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:

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  • 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

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Hello and welcome to another edition of our weekly roundup of education news!

Department of Education sued by coalition of states

A Transgender Child Faces Growing Up

Jul 8, 2017

It's safe to say that Q Daily, who's 11, is savoring childhood. He is an avid climber of trees. A dancer and loves Michael Jackson. He treasures play. Adults, he laments, can be quite boring — particularly at parties.

"All that I think they do," says Q, "is sit around, talk and drink wine."

Q says he'd prefer not to grow up. But he is now on the cusp of middle school, adolescence and facing his changing body. And for a transgender child, this time of life is particularly complex.

Courtesy of Amanda Vinicky / WTTW

Yesterday's controversial override vote that increased taxes was delayed by about two hours when the capitol was put on lockdown, due to reports of a woman throwing or spilling an unknown substance near the governor’s office and other locations. Reporter Dusty Rhodes knows the woman, and spoke with a lobbyist who witnessed her detention.

Zachariah Ibrahim dreams of being a pilot. That's not so unusual for a 13-year-old kid. But not that long ago, Zachariah didn't have many dreams for the future.

Two young Nigerians helped give him hope again.

In 1978 Waymann Washington had two major things going for him: As a young man, he had his whole life in front of him. He'd also been granted a scholarship to go to college and play football. Two months into school, he dropped out.

Right now he's serving a six-year sentence at the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio, for drug trafficking.

And at 59, he's found college again.

Attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York and 16 other states filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department Thursday, accusing DeVos of breaking federal law and giving free rein to for-profit colleges by rescinding the Borrower Defense Rule.

Summer Reading For Your Woke Kid

Jul 6, 2017

Social activist Innosanto Nagara wanted to find a fun book to read to his 2-year-old son that also talked about the importance of social justice.

He wasn't looking for the typical fiction written for children. Instead, he was looking for unique narratives — by writers of color and/or authors who can speak about social issues through their own experiences.

Nagara couldn't find any. So he wrote one.

When Kelly Barrales-Saylor was a new mom, she got a lot of children's books as gifts. Most were simple books about shapes, colors and letters. There were none about science — or math.

"My editorial brain lit up and said there must be a need for this," says Barrales-Saylor, who works as an editor for a publishing company outside Chicago.

Halfway across the world, Chris Ferrie was similarly unsatisfied.

When reading to his kids, Ferrie noticed that most books used animals to introduce new words. In today's world, that just didn't make sense to him.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

More than a dozen school leaders from across Illinois gathered at the state capitol today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools. They held signs and banners saying “thank you,” but gratitude wasn’t their only motive.

If you deal with children, you're probably familiar with the concept of positive reinforcement. You reward a child for good behavior as a way to encourage them to continue doing it.

They were teenage brothers. They had big dreams to be doctors. But there was no way it could happen. They were living in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war, studying in classrooms set up in tents.

"We thought we were forgotten," says Kamiar Alaei. But that was a long time ago. He's now 42 and an internationally recognized doctor.

Why can't kids today just work their way through college the way earlier generations did?

The answer to that question isn't psychology. It's math. A summer job just doesn't have the purchasing power it used to, especially when you compare it with the cost of college.

Let's take the example of a working-class student at a four-year public university who's getting no help from Mom and Dad. In 1981-'82, the average full cost to attend was $2,870. That's for tuition, fees and room and board.

Since NPR Ed first published this piece last year, it has become one of our most popular posts of all time. And since then, there has been a little anecdotal proof of concept for these parenting theories:

For the past three years, 74-year-old Alice Baker has come to the Macon Branch Library in Brooklyn almost every Thursday morning.

That's when the wildly popular Xbox bowling league meets. But Baker also has learned to quilt at the library and says quilting is now a regular part of her life.

The two programs are a small part of efforts in Brooklyn and other cities to expand offerings for older adults at libraries. What appeals to Baker is that she can attend activities for people her own age in a place that welcomes people of every age.

Fake news has been on Maggie Farley's mind further back than 2016 when President Trump brought the term into the vernacular.

Farley, a veteran journalist, says we've had fake news forever and that "people have always been trying to manipulate information for their own ends," but she calls what we're seeing now "Fake news with a capital F." In other words, extreme in its ambition for financial gain or political power.

"Before, the biggest concern was, 'Are people being confused by opinion; are people being tricked by spin?' " Now, Farley says, the stakes are much higher.

About exactly a year ago we brought you the story of Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year.

At the time, he and about 40 other educators were running for office in the state, wanting to make a change because, as Sheehan puts it, lawmakers weren't prioritizing education. Funding for schools in the state has been cut tremendously over the past decade and teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country.

Hello and welcome to our weekly education news roundup.

DeVos "presses pause" on for-profit college regulation

Two weeks ago, we reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was rolling back the "gainful employment" rule intended to rein in for-profit colleges. On Friday, she took a further step back.

Summer Reading For The College-Bound

Jun 30, 2017

Madison Catrett, 18, grew up in south Georgia — in a town about 30 miles from Tallahassee. Her high school was mostly white, Christian, and conservative — a place "where education is not as important as football," says Catrett.

She's bound for Duke University in the fall — and she's a little nervous to go somewhere new, somewhere so different from her hometown.

Luckily, she and other Duke freshmen have a built-in conversation starter: the reading they've all been assigned — Richard Blanco's Prince of Los Cocuyos.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If Illinois lawmakers fail to enact a budget, state universities could potentially lose as much as $4 billion in federal funds.

That's according to Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. He says the Higher Learning Commission has threatened to pull some schools' accreditation — a move that would cause serious ripple effects.

 

When Trayvon McKoy moved to Washington, D.C., from Maryland about two years ago, he'd never played drums before in his life. Then, when he enrolled at Ballou High School, he says he didn't have much choice.

"I didn't even want to be in the band. My parents forced me." They also played in the band at Ballou when they were students here. "And it's probably one of the best things that's probably ever happened to me," he says.

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Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

On Sunday, House Speaker Michael Madigan issued three demands for budget negotiations, and one of them was for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 — a massive overhaul to the state’s school funding structure. But he also said he was open to changes in that bill. Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes gives us a refresher course on what those changes might be.

 

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Updated at 7 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds available to nonprofits under a state program could not be denied to a school run by a church.

"The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

It's summer vacation season and many families will be lucky enough to be heading off for at least a few days. At least half of parents say quality time together is the most important reason to take a family vacation, according to a national survey by the rental car company Alamo.

Updated at 10:04 a.m. ET with Louisiana study

It is the education debate of the Trump era. With the president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos using policy and the bully pulpit to champion private school vouchers, supporters and critics have tangled over the question:

Do low-income, public school students perform better when they're given a voucher to attend a private school?

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Will arming teachers make schools safer? While that debate continues across the country, this week more than a dozen school employees from around Colorado spent three days learning advanced gun skills at a shooting range outside of Denver.

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