NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Schools Teach The Disadvantaged

April 18, 2000

Despite spending more than $120 billion over 30 years, Title I, the federal government's program of remedial reading and math instruction, has done virtually nothing to improve the academic performance of the economically disadvantaged children it attempts to help.

However, since the early 1990s several urban school districts around the nation have contracted with private remedial education companies such as Sylvan Learning Systems to work in the public schools using Title I and other public education funds. The students who are sent to Sylvan are among the worst performing of Title I students, yet they have made significant learning improvement. For example:

  • 75 percent of the students in the Sylvan program began the 1997-98 school year with California Achievement Test (a national standardized test) reading scores below the 25th percentile.
  • The U.S. Department of Education considers a gain of two Normal Curve Equivalents (NCEs), a standard for measuring student progress, to be acceptable improvement and a gain of seven exemplary.
  • Over the one-year period, the students who began with scores below the 25th percentile averaged a gain of eight NCEs for reading.

Although Sylvan has been the largest private provider of Title I services to public schools, other providers such as Kaplan Learning Services have also shown significant gains in student achievement in their public school programs.

The most striking difference between public Title I programs and public school contracts for private remedial education programs is the focus of the private programs on assessing the individual low-performing student to determine what kind of remedial help the student might need.

Source: Lisa Snell and Lindsay Anderson, "Remedial Education Reform: Private Alternatives to Traditional Title I," Policy Study 266, January 2000, Reason Public Policy Institute, 3415 S. Sepulveda Boulevard, Suite 400, Los Angeles, Calif. 90034, (310) 391-2245.

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