by Carolyn Bower
The Hazelwood School District has rebuffed a private tutoring provider with ties to the founder of Scientology, but parents will have the final say in whether they use the company.
The tutoring company, Applied Scholastics International, has made numerous overtures to the school district, Hazelwood superintendent Chris Wright said.
“We are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics,” Wright wrote earlier this month. Her comments were in a letter to Bennetta Slaughter, chief executive officer of Applied Scholastics.
Applied Scholastics is one of 68 tutors on a state list of approved supplemental educational service providers in Missouri. Mary Adams, senior vice president for external affairs for Applied Scholastics, said the company was not faith-based but was based on methods developed by the late L. Ron Hubbard, the developer of the religious philosophy of Scientology.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, any high-poverty school that fails to meet standards three years in a row must offer free tutoring. More than 100 schools have been on Missouri’s list of those needing improvement, but not all of those have to offer tutoring.
Most of the approved tutoring providers are private companies. Nationwide, hundreds of new businesses have jumped into the lucrative market of tutoring low-performing students. The influx has concerned some parents and teachers who worry about a lack of state and federal guidelines for evaluating the providers at a time when public schools face strict performance requirements.
Applied Scholastics opened in north St. Louis County in July 2003. On the Missouri education department Web site, Applied Scholastics goes by the name Spanish Lake Academy Tutoring Center/Applied Scholastics International and lists an intention to serve all schools in Missouri.
The Applied Scholastics center also offers teacher training. Two St. Louis public schools – Fanning and Long middle schools – sent teachers to the center this fall to learn about teaching. Some teachers and parents raised concerns about that with union Local 420, said Byron Clemens, the union’s first vice president.
St. Louis Superintendent Creg Williams later said the district would not use the center for training. No one from the St. Louis schools uses Applied Scholastics for tutoring, but parents have the option to choose anyone on the state’s list, said Johnny Little, a district spokesman.
Wright said Hazelwood offered its own tutors and did not use Applied Scholastics or any outside providers. Although many Hazelwood students have tutors for various reasons, only 11 of 334 eligible students get it under the supplemental provider program. Those 11 use district tutors.
Dee Beck, director of federal programs for Missouri’s education department, confirmed that picking a tutor is up to a parent, working with a district from the state list of approved providers.
In a letter sent Oct. 4 to Missouri’s education commissioner, D. Kent King, Wright said Applied Scholastics had “approached the district many, many times to try to get us to send teachers to their training, to get us to use their ‘instructional materials’ or to otherwise connect themselves to our children and families.
“We investigated them thoroughly at the time and found that they were closely connected to the Church of Scientology,” Wright wrote. “We made the decision that this connection was not in the interests of our children ….”
Wright asked that the state tighten its screening of tutoring companies. “I hope that you will evaluate those programs that have already been approved and establish some criteria for their approval,” she wrote.
Adams said she preferred not to comment on Wright’s letters, to avoid continuing what she considers “a miscommunication,” and would like to be neighborly to the Hazelwood district.
Beck said the state reviewed providers once a year, in spring. When a tutoring company applies to be on the list, three people look at the application. The application requires information about fees, when and where tutoring will take place and general qualifications of tutors. She said the state planned to revise applications to ask for more information. State officials also want to begin visiting tutoring sites.
“We are all learning how to do this better,” Beck said.