Innovative for-profit education provider Edison Schools Inc. is teaming up with sometimes-stodgy IBM to create the next generation of computers for the K-12 classroom.

In July, Edison announced that it will spend as much as $350 million over the next five years to purchase computers from IBM and have IBM manage the networks throughout its growing system. Edison will stop purchasing computers from Apple Computer, which has been its supplier since the company’s inception in 1995.

One key to the deal, according to Christopher Whittle, Edison’s president and CEO, is that Edison will have a say in how IBM develops its next generation of computers for the elementary and secondary school market. Computers are integral to Edison’s education model, as it guarantees districts with which it contracts that each classroom will have at least four computers and every student will be given a free computer for home use. Parents are taught how to use eMail to communicate with teachers and keep track of students’ homework assignments and performance.

With so much experience using computers, Edison has drawn some conclusions about what type of technology makes the most sense in the classroom, Whittle said. His company will emphasize to IBM that computers must be reasonably priced, portable, and wireless. The reason for the first characteristic is obvious, as schools typically have about $100 per student to spend on technology each year. The second and third characteristics reflect the way students move around school buildings and, therefore, benefit greatly from having computers that can move with them and still link to networks and the internet.

As of now, Edison is slated to enroll 57,000 students in 108 schools in 21 states this fall.