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Published in Print: November 2, 2005, as Huntington Learning Center

Leveling the Playing Field: Huntington Learning Center

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Alexander Tran, right, 13, brushes up on his language arts skills at the Woodland Hills branch of the Huntington Learning Center on a Monday night.
Alexander Tran, right, 13, brushes up on his language arts skills at the Woodland Hills branch of the Huntington Learning Center on a Monday night.
—Ringo H. W. Chiu for Education Week

Huddled around study carrels spread throughout the “learning center floor,” students of varying ages work on assignments in their notebooks. Tutors—many of them moonlighting teachers, or college students close to earning their teaching credentials—work with three or four youngsters at a time.

The environment is quiet and serious, with few distractions. In the corner of the room at the Huntington Learning Center here, a tutor advises a young girl working on a computer. It’s the only computer on the floor, other than those used by the staff.

“Our teaching program doesn’t involve sitting in front of the computer,” whispers Mike Kent, a regional director for the Oradell, N.J.-based company. Instead, he says, tutors operate the “good, old-fashioned” way, with “good curriculum and good teaching.”

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“It’s as much about building their confidence and their motivation as it is building their skills,” Kent says of the tutors’ work with students.

Thuvy Tran, a parent living in Canoga Park, Calif., was drawn to the chain’s reputation. “They’ve been there, and they have the experience,” she says. Alexander, her 13-year-old son, tried other tutoring methods, she says, but didn’t improve his grades in language arts until he started at the center. Still, he complains that the two-hour session is too long.

As the students complete their assignments—which they’ll stick with until they show that they’ve mastered the material—it’s impossible to tell who has parents paying for the sessions and who is here because of the free tutoring services available through the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Huntington Learning Center

Founded: 1977 by educators Raymond and Eileen Huntington; now has 260 for-profit centers nationwide.

Education Model: Offers individualized instruction, conferences with parents about a child's progress, and site visits.

Size: Tutoring 305 students in LAUSD.

Located next to a real estate office and across from a shopping mall, the Woodland Hills center draws families from some of the more affluent communities in the west San Fernando Valley. But this area is also within the Los Angeles Unified School District’s local district 1, which has 12 schools on the “program improvement” list under the NCLB law, including Alexander’s, Columbus Middle School.

Kent notes, though, that not all of the students need the extra help. While some have pretested only at the 10th percentile on diagnostic tests given when children start the program, others have scored in the 90th percentile. In either case, Kent adds, they’re getting an opportunity that would cost a paying family close to $1,600 for the 38 hours of tutoring they provide.

“Why shouldn’t these kids have a shot at a good college?” he asks.

Vol. 25, Issue 10, Page 28

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