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Baltimore Close to Signing Contract With Private Company to Run Nine City Schools

CITY school officials, faced with tight finances, sporadic violence, and a high dropout rate, want to see if a Minnesota company can do a better job of educating students.

A tentative agreement reached last week with Education Alternatives Inc. to run nine schools is a large-scale example of business involvement in public education.

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"This type of arrangement will probably be the wave of the future. We feel comfortable that this will be successful," said Dr. Charlene Cooper-Boston, director of central district schools in Baltimore.

Dr. Cooper-Boston became a supporter of the Minneapolis company's educational approach after visiting a private school it runs in Eagan, Minn.

"In Minnesota, we saw a program that took much of the research on how children learn best and put it into practice," she said. "We saw that the rooms were vibrant and alive. It was an exciting place."

The company's operation of eight elementary schools and one middle school in Baltimore this fall would be based on its "Tesseract system," a term from Madeleine L'Engle's children's book "A Wrinkle in Time" that is meant to suggest innovation.

"Every child has gifts and talents; it's our job to find and nurture them," said John Golle, EAI's chairman and chief executive officer.

Instead of one teacher lecturing students, a master teacher and an associate are used. Together, they determine how each child learns best, and individual learning plans are made.

Academic competition between children is discouraged and traditional grades are discarded. Parents are required to attend four conferences with teachers each year.

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Baltimore's school board is expected to give final approval of the EAI experiment July 15.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and teachers' union leaders in Baltimore have tentatively endorsed the plan.

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