LIVE@CoSN2024: Exclusive Coverage


Rural kids get fewer AP classes

Where a student lives shouldn’t determine the type of education he or she receives–and this is especially true for rural students

rural-onlineStudents in Dublin schools can pick among dozens of rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement studio art, computer science and calculus, along with engineering design, statistics, theater and a variety of International Baccalaureate classes.

They can learn foreign languages including Japanese, German, Latin and Chinese.

In all, Dublin offers 92 advanced courses to students. That’s 10 times as many as are available to Hamilton Local students on the other end of Franklin County. According to state data, they have nine available.

“We can’t afford to have a class with five students in it,” said Susan Witten, Hamilton’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “If we have a student interested in Advanced Placement French, for instance, we can arrange for independent study.”

Where a student lives in Ohio is not supposed to determine the type of education he or she receives. That was the key underpinning for the DeRolph school-funding lawsuit that successfully argued that state leaders were not providing a thorough and efficient education as required by the state Constitution. The presumption also has been at the heart of ongoing debates over how the state distributes billions of dollars to more than 600 school districts.

(Next page: Efforts to connect rural students to learning opportunities)

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.

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.’”

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio). Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

New Resource Center
Explore the latest information we’ve curated to help educators understand and embrace the ever-evolving science of reading.
Get Free Access Today!

"*" indicates required fields

Email Newsletters:

By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.