Head of the Class

Learning Curve

For many parents, price is not an issue-helping their kids learn is. Consider the success of Evelyn Peter-Lawshe's Reading and Language Arts Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Peter-Lawshe, 37, first got the idea for her company in 1988, when she was a homemaker who volunteered in her daughter's kindergarten class. "[Some students] were unable to write their names or do basic things I thought kids would need to do to become good readers," says Peter-Lawshe, who herself had trouble reading as a child.

She made such great progress helping those kids, the teacher began sending more and more children to see her both during the school day and after school. By 1991, Peter-Lawshe had opened the Reading and Language Arts Centers with $5,000 in start-up capital.

Peter-Lawshe figured if kids were having trouble reading and writing in a good school, then it must be happening everywhere. Today, parents shell out $40 to $50 an hour for individualized tutoring sessions with one of her 55 employees. In 1992, her first year in business, Peter-Lawshe took in $60,000; she estimates 1996 revenues will be $750,000.

Breakthrough Inc., an educational software company in Oakdale, Iowa, has also benefited from tapping into the remedial market. "More and more children are coming to school unprepared [to read basic textbooks]," says Carolyn Brown, Ph.D., who founded Breakthrough with her husband, Jerry Zimmermann, Ph.D., in 1987.

To help elementary school students learn to read, Brown, 43, and Zimmermann, 50, developed "Fundations in Reading"-a curriculum complete with computer software and printed materials. Based on Brown's doctoral research on early literacy, the program is sold to public schools and is designed so each child can work at his or her own pace at a computer workstation and receive individual instruction.

In 1994, the year Breakthrough Inc. began piloting the program in about 20 schools, sales hit $1 million. As for this year, Zimmermann and Brown estimate "Fundations in Reading" will be in more than 100 schools nationwide, with sales of more than $2 million.

Leah Ingram is a freelance writer and the author of 14 books, including Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier on Less (Adams Media, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the June 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Head of the Class.

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