Rural Oklahoma Lacks Advanced Education Options

by Phil Cross

Students in rural Oklahoma are less likely to be able to take advanced classes in high school according to testimony during an interim study by the House Common Education committee. 

Throughout the state Oklahoma offers 36 of the 38 approved Advanced Placement, or AP, courses according to Ryan Walters, the executive director of Oklahoma Achieves.  Walters testified Wednesday before the House Common Education Committee that access to those AP courses is largely determined by where you live in Oklahoma.

Nearly 60% of all Oklahoma high-schools offer no AP courses according to research by the non-partisan education group organized by the State Chamber of Commerce.  Walters presented the information showing about 20% of high schools offer five or more AP courses, but those schools are concentrated in urban areas of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Achieves said their data indicates there are 420 rural, or small-town, high schools in Oklahoma and only 149 of those schools offer the advanced courses. 

AP Courses are more difficult than regular high-school classes and, in some instances, can count for college credit.  The concern, according Miranda Lopez the counselor for Elgin High School, is some students have to decide if they will take the AP course or if they will concurrently enroll in a local community college.  Lopez said access to high-school extra-curricular activities plays a role in the decision-making process for students choosing between taking an on-campus AP course or attending a college course at nearby Cameron University. 

Another concern Walters addressed was that while most Oklahoma Schools will accept community college credits, some out-of-state schools will not recognize or accept the credits.  AP Courses, according to Walters, are governed by The College Board and are accepted for college credit by out-of-state institutions.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education told lawmakers the reason why some smaller districts may not offer AP course is money.  It can cost between $2,000 to $10,000 to set up an AP Course.  That startup cost is just for the training and course materials and does not include a teacher’s salary said Robbyn Glinsmann, the OSDE director of Gifted and Talented/AP

Glinsmann said in the past the state was able to offer grants for schools to cover some of the startup costs, but that funding has been cut in recent years.  However, the OSDE does provide funding to help low-income students afford the tests associated with AP Courses. 

According to the OSDE, the most popular AP Courses in Oklahoma are AP Language, AP Literature, U.S. History, World History and Psychology.

One potential solution for rural schools, according to Glinsmann, is a partnership with the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.  The OSSM can provide a free virtual course to any Oklahoma high school using its staff and teachers.  The students who take the AP course still get to stay in their home district, but get the benefit of the advanced education.  There are still limitations in this option because the OSSM does not offer the full range of AP Courses available.

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