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Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. has won its first major contract in California to provide supplemental education services to children in a public school district.

Baltimore-based Sylvan's contract with the 29,000-student Compton, Calif., district is also the company's largest initial entry into a district, the company said.

Sylvan is best known for its private, for-profit learning centers that provide instruction for students after school. But it has moved aggressively in the past few years to provide contract services to public schools, including some in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington.

The Compton district near Los Angeles has been under state control for four years. In a state assessment in 1993-94, only 1 percent of 10th graders and 3 percent of 8th graders there were proficient in math. More than one-third of children in the city live in poverty.

The $5.4 million contract will cover 1,200 students in eight schools, where children will receive extra help with reading and math during the school day. The district is using money from its allocation of federal Title I remedial education funding. The contract was announced last month, and Sylvan has already begun moving into the schools.

The company typically transforms a school classroom into a setting resembling its suburban retail learning centers, with new carpeting, furniture, and computers. Sylvan tests students and then devises a remedial plan tailored to each child.

Revenues for companies involved in the for-profit management of public and private K-12 schools more than doubled last year to reach $1 billion, according to a study by EduVentures Inc.

The Boston-based research firm said growth in the K-12 schools sector was fueled in part by the increasing involvement of private companies in managing charter schools.

Companies in this category include the Edison Project and Tesseract Inc. (formerly Education Alternatives Inc.), both of which manage public or charter schools, and Nobel Education Dynamics Inc., which runs a chain of for-profit private schools.

The research report says the overall for-profit education industry grew more than 23 percent in 1997, reaching $64 billion in revenue. EduVenture's definition of the industry includes educational publishing, school supplies, for-profit child care, supplemental learning services, corporate training, and K-12 school management.

--MARK WALSH [email protected]

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