Rural kids get fewer AP classes

With a high-school enrollment of 325, the district offers no Advanced Placement classes or foreign languages other than Spanish, said Superintendent Richard Spindler.

Instead, the district contracted with a private company to provide online courses and hired a coordinator who monitors students’ work. Students are taking 90 courses, most of them Advanced Placement or a foreign language, Spindler said.

“I think it helps,” he said. “But I still don’t believe the online courses are the same quality you receive with a face-to-face teacher every day. But this has been the only way we’ve been able to offer Advanced Placement courses, and it’s really great for elective courses.”

Andrew Benson, who advises a national education nonprofit group called Students First on blended learning and other issues, called the variation between Dublin and Hamilton Local schools “ jaw-dropping,” particularly because they are in the same county.

“It’s a resource problem. The smaller districts don’t have enough money or enough students,” Benson said. “Distance learning or blended learning can bring those resources to districts where they are not available, as long as we can wire up and provide high-speed (Internet) access to school districts.”

The analysis found that Ohio’s six largest urban districts generally offer the most courses, although their numbers are padded by career-tech classes. Considering those districts’ generally poor academic results, the number of courses has some people wondering if the districts need to pare down and focus.

“When you think of the results that they’ve had, are we spreading ourselves too far?” Smith said.
The course-offering disparities are expected to be raised as part of next year’s state budget debate.

“Everyone talks about money, but we think the discussion should be about educational opportunities for kids,” said Tom Ash of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

Districts including New Albany, Olentangy, Hilliard and Dublin have argued that as their student populations have grown, they are not getting a fair return from the state funding formula, particularly considering how much residents there pay in state income taxes, which are used to fund all Ohio schools.

In May, Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, proposed a new minimum for state funding that would have provided about $30 million for 30 suburban districts. The proposal was not adopted, but the debate is all but guaranteed to arise again when Gov. John Kasich introduces his proposed two-year budget in February.

“The state’s role should be to make sure everyone has a certain level of quality and access,” Lehner said.

Relative to household incomes, residents in districts offering fewer courses are not necessarily paying less in taxes.

The state calculates the effort that local taxpayers are making to support their schools. Of the 217 districts that report offering fewer than 150 courses, state data say 53 percent are making a greater-than-average effort to fund their districts.

Meanwhile, of the 25 suburban districts that offer the most courses, 20 have lower-than-average local-taxpayer efforts to fund their schools, including Dublin, Hilliard, Olentangy, Westerville, Worthington and Upper Arlington.

Rep. Smith said he has pointed out the disparity in course offerings to his local superintendents. They understand it, he said, but as they deal with daily challenges, ideas such as distance learning are not foremost on their minds.

“The consistent response I get back: ‘We’re trying to keep our head above water and offer what we can.’”

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