Dusty Rhodes

Reporter - Education Desk

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014. But it's not her years of experience or her education that help her understand this beat. It's her sons -- "one homemade, one adopted" -- who have vastly different types of intelligence and vastly different learning styles. Between the two of them, she's experienced public, charter, Montessori and magnet schools, gifted, IEP and 504 accommodations, and uncountable band concerts, science fairs, basketball games, and parent/teacher conferences. It's the parent/teacher conferences that always make her cry.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A recent study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy shows that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stands out among similar schools for its low percentage of minority students. The study looked at flagship universities around the Great Lakes to gauge whether they offer equal access for under-represented minorities and low-income students, and whether those students, once-admitted, succeed.

Specifically, the study focuses on Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native students — students who are under-represented in higher education nationwide.

The study uses a really basic yardstick. The researchers simply compared each state’s crop of high school graduates with the following year’s freshman class at its main public university. If the percentage of underrepresented minorities is higher in the first group than the second, that’s an equity gap. Using this measure, all six Great Lake flaships have a gap. But Illinois has the biggest gap. By far.

illinoisreportcard.com / Illinois State Board of Education

In Illinois, more than 80 percent of all public school teachers are white. But odds are, most of the children in their classrooms are Hispanic, Black, Asian, or a mixture of races. Only 48 percent of public school students are white.

Emily Fox is trying to bring those numbers closer together. She is “director of educator effectiveness” at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education has unveiled a new labeling system for schools, with roughly 550 Illinois schools now being tagged "under-performing," and another 200 called "lowest performing."

The Love U Give

Oct 26, 2018
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Earlier this week, a Springfield teacher took a group of students to a movie theater to view a popular new teen drama based on a bestselling novel. It was a special screening just for students who had earned the right to be there by reading the book and writing a paper about it. Of course, using a movie to bribe kids into reading literature is one of the oldest tricks in the teacher playbook. But that’s not what was happening with this movie, this piece of literature, and this teacher.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

What test should school teachers have to pass to earn a license in Illinois? The Illinois State Board of Education takes up that question at their meeting Wednesday.

Springfield High School cafeteria
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Springfield public schools have an ambitious 30-year master plan to renovate or rebuild facilities on all campuses, plus create new baseball, softball and soccer fields. Of course, those improvements cost money. So Springfield and surrounding districts are asking Sangamon County voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase in November. All proceeds would go toward facilities.

Screen shot / SPSchannel22

Every two years, Springfield teachers elect a union president. This year, that election was a squeaker. With close to 1,500 teachers voting, a new president was elected by a narrow, nine-vote margin.

There’s no way to know how many of those teachers were aware that — less than a year earlier — the teacher they elected as their leader had appeared before the Springfield School Board to defend himself against allegations that he had put a 7th-grader in a chokehold.

State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The race for Illinois Governor is heading into the home stretch, and the #MeToo movement continues to impact politics nationwide and in Illinois.

Dave Dahl of WTAX joins the panel.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

As districts around the state begin reaping the benefits of Illinois' new school funding formula, Democratic lawmakers who just happen to be up for re-election gathered today to remind voters that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner initially vetoed that funding, and likewise vetoed legislation that would raise minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 over the next five years.

 

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation and is seeking re-election, says it's possible to get enough votes to override the veto when the General Assembly convenes shortly after midterm elections in November.

Eric Lichtenberger in office
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

lllinois has historically ranked second in the nation when it comes to high school graduates leaving the state to go to college. But there's good news for a certain set of students who opt to stay.

 

New data released by the state Board of Higher Education shows Illinois is tops in the nation for getting students who start out at community college through to a bachelor's degree.

Dusty Rhodes

Illinois’ new school funding formula — approved last year — could already be facing revisions. That's because lawmakers had such a tough time agreeing on this new formula, they tried to ensure they'd never have to fight so hard again. So they built in a Professional Review Panel, and empowered the group to recommend recalibrations as needed.

​One idea under consideration: Adding a racial equity component, to address the historic underfunding of predominantly black districts.

Yolanda Harrington walks one of her students into Barkstall Elementary in Champaign. Harrington, who had dreams of becoming a teacher, makes $18 an hour and works a second job. She has been a paraprofessional for 19 years.
Courtesy of the Student's Family

Like most states, Illinois is struggling with a severe teacher shortage. And, also like most states, that shortage is felt most profoundly in the area of special education. There is, however, an army of teacher assistants already on the job. Could they help relieve this shortage?

University of Illinois officials before the Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

During the past week, you probably caught a brief news story or two about the Illinois Innovation Network, or maybe Discovery Partners Institute. It’s worth your attention: In the current state budget, these two projects are slated to receive half a billion dollars.

Joanne Johnson / Flickr

lllinois is in the grips of a severe teacher shortage, but late last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation to raise their wages. The bill would’ve ramped up the minimum salary to $40,000 by the year 2022. In a message explaining his veto, Rauner called that an “unfunded mandate.”

But State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation, says he hasn’t given up on the effort.

https://admissions.illinois.edu/commitment

The University of Illinois today announced a new financial aid program designed to make enrollment at its Urbana-Champaign campus more affordable for middle-class students. They’re calling this program Illinois Commitment, and Kevin Pitts, vice-provost for undergraduate education, says the goal is to persuade families they really can afford to send their kids to the state’s flagship university.

 

“Illinois Commitment pledges to cover tuition and mandatory fees for all students who have a family income below $61,000 per year,” Pitts says.

teacherpensions.org

A national study released this week comparing general school funding dollars with the amount spent on staff benefits singled out Illinois — and not in a good way.  

Google Maps

Big changes are in store for Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora. 

@assassinsgame16

At Springfield High School, Ethan Doyle is an honors student, a member of the baseball team, the investment club, and an elite student group known as Superintendent’s Roundtable. But perhaps his most notable accomplishment came during the spring of his sophomore year, when he assassinated more of his classmates than anybody else.

Go Ahead Of The Class

Jul 30, 2018
School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn www.flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/

A new Illinois law will give gifted children the chance to move ahead in public schools.

April Alonso / The Chicago Reporter

This is one of those good news/bad news stories. A series of state laws meant to reduce the number of kids getting kicked out of school appears to have worked. That’s the good news. But the bad news is: Those same laws also seem to have magnified racial disparities in school discipline.

Report cover
U.S. Secret Service

  

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service released a guide for preventing school violence. Issued in response to recent massacres in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, it’s subtitled “An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.”

But closer to home, a group from the Illinois Terrorism Task Force had already presented a very similar set of recommendations back in April.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Illinois has traditionally used a competitive grant process to parcel out money for preschools. In the past, that competition was limited to programs that had a history of getting state funds. But this year, after the legislature appropriated an extra $50 million for preschools, the Illinois State Board of Education threw the competition open to all programs.

Once applications were reviewed and ranked, preschools around the state were shocked to learn they wouldn’t be getting the state funding they expected. Some weren’t funded because their grant applications scored below ISBE’s threshold; others weren’t funded simply because the appropriated amount couldn’t cover the demand.

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Ten days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees who choose not to join unions no longer have to pay reduced fees to cover collective bargaining. And already, a crusade to persuade teachers to drop union membership has hit Illinois.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

When school districts outside of Chicago negotiate contracts, they do so with the assurance that the state will pick up the tab on pensions. To control growing pension costs, lawmakers capped salary bumps at 6 percent in 2005. This year, the cap tightened to 3 percent.

Illinois' teachers unions have collected more than 15,000 signatures on petitions urging state lawmakers to reverse that measure.  

NPR Illinois

Long before he ran for governor, Bruce Rauner was a champion for school choice. That’s the shorthand way of saying he used his considerable clout and cash to support charter schools, most of which don’t welcome teacher unions.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The fate of Southern Illinois University's president may be decided tomorrow at a special meeting of SIU's board of trustees, which is set to consider placing Pres. Randy Dunn on administrative leave.

This decision comes amid a heated debate about dissolving the SIU system and making its two campuses independent entities.

We asked Jennifer Fuller, who has been covering this issue for nearly two decades, to explain how SIU got to this point.

 

Rhodes: How close are we to a breakup of these two university campuses?

Jennifer Fuller: You know, it appears to be the closest that it has been.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Illinois has struggled for decades to persuade high school graduates to stay in-state for college. The recent two-year budget impasse only made things worse. Now, a group of lawmakers has a plan to reverse the trend, starting with the state’s Monetary Award Program.

Courtesy of Kassie Jones

In the Farrington school district, near Mount Vernon, a new teacher makes less than $29,000 — even with a master’s degree. Farrington is one of the lowest-paying districts, but state officials say some 7,000 teachers statewide makes less than $40,000.

A new state law just approved by the legislature would change that.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS / NPR Illinois

State Senator Chapin Rose had what he thought was a no-brainer bill. All he wanted to do was help public universities connect with promising high school juniors by sharing basic data like standardized test scores. But just hours before presenting his bill in committee, he ran into FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

It’s a federal law; there’s no easy way around it.

siue.edu

Legislation that could have severed the Southern Illinois University board of trustees into two separate organizations may be put on ice to allow time for an independent study.

Think of it like a couple considering divorce, and the judge sends them to mediation instead.

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