Two computers loaned to families by the Edison Project recently turned up in a pawn shop in Flint, Mich., where the for-profit company operates two elementary schools.

Dan Tomkinson, technology coordinator for Williams-Edison Partnership School, said he got a tip from a Williams parent that two Edison computers were on display at Julie’s Pawn and Jewelry Sales in Flint. The $1,225 computers were being sold for $595.

One computer was loaned to a family at Williams, the other was placed with a family at nearby Garfield-Edison Partnership School.

Garfield elementary Principal Brenda Duckett-Jones indicated the incident is an isolated one and that for the most part, families at her school have shown they can be trusted with the equipment.

“For 98 percent of our parents, the computers have not been a problem,” she told the Flint Journal. “But this particular instance we consider a police matter.”

Duckett-Jones, who filed a complaint with police after the pawn shop discovery, said she’s not sure what will happen to the parents and will wait for the investigation to be completed before taking any further action.

The Edison Project, which mostly serves underprivileged communities, aims to put computers in the homes of all of its students in order to bridge the technology access gap. Parents take a mandatory six hours of training and even sign a contract saying they will not lend, sell, or pawn the computers.

Last year, some parents at the Flint schools–including about 50 of Williams’ 300 families–did not accept the computers, with some saying they did not want to be responsible for the equipment. This year, however, nearly all have accepted computers.

“When you look at the big picture, I think you’ll see that the vast majority of our parents are not only using the computers as the educational tools they were intended to be, but are doing so in an exemplary manner,” City of Flint Schools Superintendent James Ray said.

The Edison Project also considers the situation in Flint an isolated incident.

“This is really a blip on our screen,” said Gaynor McCown, Edison’s vice president of corporate strategy.

The Edison Project operates 51 schools in 11 states and the District of Columbia and has a total enrollment of approximately 24,000 students. Most of those students have Edison computers in their homes.

But loaning computers to families does present certain risks for Edison.

The contracts parents sign don’t necessarily hold them financially responsible for equipment, even when computers are sold, pawned, or lent out, McCown said, adding that situations are handled on a case-by-case basis. Edison expects parents to fix any parts they break, but they are not held responsible for normal wear and tear.

Theft, too, is a problem, though again it is not widespread, she said.

In the two Flint schools, for example, four parents have reported stolen computers since Edison took over the schools in the fall of 1997.

Founded in 1991, the Edison Project is one of the country’s leading private managers of public schools, including many charter schools. The company operates under management contracts with school districts and charter school boards. Under the contracts, Edison becomes responsible for implementing educational programs, technology plans, and management systems.

The curriculum at Edison schools focuses on a liberal arts program of reading, writing, music, art, physical education, character, and values.

Edison says it uses technology as a learning and teaching tool and does not teach technology as a subject. Computer labs, in fact, do not exist on Edison school campuses. Instead, teachers are trained to use computer technology for instructional purposes. Students use computers to create and turn in assignments both at school and at home.

Edison Project