent of their overall budget, but that formula has evaporated over the past two years.

 

John Avendano is the president of Kankakee Community College, but he's also president of the Presidents Council — the group made up of all Illinois community college presidents. He spoke with our Education Desk reporter about the special challenges these schools face.

In the West African country of Burkina Faso, nearly 50 percent of children do not attend school. The reported cost of getting them there would be close to $182 million, and yet the small, francophone country received only $17 million in education aid in 2012.

This comes from a new policy paper released this week by UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report, which found that the countries most in need of education funds aren't getting them.

Over and over again, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos deflected a barrage of pointed questions with one answer:

"Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law."

Stanford physics and education professor Carl Wieman won a Nobel Prize for his innovative, break-through work in quantum mechanics. Wieman has since levered the prestige and power of that prize to call attention to the need to transform undergraduate teaching, especially science education.

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