NPR Illinois Education Desk

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Springfield public schools may start classes later once per week, beginning next school year. But the district is going to garner more public feedback before making a final decision. After district officials spoke with a group of parents, it was clear some are against the original plan of pushing back the start of the school day. Now another option is on the table: early dismissal. Either way - it'd be a redistribution of hours slated for professional development.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Public schools are not allowed to forbid students' right to freedom of speech, unless it disrupts education. But that wasn't necessarily true until a court case from Iowa made its way to the Supreme Court back in the 60s. John Tinker was behind the case, known as Tinker v. Des Moines. He and other students went to school wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. They were kicked out and told not to come back to class unless they removed the bands and the rest as they say, is history.

Chris Farrell headshot
APM

Join WUIS in an important community conversation at the first 

A WUIS ENGAGE BREAKFAST
May 2, 2014, 8-9:30 a.m.
Hoogland Center for the Arts - Theatre III
AUDIO SPECIAL COMING SOON!

Special guest, Chris Farrell, is coming to Springfield to share his thoughts and take your questions about education and our local economy.   

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Charter schools have long been a divisive issue. Supporters say they allow schools to teach kids free of burdensome regulations.  Opponents say they take money away from traditional schools.  In Illinois this year, those views are colliding.  In the final installment of our series, we find out about the fight at the statehouse and what it might mean for charters:

Brian Mackey/WUIS

  All four of the Republican candidates for governor have said they will make education funding a priority if elected, but they face an uphill battle finding the money to send to schools. Each of the contenders has an unique solution for fixing education funding in Illinois.

First, some background: Illinois is ranked last in the nation when it comes to how much the state kicks in to public education.

As the state legislature threatens additional cuts to local schools, education officials are firing back. Some say taking more money away from students would be morally reprehensible.

sps186.org

Dozens of District 186 employees will be without a job come the end of the school year. A week ago the interim superintendent, Bob Hill, suggested cutting teaching jobs at all levels. On Tuesday he came to the board with further cuts, including in technology and special education. 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Most teenagers spend more time on the internet chatting with friends than reading books - let alone poetry. However, the art form has seen a recent resurgence, and in some circles is even considered "hip." In Springfield, 14 area high school students recently competed in the regional version of the Poetry Out Loud contest to recite a wide variety of poems from memory.

In 1984, it cost $10,000 a year to go to Duke University. Today, it's $60,000 a year. "It's staggering," says Duke freshman Max Duncan, "especially considering that's for four years."

But according to Jim Roberts, executive vice provost at Duke, that's actually a discount. "We're investing on average about $90,000 in the education of each student," he says. Roberts is not alone in making the claim. In fact, it's one most elite research institutions point to when asked about rising tuition.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

Illinois lawmakers are considering what steps police should have to take before questioning kids at school.

The legislation would basically make police read kids their Miranda rights — that they can remain silent, and anything they say can be used against them in court.

It would also make police notify parents they have the opportunity to be present during questioning.

Sen. Kim Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, calls it a "student bill of rights."

Often times, the strongest advocates for students with disabilities are their parents. Dr. Holly Novak is a member of the group Springfield Parents For Students with Disabilities. On Saturday the group hosts its "6th Annual Disability to Possibility Conference" from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm at Southeast High School.

Springfield District 186 plans to give parents and students a shorter deadline for immunizations and physicals next school year. They'll have to be completed by the 10th day of school, which means around the end of August. That's much sooner than this year's mid-October deadline. Around 500 students failed to comply and some were out of school for up to 3 weeks.

In a mobile classroom — basically a trailer outfitted with a desk and some chairs — music teacher Chris Miller works with a group of active kindergartners dressed in green and khaki school uniforms. He teaches them the basics: musical concepts, artists and styles of music.

"Everybody repeat after me," he says. "Wade in the water." Kids sing back, "Wade in the water."

Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Monday's ice storm didn’t stop Springfield public schools from holding classes. But it also meant many school buses were late to pick up students. Parents complained of students waiting up to 45 minutes in the cold and freezing rain as buses maneuvered the slick roads. Many took to the district’s Facebook page to hurl insults about the decision to keep school open.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Many people are aware that the Illinois Lottery helps fund schools. But just how much do the proceeds actually help? Well, that's what we aimed to find out:

    

Most of the money for the state's public schools K-12 come from local sources, like property taxes. The state contributes a large portion as well, and the lottery profits are part of that, but just how much? To find that out, our first stop is the Hometown Pantry at the intersection of Edwards and MacArthur in Springfield.

With spring fast approaching, many American high school seniors are now waiting anxiously to hear whether they got into the college or university of their choice. For many students, their scores on the SAT or the ACT will play a big role in where they get in.

That's because those standardized tests remain a central part in determining which students get accepted at many schools. But a first-of-its-kind study obtained by NPR raises questions about whether those tests are becoming obsolete.

A former Illinois state superintendent of education has been chosen as Southern Illinois University's new president.  

The SIU board of trustees announced Monday that Randy J. Dunn will be the university's eighth president, replacing Glenn Poshard. Poshard is retiring in June.  
Dunn is currently president of Youngstown State University in Ohio.  

Randal Thomas is chairman of the SIU board. He says Dunn ``has both the skills and the background to ensure that SIU continues to live up to its mission of providing a quality education.''  

flickr/ecastro

A new report has found that Illinois high school graduates are slightly above the national average for Advanced Placement exam scores.  

According to a Advanced Placement Program report released Tuesday, 21 percent of 2013 graduates received an AP exam score high enough for college credit. The national average is 20 percent. Scores of three or more out of five are generally eligible for college credit.  

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It took about a year - but Springfield has officially found a replacement for its previous district 186 superintendent. Jennifer Gill will take over the role on May 1st. She's been a teacher and administrator in the district. She'll be leaving her current role as the director of teaching and learning for the McLean County Unit 5 School District. This interview begins with Gill reflecting on how she became a third-generation educator:

There have been delays rebuilding a tornado-damaged high school gym.  

A tornado ripped off part of a wall of Gillespie High School gym last May. Superintendent Joe Tieman says there have been setbacks in the effort to rebuild the gym. He tells The (Alton) Telegraph (http://bit.ly/1ocv2AS ) those include issues with insurance claims, power lines and the harsh winter weather.  
 Tieman says officials thought the gym would be repaired by March, but now it's looking more like May.  

Springfield's district 186 is struggling to fill a 5 million dollar gap in the budget for the coming school year. A group of parents and community members say they have an answer to supplementing the district's budget: raise property taxes. But passing a referendum will prove challenging. And if it's going to happen, some say efforts to get the word out need to ramp up now. 

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Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  When tragedy strikes, politicians often line up to say they'll do something to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the follow-up can lag early promises. That's what happened after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Peter Gray/WUIS

Girls On The Run of Central Illinois combines being active with self awareness.  The after school program for girls in 3rd through 8th grades has been in the area for 10 years. 

Jennifer Sublett is Executive Director.  She said the program has now served over 3,400 girls.  

"They're learning all about themselves. They're learning about self esteem," Sublett said.  Community is also a big part of the curriculum.  Participants complete a community service project.

And, they run.

Governor Pat Quinn says expanding Illinois' early childhood education programs should be one of the state's top priorities, but he hasn't detailed how to pay for them. Some lawmakers say Quinn's  "Birth to Five'' initiative's success is tied to the ongoing tax and spend debate that's expected to dominate this year's legislative agenda. 

Governor Quinn spent much of his State of the State address on Wednesday addressing education. He says investing in education is a sure way to grow jobs as well as the economy. It's a sentiment that's hard to argue with. His focus on early education was an echo of President Obama's own emphasis on the subject in his last two State of the Union addresses, and Quinn has also previously pushed the idea of making pre-K more widely available. New this year though, Quinn says he wants to double the amount of MAP scholarships offered, which help low-income students attend state universities.

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Illinois labor unions have filed a lawsuit seeking a new plan to reduce the state's $100 billion pension shortfall declared unconstitutional.  

The We Are One Illinois Coalition of public employee unions filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Sangamon County Circuit court.  
The long-anticipated legal challenge comes weeks after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure into law and ahead of his annual State of the State address.  

The UIS team name will remain the same, after over a year of discussions on whether or not to change it. A consultant group hired by the university came up with suggestions like  the Springers, Sabers, and Mammoths. The consultant group cost the university nearly $20,000. After putting together a task force and soliciting the opinions of students, alumni, and faculty, a decision has been made. UIS Chancellor Susan Koch told WUIS, "Prairie Stars may not be the perfect name, but it's our name. And it's been our name since the 1970s ...

LLCC

When the Crown III coal mine south of Springfield recently closed, Lincoln Land Community College stepped in. The school's truck driver training has offered special classes to displaced workers.  President Charlotte Warren says the classes are full, although more could be held.  

It's one example of services offered at Lincoln Land.   Warren says the college provides academic offerings for students who plan to go on for a baccalaureate degree, dual credit classes for some high schoolers and specialized programs to serve the community.

http://schoolchoiceweek.com

 Ask any teacher, superintendent, or government official about it and many would say education funding is in need of some serious change. Local districts are struggling to make ends meet as state and federal appropriations drop - and that means layoffs, school closures, and even shortening the school day in some cases. Some education reform activists say the answer to fixing this problem and others within the system is something called "school choice."

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