Obama touts ed tech, 21st century skills

The jobs of the new economy will require higher-order skills such as “problem solving” and “critical thinking,” President Obama said during his State of the Union address Jan. 28.

Obama said said efforts are under way to connect more schools and students to broadband internet service “without adding a dime to the deficit.”

He also said efforts are under way to connect more schools and students to broadband internet service “without adding a dime to the deficit.”

In a wide-ranging speech that lasted 65 minutes, Obama discussed these and other education priorities in the context of creating more economic opportunities for all Americans.

Obama’s speech started on a high note for educators, as his very first statement referred to a teacher.

“Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades,” he said.

However, after this promising start, in the end the president offered no new policy directives related to education. Instead, he discussed the need to act on measures he has already advocated, such as expanding preschool education and connecting more students to high-speed internet access.

“In this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs,” the president said. He called for more “on-the-job training” and said he wanted to connect businesses with community colleges to design training programs to fill their specific needs.

But “it’s not enough to train today’s workforce,” Obama said. “We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.”

Obama said his signature education program, Race to the Top, has “helped states raise expectations and performance.” Acknowledging that the jobs of the future will demand more than rote memorization, he challenged educators and policy makers to find “new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.”

In last year’s State of the Union address, Obama asked Congress to help make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds. Although the 2014 budget that lawmakers passed earlier this month increased Head Start funding by $1 billion, and included $250 million for another round of Race to the Top Early Learning grants, it failed to include $750 million in funding that Obama had requested for states to expand preschool education.

“As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight,” Obama said. “But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-K funding on their own. They know we can’t wait.”

The president also referred to his ConnectED program to bring broadband internet access to 99 percent of the nation’s students within the next five years.

“Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit,” he said.

(Next page: Reaction to Obama’s speech)

Dennis Pierce

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