Education Desk

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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

Henry Wellman is the Harold W. Stevenson Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Kimberly Brink is a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at the University of Michigan.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov collected a series of his short stories on robots in his now famous anthology I, Robot.

Hello and welcome to another roundup of the top education stories. It has been a long week, and a lot has happened. Here is our recap.

The FCC votes to repeal net neutrality regulations

The Republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal Obama-era rules that restrict the power of Internet service providers to favor specific websites and apps. This dramatic reversal in favor of providers has propelled the once-wonky issue of net neutrality into the mainstream, turning it into an increasingly political matter.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET

A grand jury tasked with investigating broad issues of hazing at Penn State has issued a blistering report asserting that leaders at the university were well aware of pervasive misbehavior in the Greek system and failed to take action.

Penn State, responding in court, said that the university has "shown an unwavering commitment to promoting safety and accountability" and that alcohol abuse at college is a "national problem," not a university-specific one.

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Going Undercover

About Shabana Basij-Rasikh's TED Talk

When Shabana Basij-Rasikh was six years old, the Taliban forbade girls from getting an education. Rather than giving in to their threats, she dressed up as a boy and went to a secret school for girls in Kabul.

About Shabana Basij-Rasikh

It's no secret that we've had a rough fall and winter with natural disasters. Even as we write this, fires burn in Southern California, adding to the previous wildfires in the northern part of the state that burned over 245,000 acres in October.

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey devastated communities across Florida and Texas, while touching communities in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Louisiana.

In the video posted to Twitter, Ayrton Little dons Harvard red, the viewer watching him as he peers at his own screen, waiting to see whether he got into his dream school. Everyone seems to sweat. Little's schoolmates crowd around him in anticipation. A big moment to be sure, especially for a 16-year-old. Then a gasp and the room erupts in cheers, screams and embraces.

He did it.

It seemed like a moment when everything would change. Twenty children and six adults were shot and killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

There was sadness. There was anger. There were questions. How could this happen, and what would be done to stop anything like it from ever happening again?

With wildfires still raging across parts of Southern California, dozens of schools have been closed. Many will stay that way till the new year. That gives educators valuable time to think about what they can do, when school resumes, to help students who have been traumatized by these fires.

Schools across the country are nervously watching to see if the Federal Communications Commission chooses to repeal Obama-era regulations that protect an open internet, often referred to as "net neutrality."

The 2015 rules are meant to prevent internet providers, such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, from controlling what people can watch and see on the internet. Companies can't block access to any websites or apps, and can't meddle with loading speeds.

The chief executives of 59 private colleges and seven public universities took home more than $1 million in total compensation in 2015, according to an analysis released this week by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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France's education chief says that when students go back to school next fall, all mobile phone use will be banned in schools for students roughly 15 and younger.

In 2001, not long after Oklahoma had adopted one of the nation's first universal pre-K programs, researchers from Georgetown University began tracking kids who came out of the program in Tulsa, documenting their academic progress over time.

In a new report published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management today, researchers were able to show that Tulsa's pre-K program has significant, positive effects on students' outcomes and well-being through middle school.

It takes courage to confront a bully, to talk openly about the pain they can inflict. Maybe that's why star athletes, celebrities and thousands of other people are embracing Keaton Jones, a student in Tennessee who talks about bullies that persecute him at school, in a video that went viral over the weekend.

A jittery group of middle-schoolers is about to start the first day of classes since September, when Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and totally disrupted the island's school system.

The vast majority of the island's public schools — more than 98 percent — are open for at least part of the day, according to Puerto Rico's Department of Education.

Lyft is unveiling a new education program for drivers, offering access to discounted GED and college courses online. The move is an interesting experiment in the gig economy, where a growing class of workers receive zero benefits from a boss and yet competition for their time is fierce.

Many Lyft drivers see their work for the company as a stopgap measure, a flexible way to make money while they try to build a career.

The last time China pressured Hong Kong to scrap its curriculum in favor of one developed by China's Communist Party-led government, tens of thousands marched through the city chanting, "Down with national education!"

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Hello and welcome to another edition of our weekly education news roundup! These are a few of the big stories that got our attention this week.

U.S. readers slip a bit

Fourth-grade students in the Russian Federation and Singapore earned top scores on the PIRLS 2016, an international assessment of reading comprehension given every five years. Perhaps most impressive, more than a quarter of students in both countries are, according to the results, advanced readers.

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The Puerto Rican effort to advance from response to recovery after Hurricane Maria continues. For some, water and electricity are still elusive. And that makes it hard to get back to normal — especially for children.

An after-school program is designed to pick up when school lets out. The program – which has no formal name – is organized by volunteers and the nonprofit Save the Children. In a territory still lacking basic utilities in some places, Facebook access and YouTube videos are a lower priority. But kids need something to do.

The House and Senate are working to reconcile their versions of a tax plan, but one thing is certain: Big changes are ahead for the nation's schools and colleges.


Let's start with K-12. There, Republicans from both sides of Congress generally agree on two big changes.

Saving for private school

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School districts had a year to implement a state law that banned zero-tolerance policies and emphasized restorative justice practices. We check back in with five districts we visited  in the summer of 2016 to see how school discipline has changed.

Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities, affecting up to 17 percent of the population, who have difficulty reading, writing and spelling. Recognizing dyslexia in students who are just learning to read can be difficult, but once the disorder is identified, it can be addressed through special education. The earlier, the better.

Jessica Ladd was sexually assaulted while at Pomona College, just as one in five college women are. She says she found the reporting process, "more traumatic than the assault" itself. She felt "like I didn't have control. A lack of agency. I wasn't believed, and ended up regretting reporting."

School voucher programs need (at least) three key ingredients:

1. Multiple schools (don't roll your eyes, city dwellers, this one's a brick wall for many rural parents).

2. A system that makes private schools affordable for low-income parents. Choice isn't choice if it's only the rich who get to choose.

3. And transparency, so that a child's caregiver can review the options and make an informed choice.

This story is about that last ingredient.

"I was talking to a secondary teacher in Uganda," Sharath Jeevan tells me when I ask about his organization's impact. "I asked her: What's the biggest change you've seen in two months? She said, 'I stopped beating my [students]. I know now how to engage kids in a much more constructive, positive way.' "

Jeevan is the founder and CEO of STIR Education, a nonprofit that administers a professional development program for public school teachers in India and Uganda. The program has grown fast. From a pilot with 25 teachers in Delhi in 2012, they will reach 80,000 teachers this year.

Our weekly education news roundup is back! And what a week it was.

Higher Education Act proposals in the House

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As the tax bill moves through Congress, an issue has risen that hits dangerously close to U.S. efforts in science.