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

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Lawmakers have been working on a new school funding model for the past few years, but some school districts have gotten impatient and decided to take the issue to court. So far, 16 school boards have voted to join the lawsuit, which will be filed by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan.

For-profit colleges have faced federal and state investigations in recent years for their aggressive recruiting tactics — accusations that come as no surprise to author Tressie McMillan Cottom.

More than 650,000 prisoners are released every year in the U.S., but no federal agency tracks the unemployment rate for this population. Experts say low reading and technological literacy, as well as reluctance among employers to hire former convicts, means many drop out of the labor force altogether.

It's a perennial debate in American education: Do kids learn best when they're sitting in rows at their desks? Or moving around, exploring on their own?

Back in the 1960s and '70s, that debate led to a brand new school design: Small classrooms were out. Wide-open spaces were in. The Open Education movement was born.

Across the U.S., schools were designed and built along these new ideas, with a new approach to the learning that would take place inside them.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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Washington, D.C.'s Capital City Public Charter School feels like a mini United Nations. Many of the school's 981 students are first-generation Americans with backgrounds spanning the globe, from El Salvador to Nigeria to Vietnam. So when the staff of the literacy non-profit 826DC began a book-publishing project with the junior class, they picked a topic everyone could relate to that also left room for cultural expression: food.

Sixteen-year-old Na Da Laing struggled in elementary school.

"I was different from other students," she remembers. "I couldn't speak English at all."

Now, eight years later, she's reading George Orwell's Animal Farm.

In the U.S., roughly one in 10 students is an English language learner.
Many schools struggle to help them feel comfortable with their new language. Helping them get ahead and to college is another challenge entirely.

No rest for the weary in our weekly roundup of national education news.

Supreme Court rules on special education case

"I'm thrilled," said Amanda Morin, a parent and advocate with the website Understood.org, after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in a case that could affect 6.5 million special education students. "Now I can actually go into a school system and say 'The Supreme Court has said, based on my child's abilities, he is legally entitled to make progress.' "

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Grand Bargain is a package of interlocking legislation designed to break the budget impasse. How important is school funding to that deal? Important enough that leaders titled it Senate Bill One. Under the plan filed by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the state would freeze funding at current levels. Any additional dollars would be distributed based on each district’s demographics and unique needs, channeling the bulk of the money toward low-income districts.

Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Dozens of times a day, in meeting rooms all over the state capitol, this is what you hear. Lawmakers take turns sitting in front of a committee and pitching their bills. Their colleagues ask questions, and then take a vote. Committee votes are not that big a deal. If the bill doesn’t get enough yes votes, the sponsor can bring it back later. If it passes, that just means it’s cleared to move on to the full House or Senate. Very rarely does a simple committee vote end with sustained applause and cheers.

Growing up in a hungry household in the first couple of years of life can hurt how well a child performs in school years later, according to a new study.

An estimated 13.1 million children live in homes with insufficient food, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

We are in the midst of a quiet revolution in school discipline.

In the past five years, 27 states have revised their laws with the intention of reducing suspensions and expulsions. And, more than 50 of America's largest school districts have also reformed their discipline policies — changes which collectively affect more than 6.35 million students.

School districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious" progress, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in an 8-0 ruling.

The decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District could have far-reaching implications for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the United States.

This blog post has some pretty useful information. So print it out; get out your highlighter and take off the cap.

Ready? Now throw it away, because highlighters don't really help people learn.

We all want for our kids to have optimal learning experiences and, for ourselves, to stay competitive with lifelong learning. But how well do you think you understand what good learning looks like?

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Updated at 10:15 a.m. ET Thursday

Students throughout Boston are getting a radically different view of the world, one laminated 24-by-36-inch sheet of paper at a time.

Beginning last Thursday, Boston Public Schools administrators have been sending social studies teachers in the second, seventh and 11th grades new maps for their classrooms — depictions that more accurately portray the sizes of Earth's continents.

Fake news has been, well, in the news a lot lately. It seems no claim is too absurd to be aired.

For example, NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal has just become the fourth NBA star to make public remarks that he believes the Earth is flat, not round.

Editors' note Monday, 12:55 p.m. ET: Since this story was first published, we have added material from another former student and former law clerks of Gorsuch, as well as more information about Jennifer Sisk's political affiliations. On Tuesday, Gorsuch disputed the allegation himself during his confirmation hearing and explained the lesson he intended to teach.

National K-12 and higher ed news came fast and furious this week. Here are our highlights to help you keep on top.

The president's "skinny budget" has cuts for education

The biggest story of our week happened early Thursday morning when President Trump released his budget outline, historically known as a "skinny budget" because it has few details.

The U.S. Department of Education came in for a $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, cut.

This morning President Trump released a proposed 2018 budget that calls for a $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, cut for the U.S. Department of Education.

Updated: 12:04 p.m. ET March 16, 2017

Top supporters of the neighborhood schools bill say it won't receive a vote during this year's legislative session, which ends on March 30. The issue is expected to be discussed during legislative committee hearings in Louisville over the summer.

A couple of months ago, Shan'Taya Cowan got into Harvard.

"I just froze," she remembers. The first word she read was, "Congratulations." "And I didn't know what to do because, it was never really an option for me."

"Millions of poor, disadvantaged students are trapped in failing schools."

So said President Trump at the White House recently. It's a familiar lament across the political spectrum, so much so that you could almost give it its own acronym : PKTIFS (Poor Kids Trapped In Failing Schools).

Where there's no consensus, however, is on the proper remedy for PKTIFS.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is down.

If those words don't send a shiver up your spine, it means you're not a high school senior or college student rushing to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the form — famously complicated and difficult to finish — that stands between many low-income students and the federal, state and institutional aid they need to pay for college.

Update: New survey results out today show that the rates of hungry and homeless students at community colleges across the country are higher than previously thought.

The results, published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, show that one third of community college students go hungry and 14 percent are homeless.

Those rates are up from 2015, when the same research team surveyed 4,000 community college students in 10 states, and found one fifth were without adequate nutrition. Thirteen percent were homeless.

A globe in a classroom with the Illinois flag in the background.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Right in the heart of the University of Vermont, Burlington campus, there's a big dormitory going up, with room enough for 700 students next fall.

The dorm is being set aside for students like Azilee Curl, a first-year studying neuroscience who has taken a pledge — of sorts — to live out her college career at UVM with her health in mind.

She's part of a growing group on campus who all live together in a clean-living residence hall, have fitness and nutrition coaches at the in-house gym, and can access free violin lessons, yoga and mindfulness training.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Enrollment in Illinois’ public universities and community colleges continues to decline. That’s according to figures released by the state Board of Higher Education.

A bacteria model hanging from a classroom ceiling.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Property taxes, PE, police, twins, tampons, Title I funds, teacher evaluations, lactating students and lottery dollars — these are a few of the legislative measures working their way through education committees in the General Assembly.

On a cold Friday morning, more than 50 people sit in the auditorium of the Benjamin Franklin Health Science Academy in Brooklyn. Many have small children fidgeting on their laps.

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