But a first-of-its-kind analysis of high-school courses offered by Ohio districts finds that students living in poorer, more rural areas of the state have access to fewer overall classes, and far fewer high-level courses, than do students living in suburban and urban districts.
The analysis, completed at the urging of public-school groups including the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, found that districts classified by the state as rural average fewer than 6.5 high-level courses: upper-level math, Advanced Placement, general advanced courses and nontraditional foreign languages such as German and Chinese.
Meanwhile, suburban districts average 26 high-level courses, based on data filed with the Ohio Department of Education.
“I always knew anecdotally that there was a disparity from district to district,” said state Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, who represents a number of rural districts in southern Ohio. “When I saw these numbers, it pretty well quantified it for us. It was probably a much greater disparity than I realized.”
Smith said he has a nephew and three nieces who attend New Albany schools, and he is in awe of their programs.
“They put all their kids into position to succeed,” he said. “I don’t pretend that we’re ever going to see that level. But a base level for all kids in the state, we need to determine that.”
The data show that the average rural district has 146 high-school courses, compared with 241 at suburban schools. However, the actual number of courses offered by all districts is smaller because the data list some courses multiple times if they are offered in more than one grade.
“This needs to be viewed along with the poverty data as clear evidence that we are not providing the same level of education opportunity for various kids in the state of Ohio,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.
Separate state data show a direct negative correlation between academic success and poverty rates in Ohio schools.
“If we have children with such a limited opportunity to take courses, we need to find an answer for that,” Lehner said.
Lehner, Smith and others want to take a more serious look at ways to level the field, including interactive distance learning, in which a teacher can present a class to students in a number of districts. State data show that 99 percent of high-school courses are taught face to face.
Berne Union Local Schools, a rural, low-wealth district in Fairfield County, recently started an online academy.