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

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.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

What does a sewer back-up have to do with education? Or for that matter an electrical short? Or a boiler malfunction?

Quite a bit, it turns out.

One school superintendent tells our Statehouse reporter Pat Guinane her district has had to cancel classes because of sewer back-ups. "We're kind of in a low area," says Ruth Schneider of the Stewardson-Strasburg district, "and when it rains real hard we get sewer back-ups — and sometimes even when it doesn't rain. The lines are just old and crumbling and need to be replaced."

State budget cuts have threatened to take a bite out of Golden Apple teacher scholarships. 

But while the governor has been seeking to eliminate funding for the highly regarded private program, the state is paying a collection agency to go after students who accepted competing state-run scholarships then skipped out on commitments to teach in struggling schools.

While campaigning for president, George W. Bush borrowed a phrase from the Children’s Defense Fund to sell his education message: “No child left behind.” Attaching it to the most recent rewrite of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Republican-led Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, and President Bush signed it into law.

Students at Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville hear two sets of morning announcements: one in English and one in Spanish.

Twenty-two years ago, critic and teacher Robert Bray asked an interesting question in his book, Rediscoveries: Literature and Place in Illinois. “The creation of a culture at any time and for any society requires its re-creation from the materials of the past,” wrote Bray, now the Colwell Professor of American Literature at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. “And that act of re-creation, the search for a ‘usable past’... ought to be as ongoing and as serious as anything we do.” 

Walter Wendler appreciates society’s changing attitudes about its responsibility for higher education. As a scholar, Wendler, who also is chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, enjoys the nuances of this evolution. He’s intimate with the details of the federal Morrill Act of 1862, which marked the first federal aid aimed at institutions of higher learning. The land grant act, as it’s called, conveyed to the states parcels for developing colleges of agriculture.

Ashley Hustava is candid. A decision about where she attends college may come down to cost.

The senior at Springfield’s Southeast High School has been accepted at four schools. Now she’s waiting to find out what financial aid and scholarships are available. Her family started putting money away for her education when she was little, but it’s still not enough.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The way U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald tells the story of his legacy, he’s leaving at the top of his game.

He installed three independent U.S. attorneys in Illinois. He blocked efforts on Capitol Hill to cement into federal law a deal to expand O’Hare International Airport. And — an accomplishment that seems to give him the most satisfaction — he bucked the state’s GOP establishment.

Construction paper isn’t in much demand in Carlinville’s schools because elementary students can no longer take art. The teaching staff was cut by more than 17 percent, forcing class sizes to climb at all elementary grades. The average fourth-grade class size is now 29.

The district has had to take several such steps over the past three years to reduce its budget deficit. 

Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 in suburban Chicago spends about $13,600 a year on each student — nearly twice the average per-pupil spending in Illinois. And under a proposal in Gov. George Ryan’s fiscal year 2003 budget — which would take money from 22 categorical grants and redistribute it — that one-school district would get $1.3 million more each year.

Something historic happened in Decatur last February. For the first time in more than 40 years, voters approved a tax increase for the city's cash-strapped public schools. But even that imminent infusion of new property tax dollars wasn't enough to stop the flow of red ink. The district is pressing ahead with $7.2 million in budget cuts, including the fall layoffs of 140 teachers.

American Federation of Teachers

Kara Schlink says she can't remember wanting to do anything but teach. So it was natural to enter the teacher education program at Illinois State University in Normal, which is just a few miles north of Hudson, the small west central Illinois town where she was raised.

Last January, right after graduation, Schlink became a teacher - in San Antonio, Texas, where she says she was lured by better weather and a beginning teacher salary that topped Illinois' average by more than $3,000.

It was a teacher's dream. Ray Ulrich arrived last fall for his first day of class at Farragut school in Joliet to a classroom full of motivated students. But this wasn't a batch of fifth-graders. Instead, Ulrich, a teacher training specialist from the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science in Chicago, faced Farragut's own math and science teachers. His job was to help them improve the way they teach math to their elementary school pupils.

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