Toledo Public Schools offers fewer chances to take advanced courses

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  • Amanda Howard, 17, does lab work in an advanced-placement chemistry class at Southview High School.
    Amanda Howard, 17, does lab work in an advanced-placement chemistry class at Southview High School.

    Toledo Public high school students have fewer opportunities to take advanced-placement courses than students living in the suburbs, and the district has the lowest percentage in Lucas County of younger children identified as gifted.

    The disparity in advanced-placement high school courses was one of the first things William Harner the first choice to be the next TPS superintendent noticed when shopping online to find a school for his teenage daughter.

    Mr. Harner told The Blade that Sylvania s Northview High School was his choice over any Toledo high school because of what he found there. Northview offers 14 advanced-placement courses, and students enrolled there can travel to Sylvania s other high school, Southview, which offers 10 advanced-placement courses, including three not available at Northview.

    In Toledo, Waite High School has none; Scott, Woodward, and Libbey high schools each offer one advanced-placement course calculus; Bowsher High School has seven, and Start High School has the most with nine.

    In the two most predominantly African-American schools, Scott and Woodward, just four and six students, respectively, are enrolled in the advanced-placement calculus class.

    Alex Gilson, left, and David Grouls, both 18, pour potassium nitrate into a U-shaped tube that will serve as a salt bridge as they make batteries in Southview s advanced chemistry class.
    Alex Gilson, left, and David Grouls, both 18, pour potassium nitrate into a U-shaped tube that will serve as a salt bridge as they make batteries in Southview s advanced chemistry class.

    Ultimately, Mr. Harner withdrew from contract talks over an impasse regarding residency, and the board voted 4-1 Friday to negotiate with Interim Superintendent John Foley.

    Mr. Harner said none of the TPS high schools offered enough rigor for his 16-year-old daughter, who is in an international baccalaureate program in South Carolina.

    Mr. Harner s snub of Toledo Public s high schools was resented by some, but board member Darlene Fisher who cast the lone dissenting vote Friday said it should be a wake-up call.

    As a board, that is something we should take up because that s how we can recruit families here, the success of our students, and the professional development of teachers, Ms. Fisher said. If Dr. Harner s situation has brought that to light, then that is an important message for this community.

    Varied offerings

    Advanced-placement courses, which are sponsored by the College Board, are supplements to high school curricula and range from calculus, biology, and physics to music theory, studio art, and Latin. Students who enroll take a nationally standardized test and can receive college credit if they score high enough.

    Jan Kilbride, Toledo Public Schools chief academic officer, said advanced-placement courses are offered when there is a demand or when students express interest.

    We do encourage the schools to add to their offerings, and we partner with the University of Findlay and University of Toledo to offer college courses on our campuses, Ms. Kilbride said. I do believe we need to push harder to add more rigor to the curriculum.

    Students who take advanced-placement courses are more likely to graduate from college within four years and perform better than students who do not take the courses, according to a study by two University of Texas researchers.

    International baccalaureate courses, a smaller competitor to advanced placement, are not offered anywhere in the Toledo region.

    TPS has 464 students taking 922 postsecondary, or college-level, classes, and there are 153 students at the district s Early College High School on UT s Scott Park Campus.

    Students there can receive two years of college credit while going through their four years of high school.

    The disparity in Toledo s advanced-placement enrollment is reflected across the country.

    Sixty-two percent of all American high schools offered one or more advanced-placement courses in 2006, up from 57 in 2000.

    Black students made up about 14 percent of the student population last year but only 7 percent of students in advanced-placement courses, according to the College Board s latest annual report.

    A measuring stick?

    Some educators warn against using the number of advanced-placement courses as a measure of a school s rigor.

    Maumee Valley Country Day School, a private school in South Toledo, offers seven advanced-placement courses and is considering reducing the number.

    An increasing number of public schools are adding more advanced placement, said Bruce Carr, head of the high school there. While that s happening, there are also some schools that have begun to say advanced placement requires them to cover this broad-range material, and we don t give [students] the chance to dig into narrowing subjects.

    Genoa High School in Ottawa County doesn t offer any advanced-placement courses.

    Principal Jim Henline said advanced-placement courses are financially tough on the district because the class sizes are generally small.

    We would rather have those kids do postsecondary, he said. The kids stand a lot better chance of obtaining college credit.

    Although Toledo doesn t compare to its suburban counterparts for advanced-placement courses offered, Ms. Kilbride said students have opportunities to take courses at UT or the University of Findlay, college-level courses in their own schools, and honors classes, which are also accelerated.

    In fact, Start High School leads all of Lucas County s public high schools with 37 honors courses. Scott has 16, and Libbey has 11.

    Obviously, our test scores are lower, so when you look at test scores we do have to provide more intervention, Ms. Kilbride said. But we still offer the opportunity to achieve a high level of rigor that would get them into a college.

    The gifted issue

    In the lower grades, the 29,400-student Toledo Public Schools system identified less than 11 percent of children last school year as gifted.

    That s better than Cleveland, which had just 7.7, but well below affluent Ottawa Hills, which identified 50.7 percent of its students as gifted or the Anthony Wayne district, which had 27 percent.

    Most school districts have programs to serve their gifted students, and it usually involves pulling them out of class once a week for an hour to meet with a specialized teacher.

    The districts surrounding TPS spend more time and money on average on gifted programs, according to a review of programs by The Blade.

    Generally, the programs go into greater depth in subjects, work at a faster pace, and focus on higher-level thinking skills.

    In Toledo Public, a program called Horizons serves about 400 students, although it identified 3,332 students as gifted this year, according to district data.

    In Sylvania, a much smaller school system, the program is called G.AT.E. and serves 507 children in grades three through eight.

    We don t have to. We are not required, said Nancy Crandell, district spokesman. We feel it s very important to offer challenging curriculum to students that are advanced and looking for something more.

    In Springfield Local schools, which has 3,900 students, 297 students in grades one through eight are in the district s L.E.A.P. program for gifted children. Bowling Green City Schools offer two programs for students in grades four through six iden-tified through testing as gifted, and about 16 percent of the children in those grades take part.

    I think when you look at our program as a whole, it looks very, very good, Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said.

    He said Bowling Green High School does not go overboard on advanced-placement courses in part because of the proximity of Bowling Green State University, where a large number of students take college courses.

    A worthy investment

    Ohio high schools in general will likely become more rigorous. The new Ohio Core curriculum, championed by former Gov. Bob Taft, takes effect in the fall of 2010 and increases the math requirement for high school students from three to four years.

    Sylvania Schools Superintendent Brad Rieger agreed that it costs more money to offer advanced-placement courses and running gifted programs, but he said it s a worthy investment.

    From my standpoint, it s all about academic rigor and challenging our students through the advanced-placement course work, he said. Nowadays, every student has to have some kind of higher education and all students need to be in a college-bound track.

    Blade staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

    Contact Ignazio Messina at:imessina@theblade.comor 419-724-6171.