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

As Europe was being torn apart in the early 17th century by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants — that would lead to the devastating Thirty Years War in 1618 — the German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote:

"When the storm rages and the shipwreck of the state threatens, we can do nothing more worthy than to sink the anchor of our peaceful studies into the ground of eternity."

Two years ago this month, President Barack Obama had a clear message for teachers and parents who were concerned about all the standardized tests that students were taking: He was on their side.

In a video statement, he gave parents this pop quiz:

If our kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it?

This past spring, a history teacher in North Carolina was giving a lesson about Christopher Columbus. He covered how Columbus and his men enslaved and otherwise mistreated the native people of the island of Hispaniola.

One white student piped up: "Well, that's what needed to happen. They were just dumb people anyways like they are today. That was the purpose, that's why we need a wall."

50 Years of 60 Minutes

Oct 25, 2017

Even if you haven’t flipped past CBS on Sunday night in a while, you probably know this sound …

“60 Minutes” is more than a staple of the CBS lineup. The weekly newsmagazine is a journalistic and broadcasting institution. It has broken major stories, hosted some of the most distinguished journalists on TV, won 138 Emmys and 20 Peabody Awards and it has drawn in countless viewers.

"They can't just be average."

Charles Curtis is talking about the roughly 100 young, black men in the inaugural freshman class at Ron Brown College Prep, a radical new high school in Washington, D.C.

Curtis, the school psychologist, puts it simply: "There is no place in the world for an average black person."

So begins Part 2 in our series: Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep.

Illinois' public colleges and universities have weathered the two year budget impasse and are once again expecting routine state aid payments. As the schools look ahead, they're working to secure their financial footing and publicly rebound from the ordeal.

The wildfires in Northern California cut across a wide swath of the state — including dozens of school districts, hundreds of schools and hundreds of thousands of students. At one point, classes were canceled for 260,000 students in 600 schools.

And while schools are slowly coming back on line, there remain many that may not resume classes for days or even weeks.

Our weekly roundup of education news and happenings may make you uncomfortable, but please don't ban our inconvenient truths.

A Mississippi district bans To Kill A Mockingbird

"I'll be famous one day, but for now I'm stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons." That's harsh language from the downtrodden sixth-grade narrator of Diary of A Wimpy Kid, a blockbuster series of graphic novels.

But it speaks to a broader truth.

Typically, when law enforcement pursues a suspect who has failed to turn himself in on several outstanding warrants, it takes the dedicated effort of officers and some tips from the community to finally bring the person in.

It's fair to say what happened in Redford Township, Mich., this month was not typical: A suspect turned himself in after making — and losing — a pretty inadvisable bet with police ... involving doughnuts.

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

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Is Free Speech In A 'State Of Emergency'?

Oct 19, 2017

White nationalist Richard Spencer plans to speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday. In response, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency.

frowning piggy bank
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The debate over school funding dominated much of the legislative session, and concluded with a compromise plan designed to send more state funds to the neediest districts. But so far, those districts haven't gotten any extra funds.

It's not your imagination: Tiny tots are spending dramatically more time with tiny screens.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, just released new numbers on media use by children 8 and under. The nationally representative parent survey found that 98 percent of homes with children now have a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone.

In his new novel Origin, Dan Brown (most famous for The Da Vinci Code), describes his protagonist Robert Langdon's approach to the conundrum of students' devotion to personal tech devices in the classroom.

Langdon is, Brown writes, "one of several Harvard professors who now used portable cell-jamming technology to render their lecture halls 'dead zones' and keep students off their devices during class."

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

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At Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, students aren't kids or boys.

In the classrooms and cafeteria, they're kings.

That's just one of the many things that stand out in this new boys-only, public school in Washington, D.C. The school opened in August 2016 to a class of roughly 100 young men. All are freshmen. All are students of color. All are determined to change the narrative.

Your child doesn't want to go to school. It's a daily struggle that many parents are familiar with.

But what if your child refuses to go to school?

Mental health professionals and educators say what used to be considered run-of-the-mill truancy could actually be something else. Some cases of chronic absenteeism are now being called "school refusal," which is triggered by anxiety, depression, family crises and other traumatic events. It can lead to weeks or even months of missed school days.

It's not exactly how Deilanis Santana planned to spend her 13th birthday: waking up before dawn, packing up her life – and heading to Connecticut to live with her grandma.

But here she is at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, three weeks after Hurricane Maria, waiting anxiously like many other Puerto Ricans for flights to destinations like Miami, Philadelphia, and other cities. The gates are crowded with children — Deilanis among them — leaving their homes, and sometimes their families, to live in the U.S. mainland and go to school.

Not that long ago, the high school in Pittsfield, N.H., had some of the lowest standardized tests scores in the state and was known as a dropout factory.

But over the past six years, the school district has overhauled its approach to education. Now in most classes, grades aren't used to measure progress.

And that is a relief to Jenny Wellington, an English teacher at Pittsfield High School, who says grades never really told her whether her students were actually learning.

We're doing things by the numbers this week in our weekly roundup of all things education.

167 of 1,113 public schools in Puerto Rico are open

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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An NCAA infractions panel says that although athletes "likely benefited from the so-called 'paper courses' " for some 18 years at the University of North Carolina, it can't conclude there were violations beyond beyond two employees' failure to cooperate with the investigation.

The university had been facing five Level 1 violations for "severe breaches of contract."

Elizabeth Belletire House

A new effort to get kids more active and in touch with their thoughts has come to Springfield's public school district - in the form of yoga classes. It could also have implications for how students are disciplined in the future.

Updated at 12:50 p.m. ET

The Trump administration has announced that the U.S. will withdraw from UNESCO, the United Nations' chief cultural and educational agency. In a statement released Thursday, the State Department said the move won't take effect for more than a year, noting the withdrawal will be as of Dec. 31, 2018.

The schools in Puerto Rico are facing massive challenges.

All the public schools are without electricity, and more than half don't have water. More than 100 are still functioning as shelters.

But Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, tells us that the schools that are open are serving as connection points for communities. They've become a place where children and their families can eat a hot meal and get some emotional support, too.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET

Louisiana State University police have issued arrest warrants for 10 students who belonged to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity after an investigation showed that freshman pledge Maxwell Gruver had died last month after a night of playing a drinking game. The charges range from hazing to homicide.

University spokesman Ernie Ballard told NPR in an email that the students turned themselves in to LSU police on Wednesday.

Back-to-school season didn't last long this year in Puerto Rico. First Hurricane Irma and then Maria forced schools to close and turned the lives of students and their families upside down.

Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, says that of the U.S. territory's 1,113 public schools, 22 reopened last week and another 145 this week. They're hoping that the majority will be open by Oct. 23. Some are still functioning as emergency shelters.

UIS

The University of Illinois Springfield plans to establish a center to study President Abraham Lincoln and his continuing relevance.

The initiative is one of several priorities for a $40 million fundraising campaign the university launched Tuesday.

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