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

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sex is a topic that can leave a lot of parents embarrassed or tongue-tied. But in today's world, experts say it is never too soon to start talking openly with your kids about their bodies. And if you're not ready for your kids to hear this, you might want to rejoin us at the top of the hour because that's what we're going to focus on right now.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Another bit of fallout from the U.S. strike against Iran - a burst of social media memes from young people worried about checking off the box for selective service on the federal financial aid form.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

A dancing police officer. A Founding Father with a wig made from sweat socks. And a physics professor, in a jester cap, on a pogo stick. These are some of the many characters from American schools who blew up on social media in 2019. Here's our unranked list of 10 of the most notable viral learning, teaching and school-related moments of the year.

Good sportsmanship (188,000 views on Facebook, 4.7 million on Twitter)

How Should We Regulate Homeschooling?

Jan 2, 2020

People choose to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. Maybe they want their child to focus on a certain part of the curriculum. Maybe their child has special needs. Maybe their child has a hard time learning in a classroom environment.

But whatever the reason, there are still guidelines for how a child can be homeschooled.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Back in September on the show, we introduced you to James Hatch, ex-Navy SEAL wounded badly in combat in Afghanistan and now, at the age of 52, a college freshman at Yale, an experience that Hatch told me can feel pretty terrifying.

The NCAA announced earlier this year that it would open the door for college athletes to begin profiting from their names, images and likenesses “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

In 1988, Kathy Wankel, a rancher from Montana, stumbled upon a fossil with her family near Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir. She wasn’t a trained paleontologist, and she’d never found a fossil before.

Turns out, that bit of bone in the dirt once belonged to a T. rex.

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Sean Crawford: All this week, Dusty has been sharing a series of stories about special education students placed in private facilities in other states — how many students, who pays for the placements, and why Illinois passed that law banning placements in the state of Utah. She joins me now to discuss the project. 

Q: So Dusty how many of these kids actually leave Illinois for school?

A: Close to 350 for residential placement, another 140 or so are in therapeutic day school, mostly in the St. Louis area.

Q:  So what kind of disabilities to these students have?

  

Engineering Designs For People With Autism

Dec 28, 2019

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

One of the largest school districts in the country is trying something new: Starting next month, students in Fairfax County, Va., can take one day off per school year to engage in political activism.

The plan has its roots in the 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school that left 17 dead. In its aftermath came a rise in student activism unlike anything the Fairfax school district had ever seen, Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen tells NPR.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Meet The Weavers (Rebroadcast)

Dec 25, 2019

Across the country, people are working hard to end loneliness, isolation and to support those not given a fair shake at school or on Main Street. There are remarkable Americans who say they’re repairing some of the tears in society. They belong to a group called “Weavers,” who are trying to put trust, empathy, connectedness and community well-being at the center of American life.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A dancing police officer, a founding father with a wig made from sweat socks and a physics professor in a jester cap on a pogo stick - these are just some of the many characters from American schools who blew up on social media in 2019.

Courtesy of Medium Anonymous

An Illinois freelance journalist was inspired by his personal experience at CEDU — widely recognized as the flagship enterprise of the "troubled teen boarding school" industry — to undertake an investigation of that facility. In 2018, he published an in-depth 16,000-word history of CEDU and its offshoots on Medium.com. 

Esports Programs Plug Students Into Careers

Dec 22, 2019

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some low-income college students are among the 688,000 food stamp recipients projected to lose benefits as a result of a Trump administration rule announced Dec. 4.

Illinois State Board of Education

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois taxpayers funded the placement of close to 350 special education students at some 40 facilities in other states. Those facilities were as varied as the students’ needs.

Steve Appleford

When Avital van Leeuwen was in 10th grade, she was into skateboarding, punk rock, smoking pot and feminism. Her home life was in turmoil in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, and even though — or maybe because — she’s high IQ, she was having problems at school. She wanted to transfer to a completion program, get her high school diploma and move on. 

That plan got derailed in the wee hours one morning, when she was sitting in bed reading Bitch magazine.

“I just remember my parents coming into my room out of nowhere — both of them, which was weird… I was at my dad’s house. And they said, ‘Avital, we love you very much.’”

She instantly knew: “Something really bad’s about to happen.”

Maya-Elena Jackson

Last year, Illinois amended its school code to limit options for districts sending special needs students out of state. Under this new amendment, districts are no longer be able to send students to states that don’t provide oversight of residential facilities. But some families quickly found a way to work around the new law. 

The amendment might as well have been called the Utah law. Because even though the plain language doesn’t mention Utah, that’s the state it excluded.

Stephanie Jones was general counsel for the State Board of Education in 2017, and she advocated for the change. But today, she acknowledges that families quickly resorted to unilateral placement as a workaround.

All is not well in Banana Slug country.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

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NOEL KING, HOST:

The State Of American Education

Dec 17, 2019

The Program for International Student Assessment, a test designed to evaluate education standards around the globe, determined that American students have stagnated in reading and math performance since 2000.

The disappointing news comes after years of bipartisan efforts to overhaul the U.S. education system.

Why are students from one of the richest countries in the world performing relatively poorly on this exam? And what can be done to move America’s education system forward?

QuoteInspector via Flickr CC BY ND 2

Every child in America has the right to a “free and appropriate public education,” thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush almost three decades ago.

And if that education can’t be provided in the student’s home district, the student can go elsewhere —  also for free. Illinois taxpayers typically spend at least $25 million per year to place hundreds of students outside the state, in residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, and other private facilities designed to serve students with special needs. 

Courtesy of the family

In the 2017-18 school year, Illinois sent close to 350 students with special needs to private boarding schools in other states. The cost added up to more than $10 million for tuition, and close to $20 million for housing. But it’s not always possible for school officials to know exactly what that money buys, or for parents to know what’s happening to children in those facilities.

This fall, there were nearly 250,000 fewer students enrolled in college than a year ago, according to new numbers out Monday from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks college enrollment by student.

"That's a lot of students that we're losing," says Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the Clearinghouse.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos endured a withering barrage of questions on Thursday about her handling of a program meant to provide debt relief to federal student loan borrowers who say they were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

"Madame Secretary, your refusal to process claims is inflicting serious harm on students," Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said in his opening statement. "These defrauded borrowers have been left with piles of debt, worthless degrees and none of the jobs that were promised."

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