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Private Education Corporation Sells Students' Textbooks for Cash As Its Stock Plunges: What's Next at Edison Schools in Philadelphia? Possibly Child Labor

October 31, 2002

"Students already have to worry about exams, essay deadlines and staying awake through math class. In Philadelphia, they have a new worry: What if your school becomes a victim of the stock market meltdown?"

That’s how an article by Doug Saunders in yesterday’s Toronto Globe and Mail began.

The article is about Edison Schools in Philadelphia. The city handed twenty of its worst-off schools to the private, for-profit company last year.

Edison promised to provide computers, books and new curriculums, and to raise test scores. In exchange, the school board would give the company $881 a student.

But now, Saunders writes, those institutions appear to be going the way of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. Over the summer, Edison’s shares slid from the year’s high of over $21 to less than fifty cents on the Nasdaq. The firm has been threatened with removal from the Nasdaq if the price doesn’t rise above $1 by late November.

Saunder’s continues:

“In the classroom, this has had some bizarre effects.

“Days before classes were to begin in September, trucks arrived to take away most of the textbooks, computers, lab supplies and musical instruments the company had provided — Edison had to sell them off for cash. Many students were left with decades-old books and no equipment.

“A few weeks later, some of the company’s executives moved into offices inside the schools so Edison could avoid paying the $8,750 monthly rent on its Philadelphia headquarters. They stayed only a few days, until the school board ordered them out.

“As a final humiliation, Chris Whittle, the company’s charismatic chief executive and founder, recently told a meeting of school principals that he’d thought up an ingenious solution to the company’s financial woes: Take advantage of the free supply of child labor, and force each student to work an hour a day, presumably without pay, in the school offices.

"'We could have less adult staff,' Mr. Whittle reportedly said at a summit for employees and principals in Colorado Springs. 'I think it's an important concept for education and economics.’ In a school with 600 students, he said, this unpaid work would be the equivalent of '75 adults' on salary."

Edison declined to appear on the show.


  • Doug Saunders, reporter with the Toronto Globe and Mail.
  • Barbara Goodman, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

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