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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The head of a powerful national teachers union told members Tuesday that its leadership would support "safety strikes" if health precautions are not met amid calls for schools to reopen as coronavirus cases surge.

Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers, is leaving the final decision to local unions on whether to strike. The AFT — the nation's second-largest teachers union, with 1.7 million members — also unveiled several benchmarks that it said should be met before schools can fully welcome back students and staff.

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Wayne Banks is a middle school math teacher and principal in residence for KIPP charter schools. These days, like many teachers around the country, the 29-year-old is working from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Banks has never been formally trained to teach online, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make his classes as engaging and challenging as possible.

"I really took the opportunity in March to be like, 'I just have to figure this out.' [It was] a do or die for me," Banks says.

Online registration is still available for District 186 students until Friday. 

In early May, about two months after schools across Malawi closed because of COVID-19, Eliza Chikoti received a phone call from a former student: a bright 15-year-old girl who always got good grades.

"She called me and she said, 'Madame, I'm thinking of getting married,' " says Chikoti.

Chikoti, 24, works for Camfed, an international organization that supports girls' education. Part of her work is mentoring girls in the town of Mwanza — offering them support and guidance in their studies.

The students are met at the school door with a thermometer and a health quiz, answering questions like "Are you feeling sick today?"

Once they pass this quiz, the students in this summer enrichment program outside St. Louis proceed to folding chairs spread 10 feet apart across the gymnasium to eat breakfast alone.

Eating so far from friends has been "not great" for Jada Randle. "It's boring. You just have to sit away from people," said the 10-year-old.

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University of Illinois Springfield

Unionized faculty and staff at Illinois’ universities and colleges want their institutions to start almost entirely online this fall.

Public schools should delay reopening in coronavirus hot spots but should open fully if they want to receive tens of billions of dollars in new federal aid, President Trump said in a White House briefing.

At the news conference Thursday, Trump talked in more detail than he has in the past about the reopening of schools. He also announced new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening schools.

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For American families with children, the pandemic has meant lost income, increased child care responsibilities, worry and stress. But a majority are not eager for schools to reopen this fall, given the health risk.

Vanessa Ince's daughter, Alexis, has a rare chromosomal abnormality and autism. Alexis has thrived at her public school in Wailuku, Hawaii, and loves spending time with her classmates.

Ince says when the COVID-19 pandemic closed her school in Wailuku, the effect on her daughter's well-being was "devastating."

"Alexis regressed so severely. She was previously, I would say, 95% potty trained and she started wetting herself." She also regressed in other areas, her mother says: She went back to crawling and stopped trying to use her communication device.

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The NAACP has become the latest organization to sue the Education Department over the distribution of more than $13 billion in federal aid intended for K-12 schools.

Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia is one of a growing number of K-12 school districts around the country deeming it too dangerous to teach students in person when classes restart this fall.

The school district — the state's largest — announced earlier this week that it would transition to all-virtual learning, reversing its previous plan to hold a mix of in-person and virtual classes.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said the change came down to prioritizing safety – and that will guide any decision to revert to in-person learning.

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President Trump returned to the briefing room yesterday after quite a hiatus.

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And he talked about the coronavirus pandemic a little differently than he has to date.

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Now we want to tell you about a remarkable young man named Rehan Staton. He's someone who knows a lot about getting knocked down and then getting right back up again.

When Irem Ozturk got the email from Dickinson College in mid-June announcing "we intend to bring all students back to campus," she was elated. She's originally from Turkey, but after two years on campus, she's come to think of Carlisle, Pa., as home. "I was thrilled because I felt like I was returning back home, excited to see friends and faculty," she says. "I felt happy. I felt like I had something to look forward to."

That happiness lasted a little more than a month.

Despite impassioned pleas from attorneys, a Texas school district is refusing to change its grooming policy that led to the suspension of two Black students earlier this year.

Ann Levett's worst day as superintendent of Savannah-Chatham County Public School System wasn't March 26, the day Georgia's governor first closed schools, keeping Levett's more than 37,000 students home in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Her worst day came just a couple of weeks ago, Levett says, when she realized the infection numbers around Savannah were so high that she wasn't going to be able to reopen schools.

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After camouflaged federal agents arrested protesters on the streets of Portland, Ore., President Trump now says he may be sending more federal agents to other U.S. cities.

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Courtesy of Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School

The District 186 school board voted to open registration and ask parents if they want their children to return to the classroom a few days a week, while learning online the other days, or participate only online. 

Carter Staley/NPR illinois

With just a few weeks to go before some schools are set to begin their fall semester, the Illinois Federation of Teachers issued a recommendation on Monday that called for students to begin the academic year learning remotely.  It is part of a larger union statement on the new school year.  

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