The Platform


With the pandemic being used as a wedge to stop many school districts from reopening, should we be looking at re-thinking the whole institution of public schools? Should we also be looking at new technologies to deliver higher education via the Internet as well?

Are today’s public school teachers the equivalent to building elevator operators of the 1920s?

As building technology became automated, the job of the elevator operator became obsolete. Many operators needed to find different jobs as their skills were replaced by automation.

Since the early 1900s, computerization and automation replaced many skilled people in many industries from the automobile industry, the phone company, healthcare, and many other segments of various industries. Yet, when it comes to education, why are we still stuck in the framework and schedules of the mid-19th century Industrial Age?

We still adhere to closing down schools in the summer when it comes to harvest time and yet, few students are still needed on the farm. Agriculture, itself, got heavily automated over the last century from machinery to overhead drones used to keep track of crops and their growth.

We still adhere to physical classrooms where the class size is always a union bargaining point. 30 is too much. 25 is too much. 20 should be a maximum. All these arguments could be simply eradicated by a new approach using virtual classrooms with one teacher replacing several teachers and offering the class online.

Deadwood teachers would be eliminated instead of being propped up by tenure and rewarded with pensions. The number of teachers needed in this environment would be considerably less than the number in our current environment. Consolidation of districts could be another realistic area of savings.

Is it time to move into the 21st century when it comes to public school education? With the changes and modifications done in all the school systems to adapt to the coronavirus, maybe it’s time to look at these changes as permanent, instead of reverting back to the Industrial Age approach where the three Rs of rote, repetition, and routine are still taught even though those are skillsets for Industrial Age jobs and not the jobs of today – or tomorrow.

As with any automation of an industry, the need for many people is greatly diminished. Instead of having hundreds of teachers teaching various grades, more courses can be developed, delivered, and digested via the Internet. Instead of having many doing a mediocre job of preparing and delivering classes, only the best would be retained and the quality level across the board would be raised.

Most public school districts have also become bloated bureaucracies, top-heavy with redundant administrators, coordinators, vice principals, assistant deputy superintendents, and other outmoded positions. These positions should be viewed as non-essential. We need to remember, “best practices are not found in bureaucracies.”

It’s time to streamline the bureaucracy and start delivering quality which is not delivered in many of today’s school districts. With salaries approaching and exceeding six figures, we need to cut out all the redundancies as well as the deadwood that accumulates in an environment to protect the mediocre.

Lottery jackpot payout-sized pensions are also unsustainable within the traditional educational framework and a lot of reform needs to take place immediately. Some do not want to hear this, but most taxpayers have been maxed out when it comes to paying high property taxes and are waiting for a real solution. And, those high property taxes do not guarantee high performance when it comes to education or graduation rates.

Any quality methodology: TQM, Six Sigma, and others would focus on getting out the waste within the process of public school education. Most school districts are not even talking about these quality concepts and they should be, based on the lack of their financial stabilities and pension liabilities.

“Best practices are not found in bureaucracies.” This should be the mantra to trim redundant and non-essential positions in all school administrations to fit today’s connectivity-driven educational systems.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.