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To expand in city, Sylvan must show tutoring helps


Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., negotiating with Baltimore officials to double the number of tutoring centers it operates in nTC city schools, must show proof of the centers' effectiveness to win a city contract for expansion.

Sylvan and school officials are seeking city approval to expand from 14 centers to 29 centers serving more than 4,000 students. Six centers are to open by tomorrow.

Wednesday, the Board of Estimates postponed action on the full $9 million, three-year contract, calling on school and Sylvan officials to document student progress at the existing centers before asking for more. Those centers, in 11 schools, cost the city about $2.2 million a year, said Sylvan's vice president, Paula Singer.

City officials said the specter of the Educational Alternatives Inc. contract, being renegotiated to tie EAI's profits to its students' academic progress, hangs over them as they consider the school system's Sylvan proposal. EAI manages and consults at 12 city schools.

"We can't just approve an expansion this big without seeing some evidence of Sylvan's progress or test scores," said board Chairwoman and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"I've used Sylvan as an example of the kind of contract that has a performance guarantee built in, and now I'd like to see whether they've delivered at the centers they already run," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said afterward that he wants Sylvan's performance analyzed in a way that will allow officials to compare it to other private school services operating in public schools. For example, he wants to compare Sylvan's student achievement to that at the Barclay school, a city elementary school that has purchased the private Calvert School's "back to basics" curriculum.

The board Wednesday approved funding only for six new learning centers set to open by tomorrow for summer school at four middle schools and one elementary school. It postponed until its next meeting a ruling on the funding request for fall to open nine more centers. The sites include Arnett J. Brown and Calverton middle schools, operating this year under state orders to improve.

Sylvan centers also are proposed for four of the 27 struggling schools recently targeted for reform by Baltimore school administrators.

Columbia-based Sylvan, which operates a nationwide chain of tutoring and testing centers, sells supplemental education services to public school systems. It launched its school tutoring business in Baltimore in five city schools in 1993. This week, it announced a new contract with five St. Paul, Minn., schools, and it runs centers in schools in Washington, D.C., and Pasadena, Texas. In Maryland, Sylvan has one center in Baltimore County and several in Dorchester and Talbot counties.

The centers and their services would be tailored for individual schools, but share basic Sylvan methods and tools. At Sylvan's centers, three to five students are assigned to a teacher who tests and monitors individual progress. Computers are used for instruction and practice. Children earn rewards for effort and skill mastery -- tokens tallied in a checkbook used to buy trinkets, toys and T-shirts displayed in the centers.

When its students do not master skills at the rates specified in Sylvan's contracts with the schools, the company loses profits by paying the schools back -- in hours of additional teaching time, said Douglas Becker, company president.


Centers to open by tomorrow:

West Baltimore Middle

Lombard Middle

Booker T. Washington Middle

Garrison Middle

Diggs-Johnson Middle

George Kelson Elementary

Centers sought by September:

Thurgood Marshall Middle No. 171

Arnett J. Brown Middle

Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle

Calverton Middle

Highlandtown Middle

Gilmor Elementary

Langston Hughes Elementary

Guilford Elementary

Brehms Lane Elementary

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