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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This week, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that more than $300 million from the first coronavirus rescue package will go to two education grant competitions for K-12 and higher ed.

States will be able to apply for a piece of the $180 million allotted to the "Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant" and $127.5 million allotted to the "Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant."

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There has been a rise in the number of minors contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline to report abuse. That's according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which runs the hotline.

By the end of March, with much of the country under lockdown, there was a 22% increase in monthly calls from people younger than 18, and half of all incoming contacts were from minors. That's a first in RAINN's history, Camille Cooper, the organization's vice president of public policy, tells NPR.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will not recommend that Congress waive the main requirements of three federal education laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA. The federal law ensures that children with disabilities have a right to a free, appropriate public education whenever and wherever schools are operating.

In a landmark decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that children have a constitutional right to literacy, dealing a remarkable victory to students.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by students of five Detroit schools, claiming that because of deteriorating buildings, teacher shortages and inadequate textbooks, the state of Michigan failed to provide them with the most fundamental of skills: the ability to read.

A lot is at stake for students taking Advanced Placement exams, even in normal times. If you score high enough, you can earn college credit. It's also a big factor in college applications. But for some students, the idea of studying right now feels impossible.

"I'm constantly thinking about making sure my family doesn't get sick and I don't get sick," says Elise, a high school junior outside Boston. (We're not using her full name because she's worried about hurting her college applications.)

All his life, 56-year-old Pratap Singh Bora has been sticking his thumb in ink to sign documents. He didn't go to school when he was a kid. Little did he know that he would learn to write his first words at a coronavirus lockdown center during a global pandemic.

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools around the country to close. This is not the senior year the class of 2020 expected.

Friday, March 13, was the last time Alexandra Sullivan saw her fellow yearbook staffers in person.

"We were trying to get as many pictures of people as possible 'cause we knew we wouldn't be able to take any more," Sullivan, 18, says.

Like most U.S. public school students, Sullivan is learning from home now. And much like her lessons, her work on the yearbook continues.

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Three-quarters of U.S. states have now officially closed their schools for the rest of the academic year. While remote learning continues, summer is a question mark, and attention is already starting to turn to next fall.

Recently, governors including California's Gavin Newsom and New York's Andrew Cuomo have started to talk about what school reopening might look like. And a federal government plan for reopening, according to The Washington Post, says that getting kids back in classrooms or other group care is the first priority for getting back to normal.

Cubicle culture has gone dark. Open floor plans stand empty.

Offices around the world are shut during the pandemic, making work from home the new normal for millions of white-collar employees.

In the United States, remote work is still being encouraged under guidelines outlined by the federal government.

But in webinars and conference calls, business leaders and management strategists are discussing what steps must be taken to bring workers back to America's offices.

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On Thursday, Columbia University and Pace University joined a growing number of colleges — including University of Miami, Drexel University and the University of Arizona — facing legal complaints aimed at their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

Dennis Johnson was just trying to defend his dissertation — the last step in getting his doctorate in education — in front of a virtual audience of friends and family.

Instead, he became the face of "Zoombombing," a new form of online harassment, when an unknown intruder interrupted his Zoom video conference by drawing genitalia and writing racial slurs on screen.

The public debate over the distribution of federal funds to small businesses has settled over some new battlefields this week: the campuses of wealthy universities across the country. On Wednesday, after a back-and-forth that involved President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Harvard University became the latest institution with a large endowment to announce it would turn down money from the recent federal relief package.

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College campuses are closed. Students are taking classes online. What will fall semester look like? NPR's Elissa Nadworny has been asking.

Standing in front of a small tropical tree, a man in flip-flops, trousers and a polo shirt bends over what he calls, in a video made for NPR, a "handwashing facility".

It's a plastic jug, hanging from what looks like a knee-high swing set made of sticks. There's another stick tied to the handle of the jug; you can step on that stick, spill water out of the jug, and wash your hands without ever touching the jug. A bar of soap hangs from the swingset by a string.

Monument Valley, Utah, is the desert backdrop for many famous old Western movies. And even today, kids in the valley are doing their homework the way they did in the 1950s: offline.

"There's a lot of kids that don't have even electricity at home," said Spencer Singer, principal at Monument Valley High School. "You know, for all intents and purposes we operate in a third world-type situation."

Eight-year-old Mariana Aceves is doing her math homework — subtraction by counting backward — while sitting on the bed she shares with her mom, Lorena Aceves.

They're sitting on the bed because they have nowhere else to go. They live in an 8-foot-by-12-foot room called a tiny house. It's part of Seattle's transitional housing, where people experiencing homelessness can live until they find a job and a place of their own.

There's room for the bed they share, a TV shelf and "a little tiny plastic dresser."

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will not hold its popular finals event this year, calling off a showdown of the country's best young spellers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the first time the spelling bee has been canceled since World War II.

The finals had originally been scheduled to be held in Maryland in late May, but organizers postponed the event last month, saying they hoped to reschedule the showcase event for later this year.

Updated at 9:40 a.m. ET Wednesday

On Monday, California State University, Fullerton announced it was planning to begin the fall 2020 semester online, making it one of the first colleges to disclose contingency plans for prolonged coronavirus disruptions.

Most campuses in the United States are sitting empty. Courses are online, students are at home. And administrators are trying to figure out how to make the finances of that work.

"The math is not pretty," says Robert Kelchen, who studies higher ed finance at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. "Colleges are stressed both on the revenue side and on the expenditure side."

The high school senior sitting across from Franciene Sabens was in tears over the abrupt amputation of her social life and turmoil at home. Because of the coronavirus, there will be no prom, no traditional send-off or ceremony for the graduates of Carbondale Community High School in Carbondale, Ill. And Sabens, one of the school's counselors, could not give the girl the one thing Sabens' gut told her the teen needed most.

"I want to hug them all, but I really wanted to hug that one," Sabens remembers.

They still threw their caps into the air as F-16s flew overhead.

They still responded with a resounding "hua!" whenever anyone mentioned the class of 2020.

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