Education | St. Louis Public Radio

Education

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth / St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Wednesday that two of the state's high school annual assessments, administered during the 2016-2017 school year are "unusable."

The results for the Algebra I and English II  exam, known as the end-of-course tests, won't factor into the 2017 school accountability measurements, and won’t be publicly reported.

The state is blaming the test maker, Questar Assessment, for making the results incomparable to the tests administered in the 2015-2016 school year.

Affton High School seniors Malahja Smith (left) and Isabella Millen participate in a discussion in their cultural studies class, Other Voices, Other Rooms on Aug. 23, 2017.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

An uncomfortable silence broke up the thriving discussion about race in Affton High School teacher Brian Jennings’ class this week.

He had just asked the dozen or so white male teenagers in the room how they’d feel if all monuments of people who looked like them were taken down across the United States.

The question was one of several Jennings posed to his senior cultural studies English class, which he’d always used to address race and prejudice. But the current political climate and this month’s violent white nationalist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, forced the conversation to happen as school began.

East St. Louis teachers walk out of their union hall after voting to approve a tentative contract agreement and end a month-long teacher strike Friday Oct. 30, 2015.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois’ teacher pension system creates an unequal funding structure between rich and poor public school districts, a report released Wednesday said.

That’s because the state pays the majority of teachers’ pensions, which are tied to a teacher’s salary. The more the teacher earns, the more the state’s share of his or her pension. According to the nonpartisan Bellwether Education Partners report, when pay and benefits are factored in, the gap between per-student funding in rich and poor schools widens.

Third-grader Donoven Cruz tries out his eclipse glasses with classmates while looking up at a projector light at Gotsch Intermediate School in Affton. Aug. 17, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

One of the first science lessons of the year for thousands of students in Illinois and Missouri won’t happen in the classroom, but high above it.

Teachers are using Monday’s solar eclipse as an opportunity to inspire a new generation of stargazers, stockpiling special viewing glasses and planning activities and eclipse-specific lessons.

Of course, there’s the other side of the moon: Dozens of schools in the St. Louis area are closing, mostly for safety reasons.

Ninth-graders take notes during a social studies class at the recently opened KIPP St. Louis High School on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

KIPP St. Louis is taking its disciplined approach to education to high schoolers.

The charter school network opened a high school this week to go with its two elementary and two middle schools. It’s also one of three new charter schools opening for the 2017-18 academic year in St. Louis.

But overall, charter school growth in St. Louis is slowing from its peak during 2009, 2010 and 2011; there are 33 charter schools in the city.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3:20 p.m. Aug. 15 with details from the State Board of Education meeting — Missouri’s board of education will stay out of the process to return decision-making control to St. Louis Public Schools after a decade, at least for now.

The decision came Tuesday at the Missouri State Board of Education meeting.

Though ending state oversight of SLPS is up to the board, it has no obligation to be involved in the transition process.

East St. Louis instructional coach Tracee Wells taught AVID to Chaya Cary, 16. Cary is studying at Southwestern Illinois College in the fall of 2017. "We don't hear enough about these kinds of stories coming out of East St. Louis," Wells said.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Belleville’s two public high schools have doubled the number of low-income students and students of color in advanced placement courses in the coming school year — part of a statewide goal to enroll 100,000 underrepresented students in such classes by 2019.

And East St. Louis Senior High is encouraging students to try more rigorous coursework even if they aren’t the top students.

Experts say high schoolers who take challenging classes have a leg up in college. But studies show black students, Latino students and low-income students are less likely to take them.

Sparta Public Schools Superintendent Gabe Schwemmer said her district doesn't have bonding authority, so it's borrowing from banks in order to open this year. Aug. 11, 2017
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Dozens of Metro East school superintendents made one thing clear Friday: They need state money, and they need it now.

Illinois’ new school funding formula is tied up in another political battle, one that could end next week when lawmakers have a chance to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s partial veto.

Construction workers finish up work on the new Stone Creek Elementary School in the Wentzville School District on July 25, 2017. It's one of two new schools that will open next week.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Signs along the road leading to one of the new elementary schools in the Wentzville School District advertise newly constructed homes for sale. It’s something district officials say they closely track, along with hospital birth records.

The data tells them that the district’s rapid growth — the quickest in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — won’t level off soon. To keep pace, Wentzville is opening two elementary schools this month.

Wentzville’s late to the expansion party in St. Charles County, where the population has been growing steadily for three decades.

Ashley Lock peers out of the window during a district bus tour for new teachers at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, where she'll teach history.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

As children and teens across the St. Louis area enjoy their last few days of freedom before school resumes, districts are putting teachers — old and new — to work.

It’s an especially busy time for new hires, who have to deal with several days of paperwork, learn technology and navigate unfamiliar schools.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:45 p.m. August 2 to correct the percentage of KIPP St. Louis' budget that goes toward marketing in 7th paragraph Photos of smiling children in school uniforms grace the sides of buses, large billboards and flyers in mailboxes throughout the St. Louis area. Those images — and the selling points written underneath them — are meant for parents trying to figure out which school to send their kids.

With the dozens of charter schools and St. Louis Public Schools vying for students (and the state tax dollars that follow), the institutions have to act more like businesses, marketing themselves — sometimes heavily.

Eureka residents fill sandbags outside Eureka High School in April in preparation for the Meramec River's rising waters. Flooding this spring caused about $1.5 million in damage to the school, according to the district.
Provided | Rockwood School District

St. Louis County is one of the highest-risk counties in the United States for flooding in schools, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report released Tuesday.

The 100 most at-risk counties identified in the report have 6,444 schools educating nearly 4 million students. Three of those are in St. Louis County, and one of them, Eureka High School, has flooded twice in as many years.

Katey Finnegan demonstrates how to use the chill zone, a space where students can take time to regroup while at the Maplewood Richmond Heights district's Student Success Center.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area school districts are in the midst of a discipline revolution. After the Ferguson Commission in 2015 recommended banning suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade, schools began looking at how to address the root causes of difficult behavior.

Twenty-one districts pledged to at least attempt to reduce suspensions, and two have followed through, but officials say it can be tough to do without substantially investing time and money.

School Illustration
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Officials in Metro East K-12 school districts say they have teacher shortages in some subject areas. But new teacher licensing rules that went into effect July 1 may help.

Campers listen to Katie Dreas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explain foliage during a summer camp at Little Creek Nature Center on July 17, 2017.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Children benefit from a balanced diet of screen time and outdoors time, studies show.

In the St. Louis area, several camps and summer youth jobs focus on environmental education and exploration. St. Louis Public Radio visited a smattering of them to see what kids are learning.

Elliot Haney | via Flickr

College freshmen who loathe math, rejoice: Algebra may not be a factor when it comes to earning a degree from Missouri public colleges and universities.

Under the guidance of the Missouri Department of Higher Education, all but one school (Truman State) have divided mathematics requirements into different “Math Pathways” that align with students’ majors. Beginning in the fall semester, science or engineering students will still need to take algebra, but a liberal arts student will take statistics or a mathematical reasoning course.

Jennings Superintendent Art McCoy talks with students in a construction course at Jennings High School on Jan. 30, 2017.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

All of Jennings High School’s most recent senior class is either bound for college or has found employment, according to the district.

That does include McDonald’s for some grads, but district administrators said the fast-food chain is a partner and enrolled students into its college scholarship program.

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri education officials are promoting a free, online resource to help kids practice math skills over the summer. Studies show students can lose more than two months of progress during the break.

Kids sitting on the floor in a classroom
Phil Roeder | Flickr

Illinois passed a budget Thursday for the first time since 2015, and is giving more money to education than in previous spending plans.

But several years of prorated and delayed state aid have forced K-12 school districts in St. Clair and Madison counties to cut staff, increase class sizes, take on debt and deplete cash reserves. And, like the state’s finances, it’s going to take time for districts to bounce back.

School bus
Vipal | Flickr

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens temporarily pulled $15 million worth of funding for school transportation on June 30, leaving many rural districts in the lurch when it comes to paying for busing.

But school administrators say they have to get kids to the buildings, so taking buses off the road isn’t an option. And parents often don’t have the means or the time to drive those long distances.

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Federal financial aid for low-income students that's now available all year could push more students through community colleges faster and increase the likelihood of them earning a degree.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the return of year-round Pell Grants for the fiscal year that began July 1. And with large portions of students studying at community colleges eligible for the grant program, it could increase summer enrollment figures.

Schoolbus
Phil Roeder | Flickr

Of the states that turned in their homework early to the U.S. Department of Education for how they’ll roll out a major overhaul in education policy, Illinois’ adaptation got a mixed grade in an independent review.

Bellwether Education Partners, a research and policy think tank, read through 17 state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act submitted in April and scored them in a report published this week. It found Illinois’ plan has certain aspects to be commended, but is also light on specifics in several other parts.

Leslie, right, on a walk with her mom near their St. Louis County home. Leslie is gender-fluid and a rising sophomore at Parkway West High School only has one restroom she can use.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s one gender-neutral restroom at Parkway West High School. It’s in the nurse’s office.

Depending on where her classes are, getting there can be a long walk for Leslie. She’s a 15-year-old with a punk-rock look: bright blue hair, dark jeans that are ripped at the knees, a T-shirt and Converse All-Star sneakers. Leslie was born female, but now identifies as gender-fluid. Neither gender feels right to her, which is why she’s uncomfortable with using single-sex, multi-stall bathrooms.

Dr. Sheandra Brown and Kristy Jackson are two local educators who recently spoke at The Crooked Room Conference at UMSL, which focused on improving outcomes for African American girls and women in education.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a growing body of research that shows African-American girls are punished in school at rates much higher than girls of any other race.

St. Louis city students ride a Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, VICC, school bus on May 11, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri is doing “only what’s necessary” to meet new federal education guidelines and still be eligible for the funds tied to them, state education officials said Tuesday.

The state education department also is revising its School Improvement Program for the sixth time, so it’s hard to know what the future of school accountability will look like in Missouri.

Darnell Loyd, of Northwest Academy of Law High School, is one of 50 students enrolled in Washington University's summer College Prep Program.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Washington University is a top-tier college, attracting both the nation’s smartest and richest students. That often puts the private university on the wrong end of rankings for socioeconomic diversity.

To reverse that distinction, Wash U is halfway through an effort to have at least 13 percent of its students be from low-income backgrounds or be the first in their family to attend college. But proponents of college access say the goal isn’t ambitious enough — and won’t help foster a different atmosphere on campus.

Obinno Coley is the entrepreneurship teacher at Normandy High School.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

On Obinno Coley’s first day as a student teacher at McCluer North, his supervisor had to leave when his wife went to the hospital to have a baby.

“He gave me a book and said: ‘you’re on your own,'” Coley told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Monday. “I worked with that book for the next three months and at the end of it I said ‘wherever I go, I will bring this with me.’”

Educator Thomas Hoerr recently wrote a book called "The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy and Other Success Skills Students Need."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

“Grit” is a word we often hear that students should possess. But how is such a quality instilled in young people? And is that enough to make them successful?

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, author, educator and scholar Thomas Hoerr joined us to discuss his new book “The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy and Other Success Skills Students Need.”

Maryville University's esports team playing in April.
Courtesy of Maryville University

Updated at 6:20 a.m. May 29 with tournament results — Battling in the video game "League of Legends" is a team sport, just like basketball, according to Marko Fosniki. Everyone has a role and a position.

Unlike basketball, he and his teammates are still working on how to play it: “Literally we’re the first generation and we have to figure out all the mistakes we make on our own and we can help our teammates out that way.”

The Maryville University esports team successfully defended its title in Los Angeles this weekend, beating the University of Toronto in Sunday's finals

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers, with full GOP control of the legislature and governor’s office, seemed ready to pass a number of school choice bills when they gathered earlier this year.

Months later, they have nothing to show for it: No expansion of charter schools throughout Missouri, no creation of scholarships that certain students could use for private school and no overhaul of the student transfer rules for failing school districts.

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