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End academic segregation



Sadly, Oklahoma continues to practice a less obvious, but equally pernicious, form of segregation — one based on school size and inadequate academic offerings.

Worst of all, recent legislation to address this injustice has been sidetracked by objections from the usual suspects who seem to resist every worthy school reform: the school administrators themselves. They pressured the state Board of Education to delay rules requiring small schools to allow their students to benefit from online classes, a reform that would finally end academic segregation.

For decades, the makers of the ACT test and other academic researchers have told us of a simple formula that would assure better college readiness for all students: Offer a full menu of challenging core academic courses in high school.

School size is the single greatest predictor of adequate course work, for the simple reason that small schools cannot offer classes like calculus or advanced-placement history because they lack faculty qualified to teach them and the student population eager to take them. That’s a central reason small schools tend to score much lower on the ACT.

Not every student wants to take calculus or physics, but those who do need access to those options. In small schools, those options usually don’t exist.

Of Oklahoma’s 522 public school districts, around 400 have less than 1,000 students in grades K-12. They serve approximately 20 percent of our student population, and they are the very schools least likely to offer strong academics to kids who might want to jump-start a future career as an engineer, physician or academic.

Enter Senate Bill 2319, passed in the 2010 legislative session to mandate that all state schools offer online course options. Under this law, students at small schools could go to a computer lab and access a course in organic chemistry or advanced-placement English. It might be provided by a multi-school consortium or even streamed from a state university campus, but it would certainly challenge them and offer a learning opportunity they never had before.

Online education is an elegant solution that would use the power of technology to break through the small-school barrier and open doors for every student in Oklahoma, regardless of school size.

But school officials objected to the proposed rules to implement this vital legislation. They convinced the Board of Education to delay them, and there may be further holding actions by some small-school administrators who seem to think that any reform that upsets their cherished status quo is bad.

Universal online learning could be the most important reform to hit Oklahoma education in decades. School officials who take seriously their mission to educate kids should embrace, not obstruct, it.

Brake was chief writer for former Gov. Frank Keating and former U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin.

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