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For-profit school scheme
Using students as free labor

November 1, 2002 | Page 2

SCHOOLS SHOULD be run like businesses--and kids should be sweatshop workers. At least, that seems to be the theory of Edison Schools, Inc., the for-profit education company that runs dozens of schools in several cities across the country.

Critics accuse Edison of cutting corners--slashing special education services and programs for disabled students, increasing class sizes, hiring inexperienced teachers and dumping "problem students," who are often minorities.

But the ruthlessness of Edison's bottom-line philosophy hit new lows recently when the company's founder and chief executive Chris Whittle suggested that the company could save on labor costs--by having students do basic administrative jobs.

At a conference in Colorado, Whittle told school principals that middle and high school students would gain "valuable experience" in school offices. What he really meant is that the company could make students work for free.

Edison officials later said that Whittle's plan was just part of a "brainstorming session." But Edison is in financial trouble--because poor performance in the company's schools has led cities such as Boston and Dallas to cancel their contracts. This has meant disaster for students and teachers.

In Philadelphia, Edison is being paid a whopping $11.7 million a year for five years to manage 22 schools. Roy McKinney, the principal of Barratt Middle School--one of the most impoverished in the city--thought that Edison would make a difference when the company delivered new books, computers, art supplies and music equipment.

But those hopes were dashed when the company sent two tractor-trailers to haul everything away just days before school began in September. Apparently, the company "repossessed" its own equipment to ease its financial woes. "It was very painful," McKinney told Newsweek. "There is so much we needed for the students."

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