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

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Classes online or in person but socially distanced, pods, hybrids - education in the U.S. looks different from town to town, grade to grade, family to family. Throughout this school year, we'll hear about it with a series called Learning Curve.

Freshman Taylor Vibbert has always wanted to be in a sorority. When she signed up to rush this fall at Western Kentucky University, she was looking forward to the fanfair, house tours and meet-and-greets.

Then she got some bad news: Greek recruitment would be mostly virtual this year.

"That was a bummer," the 18-year-old from Louisville, Ky., said in early August. "Honestly, if I would have known, I probably wouldn't have signed up."

Vibbert was concerned she would be more outgoing in-person than over the computer, but she was willing to see how it goes.

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Looking for a snapshot of coronavirus outbreaks in U.S. schools? The National Education Association has just launched a tracker of cases in public K-12 schools.

The tracker is broken down by state and shows schools and counties with known cases and suspected cases and deaths, as well as whether those infected were students or staff. It also includes links to the local news reports so users know where the virus data comes from.

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Most Illinois school kids will start the school year with remote learning.  That’s according to an Illinois State Board of Education survey of administrators.

Getting her daughter ready for the first day of sixth grade, in a normal year, Lidia Rodriguez would have by now spent a pretty penny on a lunchbox, her charter-school uniform and a special backpack, perhaps embroidered with her name: "Sofia."

But why buy a new uniform if last year's top still works for a Zoom call? And why splurge on a new backpack when the walk to school is a shuffle from the kitchen table to the bedroom desk?

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 14, The Daily Tar Heel newsroom got a tip: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was about to announce clusters of positive coronavirus cases in student housing, after only a week of in-person classes. The student-led independent newspaper broke the news before the university sent its campus-wide alert.

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Even before fall classes began on Tuesday, The Ohio State University temporarily suspended more than 200 students for violating COVID-19 safety protocols.

Member station WOSU was one of several outlets to report that school officials had issued 228 interim suspensions tied to off-campus parties.

The University of Alabama is reporting more than 560 new cases of COVID-19 across its three campuses and medical center less than a week after starting classes.

According to data from a university dashboard, students, staff and faculty at the university's main campus, Tuscaloosa, account for 531 of the total confirmed cases since Aug. 19.

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Updated on Aug. 26 at 9:30 a.m. ET

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. confirmed Tuesday that he is resigning from his post following allegations of sexual behavior that flouted the school's honor code.

Appropriating Martin Luther King Jr.'s final words from his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech, Falwell told NPR that he is stepping down from his role at the university in Lynchburg, Va., saying he is "free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last!"

"That's the way, I feel," the 58-year-old added.

On the morning of March 15, I started getting texts from worried parents at my daughter's New York City public school. Rumors were rocketing around that a second-grade teacher had tested positive for the coronavirus after being out sick for a week. The school hadn't made any announcements, and parents were getting frantic. The tension ended a few hours later when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that evening that all New York City school buildings would be closed the next day.

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On day one of the Republican National Convention the party made a case for President Trump's second term.

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A Florida judge on Monday ruled against the state's order requiring schools to open for in-person instruction by the end of August, calling parts of it "unconstitutional." He granted a temporary injunction, putting the decision-making power in the hands of individual districts.

Updated at 4:06 p.m. ET

Sixth-grader Charlie Pierce says the hardest part of going back to school wasn't the masks or the temperature checks. It was not being able to hug the friends she hadn't seen in months.

"My friends kind of really wanted to hug me," Charlie says.

"We had talked about keeping our distance," her mom, Ami Pierce, adds, "because we are huggers by nature."

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More than 6,500 current and former teachers have gotten a second chance to shed millions of dollars in unfair student debts, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education.

The educators had enrolled in the department's troubled TEACH Grant program, which provides grants to help aspiring teachers pay for college. In exchange, they agreed to teach a high-need subject for four years in a school that serves low-income families.

A friend posted a picture on Instagram of her 11-year-old daughter wearing a school uniform, sitting attentively in front of a laptop and waving to her teacher during a virtual class.

My experience lay in stark contrast. During home lessons, my youngest child, a 7-year-old, often ignores the screen and climbs on me whenever possible.

Despite always finishing their homeschooling tasks, when asked what their favorite subjects are, my two boys usually respond in unison, "Break and lunch!" I'm dismayed every time I hear it.

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Updated at 3:26 p.m. ET

Two of the most prominent figures in the college admissions scheme that the Justice Department uncovered last year are headed to prison.

Lori Loughlin, the actress best known as Aunt Becky on Full House, will serve two months in prison. Her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was sentenced on Friday to five months.

"I am truly and profoundly and deeply sorry," Loughlin said, choking up as she apologized to U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, Reuters reported.

For Sarah McLaren, who lives in a suburb of Minneapolis, talking about the spring is painful. Her daughter, a rising fourth-grader, struggles with auditory processing and receives special education services. But McLaren says her daughter had trouble keeping up with teachers on an iPad because the instruction was almost all talk.

"They'd tell her, 'Look at this problem, look at that problem. No, show me your worksheet,' " McLaren remembers. "The teachers were doing the best they could, but all those rapid verbal directions just overwhelmed her."

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Students in Los Angeles went back to school this week online. The Los Angeles Unified School District is planning for in-person classes to resume at some point during the 2020-21 school year, which will mean school nurses and licensed vocational nurses will be key to ensuring COVID-19 doesn't spread.

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