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

  School lets out for the summer today in district 186. That means the end of a three year run for a middle school thats closure was hotly debated in Springfield. As the school board took multiple votes on whether to keep the Capitol College Preparatory Academy, or CCPA, open – parents, teachers, and students showed up in droves to fight for their school. But the battle to keep the school that taught grades 6 through 8 open has been lost. Listen to the story:

 

Here’s an interview with a CCPA parent and PTO president, Robert Ogden:

TRANSCRIPT:

  Some Springfield public school administrators are violating a policy that says they must live within district 186, according to a new board member. Adam Lopez is the school board’s vice president, he was seated earlier this month. He says he’s heard complaints from district 186 faculty that the policy is not being enforced. Lopez says it’s an issue that should be considered by the new school board, and either enforced or done away with. His personal opinion?

Mike Zimmers worked in district 186 in a variety of roles – administrator, teacher, principal, coach… And now he serves on the school board. His win unseated previous school board president, Susan White. In this interview Zimmers tells us about his priorities for Springfield public schools, the search for a new superintendent, the closure of a middle school, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow.

 Former superintendent Walter Milton’s separation agreement with District 186 violated open meeting laws, according to an opinion by the state’s Attorney General. The previous school board decided to part ways with Milton during the winter before his contract was up. So, the members approved a severance plan worth over $175,000 and agreed to pay health and dental insurance.

  Foreign exchange students who spent this past school year in central Illinois with their host families are bidding them adieu. At a recent dinner 14 exchange students from countries like Spain, Thailand, and Germany shared meals from their native countries as they prepare to return home:

 

Chris Reid is mixing up a crockpot full of bright colored noodles and meatballs, food she helped her foreign exchange daughter from Toyko cook for tonight’s farewell ceremony…

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

A local elementary school is teaching students about growing their own food with a hands-on project. Rachel Otwell recently visited the community garden across from McClernand Elementary School and spoke with instructors and students as they planted and tended to plots. She brings us this story:

 The Springfield school board decided last night it will begin interviewing search firms and may hire one to find a new superintendent for district 186. The district has an interim superintendent who took over for Walter Milton at the beginning of April. It’s been debated since then how to go about finding someone to permanently replace him.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Tensions were high at last night’s (5/6) Springfield district 186 school board meeting as the 

  new board was seated and a president and vice president were appointed.

The meeting started with goodbyes for the previous school board members.

sps186.org

 A Springfield school board race that was too close to call is now over. Katharine Eastvold announced today she has conceded in the race for subdistrict five. She lost by one vote to Donna Moore. A partial recount found that votes had been counted accurately. Eastvold says she considered asking a judge for a full recount but did not find enough evidence to warrant that move. A supporter of Eastvold had used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover election documents. But Eastvold says those documents failed to turn up information to justify dragging out the contest.

  Katharine Eastvold lost her run for Springfield school board by a single vote about three weeks ago. But she’s not quite done fighting for the seat. A partial recount earlier this week found the votes had been accurately recorded. Donna Moore was declared the winner by only one vote in subdistrict 5. But it’s not yet over. The next step says Eastvold is working with her lawyer to determine whether there’s enough evidence to warrant asking a judge for a full recount.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

President Barack Obama’s promise in his State of the Union speech to push for universal, voluntary preschool invigorated early childhood advocates nationally and across Illinois. Could it help the state regain lost ground in building a system of preschool for all?

“Very, very much,” predicted Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. “We don’t know a lot of details, [but] what they’re thinking about at the federal level matches well with what we have set as our priorities here in Illinois.”

WUIS/Illinois Issues

The question of the state’s obligation to provide affordable public higher education is easy to shove aside these days, as our disgraced and dysfunctional state government grapples with more fundamental issues of fiscal survival. Truth be told, it may be a moot point.

Let’s go back one generation.

T-shirts are sold on the first day of the September 2012 teachers’ strike.
Chicago Teachers Union

Three years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn was preparing to sign legislation that would tie teachers’ performance evaluations to the growth of their students. It was hailed as historic. Part of a national trend spurred by states’ desire to qualify for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top federal education grants.

The plan was to phase it in year by year, starting with Chicago in the fall of 2012, followed by the lowest performing schools across the state, with all schools in compliance by 2016.

Education Inequality
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s been a decade since a blue-ribbon panel outlined an ambitious plan designed to finally force the state to provide an adequate level of funding for Illinois schoolchildren.

But, just as they’ve failed in the past, Illinois policymakers have again fallen far short of the goals laid out in the 2002 Education Funding Advisory Board report. The state’s recently approved budget will leave many school districts having to dip into their reserve funds, take out loans or, if labor contracts allow for it, cut personnel and programs to deal with a $161 million cut in general state aid.

Day No. 1 at ChicagoQuest Charter School, one of 16 schools run by the Chicago International Charter School.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When a student sits at Vickie Kimmel Forby’s desk and says he’s thinking about dropping out of Tomorrow’s Builders YouthBuild Charter School in East St. Louis, she makes sure there is a clear view of the bulletin board behind her.

On it are 23 obituaries of former students, most lost to murder. “I want them to reflect,” Forby says. “I have success stories all over, but there’s not a name they don’t know or a face they don’t recognize up there.” 

WUIS/Illinois Issues

Ask gray-haired Illinoisans how they first learned about the principles of democracy, and there’s a good chance their experiences will mirror those of retired teacher Patton Feichter. 

The 66-year-old Elk Grove Village trustee, a product of the Chicago public school system, recalls studying a civics textbook in the eighth grade. In high school, he had a year each of American and European history and a semester of government.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Bob Knight was coaching basketball at my Hoosier alma mater, he once belittled sports journalists by saying: “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.”

I remember thinking at the time: “Well, Coach, you literary lion, by second grade, I had learned the rules of basketball, but I doubt you’d find my skills good enough to play for you. And my guess is that you couldn’t meet my writing standards, either.”

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

 

 

They are overcompensated and underworked.

They siphon undeserved cash from state budgets, shortchanging essential needs such as human services or the health and safety of our citizens.

They are to blame for America’s difficulty in maintaining its superior economic position among the world’s nations.

They mostly fail in their primary job responsibility.

They are unable to cope effectively with the pressures brought on by normal societal changes.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

"Most state standards are abysmal; they’re vague; they’re not very rigorous; and they have a lot of silliness lurking within them.” 

Michael Petrilli,
Thomas B. Fordham Institute

 All public school students would be expected to learn the same concepts and skills in math and English under a proposed set of national academic standards, an idea that proponents say is necessary and critics say doesn’t go far enough.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Tom Bremer got word that he would not be back teaching art at Elgin High School next year, he was frustrated. He taught there four years and worked with other art teachers at the school to create a photography, cartooning and animation program that teaches students to use new technology as well as writing and art criticism.

Jamey Dunn
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Faced with $1.3 billion in proposed cuts to education in Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget, along with looming layoffs of thousands of teachers and the chronic failure of some schools to meet No Child Left Behind standards, lawmakers are pushing several education proposals that emphasize “choice” for both schools and students. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Can Illinois finish in the money in Round II of Race to the Top?

The answer could hinge on budget decisions that state lawmakers will make in coming days.

At stake is as much as $400 million to underwrite efforts to improve Illinois schools under Race to the Top, the education centerpiece of the Obama administration.

The cost of the system, so far, is covered by a $9 million federal grant. The State Board of Education estimates the first-year cost of developing the program at about $1.1 million, followed by $2.5 million each of the next three years.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois is about to embark on a new system that will make self-described “data wonks” bug-eyed. They’ll be able to delve into arcane details of test results and graduation rates, among other statistics collected from the state’s 877 school districts each year. What’s different about this new system is that it will track the same group of students from the time they learn their alphabet to the time they embark on college or careers.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

The second time around could be the charm for a small group of upstate administrators hoping to build the first-of-its-kind school in the city of Chicago. It also would be a first for the entire state. They propose opening a school that is friendly to students who struggle in mainstream schools, regardless of their sexual orientation. But opponents say allowing the idea to manifest would only create a new kind of discrimination. 

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.

— The Illinois Constitution, 1970

University of Illinois at Springfield

Thousands of miles away in Guatemala, a 62-year-old college student learns math from instructors at the University of Illinois at Springfield. 

For several years, the increasing number of students taking online classes at for-profit schools has invited questions about the quality of education received through the Internet. But as public universities face mounting costs, they also are entering the mix, changing the way students and professors think about the classroom. 

The implications could be great. 

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

 

Illinois’ nationally recognized Preschool for All program, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched in 2006, is set to expire this year. Lawmakers are sure to renew it, but only for another two years, despite support to make it permanent. That’s the General Assembly’s way to keep a short leash on the governor for fear of sending him a blank check.

Advocacy groups argue that a one-size-fits-all policy to measure accountability is unfair, particularly in such an economically diverse state as Illinois.

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

There are winners and losers in the state's education system. Schools in wealthy regions can afford to spend $25,000 on each student, while those in poor areas can only afford about $5,000 per student.

In recent years, the debate on school finance reform has focused on finding ways to increase and equalize school spending. At the heart of the debate is whether Illinois should shift the burden of funding elementary and secondary schools from the local property tax to the state income tax. But voters' fears of tax hikes keep that issue under the political table.  

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Close your eyes and envision your workplace — the office, the shop floor, wherever. Now mentally rate your co-workers. Are they all doing an OK job? Or is there someone who's not up to the task, whose performance is sub-par?

If your answer is no, everyone's work is at least satisfactory, perhaps you're a tenured Illinois public school teacher, a category in which almost no one does a poor job, if you believe the ratings prepared by administrators in the state's 876 local school districts.

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