The Platform


Smart cities need smart schools if they are to remain viable in the 21st century.

Returning to business-as-usual is not an option when it comes to operating public schools in the post-pandemic era. Times have changed, and the original concept of a public school is really an anachronism at this point.

The pandemic resulted in many schools having to close their doors for a sustained period of time, and while all have reopened, there was a noticeable loss of education and skills for just about all students across the country.

Should we be looking at rethinking the whole institution of public schools at this point? Should we also be looking at new technologies to deliver more services via the Internet as well?

Since the early 1960s, computerization and automation replaced many skilled people in many industries including the automobile industry, manufacturing, phone companies, healthcare, and many other industries. Yet, when it comes to education, why are we still stuck in the operational framework and schedules of the mid-19th century Industrial Age?

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

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

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

We still adhere to physical classrooms where the class size is always a union bargaining point. 30 is too much for one teacher. 25 is too much. 20 should be the maximum. Or is it 18?

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 unions. The number of teachers needed in this new environment would be considerably less than the number in our current environment. Also, consolidation of districts could be another realistic area of savings in bloated administrative costs, so administrative positions could also be eliminated.

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 that scrambled to adapt to the pandemic, 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, we should be looking at teaching new skill sets that most jobs require today.

Those skill sets of the three Rs were for Industrial Age jobs and not the jobs of today – or tomorrow. FACT-based education is more relevant: flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and technology skills are all necessary today in good-paying jobs.

As with the automation of any 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 many doing mediocre jobs, only the best ideas, presentations, and approaches would be retained and delivered to students. The quality level across the board would be raised dramatically.

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 public school bureaucracies built on an antiquated 19th-century framework and start delivering quality, which is not delivered in many of today’s school districts. With salaries approaching and exceeding six-figure compensation, we need to cut out all the redundancies as well as the deadwood accumulated in a bureaucratic environment designed to protect the mediocre.

Lottery jackpot payout-sized pensions are also unsustainable within the traditional educational framework and a lot of financial 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 have not guaranteed high performance or quality when it comes to education or graduation rates.

Any quality methodology would focus on getting out the waste within the process of public school education. Most school districts are not even talking about applying these quality concepts. Based on the lack of financial stability and pension liabilities, they should be.

“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. It’s time for smart schools.

Just as we are seeing a paradigm shift in real estate and commercial properties, we need to see that same type of radical shift in leadership, management, and operations in education.

Smart cities need smart schools if they are to remain viable in the 21st century.

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.