Tomorrow's schools: Lessons from Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Chicago and more

For some time now, we’ve been transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy. The cities that are doing well in this transformation have a smart workforce.

How do you develop that? Just as the job market is changing, schools need to change too. We’ve asked Onvia to look at some educational trends that are paying off for cities. From after-school STEM programs to tablet computers to virtual schools, here are some workable ideas that are worth checking out. — Kevin Ebi


By Nick Schiffler, Onvia

Technology is key in the digital age of education. Smart cities are powered by smart citizens, which means a top priority for cities and schools alike is educating the workers of the future in technology and the other STEM subjects — science, engineering and math.

Some cities are developing creative, public-private partnerships to engage students in STEM at an early age. The San Mateo Union High School District is building a tech-focused high school on the campus of Oracle. And the city of Pittsburgh has begun offering free after-school STEM programs within local community centers for students of elementary and middle school ages.

School districts themselves are also moving to embrace STEM. School districts in cities and towns nationwide are building or renovating spaces – in some cases, building entirely new facilities – to accommodate their growing technology programs.

These programs are created with the idea of getting every student as much time working with tech as possible. To that end, many are providing a laptop or tablet for each student to give them hands-on experience.

Chromebooks are a particularly popular device used in these initiatives. The lightweight, low-cost laptops have become a key part of Common Core initiatives across the country. Public sector purchasing of Chromebooks rose by 42% in 2015, and is continuing to grow.

"Our goal is to make sure our students are prepared not just for high school, but college and career," says Tony DeMonte, the technology director at Wilmette Public Schools District 39, a Chicago-area school district that recently brought Chromebooks into the classroom.

What trends might appear in education technology (or EdTech) in the future to make students even more connected? One possibility is growth in entirely virtual schools. A recent Bellwether Education report noted that virtual schools constitute 0.4 percent of U.S. K-12 student enrollment – more than 250,000 students nationwide. But many of these schools will need to improve in quality to play a larger part in the education landscape.

Virtual reality is another hotspot just beginning to creep into education. A handful of schools like the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) are building VR labs on-campus and offering degrees designed to prepare students for future jobs in virtual reality or imaging.

Of course, in all subjects, and in all areas of the classroom, technology supports the bigger overall goal of educating the next generation. As the job market increasingly requires tech skillsets and as smart cities hire the talent needed to connect agency silos and legacy systems, the need for continual investment in EdTech and STEM will only increase.

Nick Schiffler is a business-to-government (B2G) market analyst and content marketer for business intelligence firm Onvia. Follow Onvia on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest government market insights.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide ....
As you craft your strategies for improving education in your city, be sure to reference the Smart People chapter of the Council’s Smart Cities Readiness Guide. It’s full of case studies and practical advice that will make your city smarter as you work to make your people smarter.