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

It's been nearly five years since president Barack Obama signed the executive order known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It gave "protected status" to immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.

DACA allowed them to remain in the U.S., work, obtain a driver's license and study. More than 750,000 registered and were vetted. DACA, however, did not offer them a pathway to citizenship. It just meant they would not be deported.

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President Trump has indicated several times now that his education agenda may feature a school choice program known as tax credit scholarships.

Bonuses paid to executives and administrators in the University of Missouri System "may violate the Missouri Constitution," the state auditor says in a new report that details hidden bonuses, "excessive" luxury vehicle allowances — and $100,000 in retention payments to a chancellor who resigned amid a furor, only to be rehired in a new post months later.

In a reversal, the Supreme Court will not decide Gavin Grimm's lawsuit over a school policy that requires students to use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. The court was scheduled to hear the case this month.

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Trump administration policies toward refugees and immigrants, as well as a recent racially-charged shooting in Kansas, have some international students thinking twice about enrolling in American colleges and universities.

In early December, Joann Lee and her family were crossing the street in front of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A white van was stopped at the light. Out of nowhere, Lee says, the driver of the van, a white woman, said to Lee's 7-year-old daughter, "You are the most disgusting girl in the whole world. Your family killed my family so you could enjoy a day at the museum."

It was another big week for national education news. Here's our take on the top stories of the week.

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump meet with HBCU leaders

The Education Secretary seems to be racking up controversies at the rate of about one per week.

Kristi Barnwell

Faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield have been negotiating for a new contract. Talks have been going on more than a year, and they haven't even started talking about dollars.

Kristi Barnwell, an associate professor of history, is vice-president of UIS United Faculty and a participant in negotiations.

“Every year, the campus does an analysis of where our wages sit compared to other universities and campuses of similar size and profile, and every year, we come up well below the median for professors’ salaries at every rank," she says.

It was in 2012 that Barry Eggers, a venture capitalist, noticed that his two high school-aged children were getting obsessed with a curious new app called Snapchat. After a little investigation, Eggers persuaded his company, Lightspeed Venture Partners, to become one of the first to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the fledgling app.

Before Thurgood Marshall became the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court ...

Before Toni Morrison became a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and Nobel laureate ...

Before Kamala Harris was elected to the United States Senate ...

Let's start with Sunday night, because, how could we not? You already know about the Moonlight cock-up (leave it to the British to give us a perfect word for what that was), but did you know this: although Moonlight's Mahershala Ali was described as the first Muslim to win an Academy Award, Pakistan isn't having it. Apparently, the sect to which Ali belongs is outlawed in Pakistan. The Atlantic broke it down for us.

Eric Greitens had barely been Missouri's governor for a week when he faced a pretty tough decision: cutting the Show Me State's budget.

In Kansas, the state's public school finance system "is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy," the Kansas Supreme Court says.

The court ruled Thursday in a a much-watched case about state obligations to provide public education that was originally filed by four school districts — including Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools — back in 2010.

With the decision, the court also gave state lawmakers time to devise a new school financing system, setting a deadline of June 30.

ALLEN CHASTAIN

In the November elections, Christian County went solidly for Donald Trump. It's not the kind of environment where taxes for public services are popular. Nevertheless, the Taylorville School District is asking voters to raise their own property taxes, and the district has put everything on the line.

The district hasn’t had a tax increase in 38 years, and is now operating with a $1.3 million annual deficit. If the referendum fails, the district will eliminate all extracurricular activities and all elective classes.

My bank sends me a text alert when my account balance is low. My wireless company sends me a text alert when I'm about to use up my monthly data. Somebody — I guess the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? --sends me a text alert when it's going to rain a whole lot.

A few clever researchers said: "Hey! What if we could send text alerts to parents when students miss class or don't turn in their homework?" And what do you know, it worked.

Does everyone really need a college education?

For more than a century, Wisconsin has held up the basic idea that every student should have the chance to earn a college degree and that a public university system bolsters growth and investment throughout the state.

But now there's a growing debate on whether the cost of a diploma is really worth it.

Students and families are taking on enormous debt with no guarantee of a well-paying job. Some ask whether technical or online learning might be the smarter choice.

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In his speech last night, President Trump asked Congress to pass a broad school choice initiative.

"I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. ...

"These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them."

We're all familiar with the term "hidden in plain sight." Well, there may be no better way to describe the nation's 6,900 charter schools.

These publicly-funded, privately-run schools have been around since the first one opened in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992. Today, they enroll about 3.1 million students in 43 states, so you'd think Americans should know quite a bit about them by now. But you'd be wrong.

At a congressional luncheon in their honor Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told leaders from historically black colleges and universities that the Department of Education "will continue working closely with you to help identify evolving needs, increase capacity, and attract research dollars. We will also work closely with you to launch new initiatives that meet the needs of today's students."

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This afternoon, President Trump signed a number of executive orders including one recognizing the importance of historically black colleges and universities. He called those schools a grand and enduring symbol of America at its best.

Tressie McMillan Cottom studies for-profit colleges as a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has analyzed large data sets, scrutinized financial filings, interviewed students and staff. But she has also helped enroll students at two different for-profits herself.

They're not named, but known only as "Beauty College" and "Technical College" in her new book, Lower Ed.

NPR Ed has covered both the rise, and some of the travails, of this form of education. We called up Cottom to hear her thoughts. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

We've written a lot about the link between college and the workforce — and the kinds of skills graduates will need in the 21st century to succeed. One of the skills you need is knowing how to present yourself. To put your best foot forward in the workplace, and in life.

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The cost of college is high and rising, while a bachelor's degree is practically required to get ahead.

It's hard enough for a family with means to get a student through school these days, let alone a low-income family.

So, are the immediate costs of college, and the loans that can follow, worth it?

Tales of talented black students on majority-white campuses running through a racial gauntlet that has them questioning their brilliance, abilities and place are familiar to parents like me who have a college-bound child at home.

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