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Baltimore To Continue Contract With EAI To Run Nine Schools

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The city of Baltimore has agreed to continue its contract with Education Alternatives Inc. to run nine public schools there and help manage three others for at least one more year.

The decision by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke came just as the first major independent evaluation of eai's role in the city's schools gave mixed reviews to the closely watched school-privatization effort.

Baltimore school officials notified the Minneapolis-based eai early last month that the city that the city would not exercise an option to cancel the five-year contract, which is entering its fourth year. However, district officials said they plan to renegotiate some terms of the contract to make the for-profit company more accountable for improvements in student achievement.

Baltimore's experiment in private management of public schools has drawn a barrage of criticism from the Baltimore Teachers Union and others, who cite, among other problems, a lack of progress in raising student test scores at EAI-run schools.

Poor Planning Cited

The independent evaluation of the experiment by the Center for Educational Research at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County found that schools managed by the company have made only modest progress in improving student achievement, although they have made up the decline in standardized-test scores that occurred during the first year of EAI management.

The study notes that scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills in the 1994-95 school year were about the same as in 1992, before EAI took over, at the privatized schools, the control schools, and in the district as a whole.

The study criticizes EAI for poor strategic planning in staff training and in how classroom interns are used.

But the report suggests the experiment is worth continuing.

"Change takes time, and there has been an investment in the first three years that can be recouped by continuation" of the contract, the report concludes.

Ramon Harris, EAI's divisional president in Maryland, said the overall tone of the report was positive and that the company is addressing its concerns.

"The report pointed out the need to focus on our staff development and our intern program," Mr. Harris said. "We are in the process of doing that."

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