Tesseract on track

June 24, 1993

Tesseract, Baltimore's experiment in contracting education to a profit-making firm, is a year old, and the only people who don't want it to succeed may be officials of the Baltimore Teachers Union and a few diehards who think government operations are more efficient than private operations.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Superintendent Walter Amprey, members of the school board and most parents of the 4,800 students in the program are among its cheerleaders.

Results of the first year are mixed but promising, so much so that Dr. Amprey and Education Alternatives Inc., the Minnesota firm operating nine city schools under contract from the local government, would like to expand, perhaps to include more secondary schools so that students could spend their entire education careers in the innovative program.

Dr. Amprey's enthusiasm is understandable, especially since Tesseract has put city schools in the national spotlight. But expansion ought to be a slow and cautious process. True, initial reports are encouraging, but Tesseract was on a shakedown cruise during its first year, and thorough evaluation using objective criteria can't even be started until the end of the program's second year. Only then will we begin to know whether Tesseract is educationally beneficial.

Moreover, EAI, in addition to receiving $26.6 million in operating funds from the city, says it has invested or committed $7.6 million of its own money to install computers in the initial nine schools. That's wonderful, but is EAI prepared to commit that kind of money in schools that might be added to the program?

Questions about evaluation and financing are among many inquiries the city needs to ask of EAI as this unique and exciting public-private partnership proceeds.

Having noted all these reservations, we must say we are encouraged by the Tesseract experiment. So far, the program seems to have improved schools operating under EAI. With most of the initial snafus out of the way, we expect to see greater progress in the school year that begins this fall. If Dr. Amprey wants to expand the Tesseract experiment, he should do so on a limited basis until comprehensive evaluations are in hand. We'll know a lot more about Tesseract's strengths and weaknesses a year from now.

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