THE BLOG
01/30/2015 09:48 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

Can President Obama Make Equal Access Headway?

In his 2015 State of the Union (SOTU) speech, President Obama said, "My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I've had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capital -- to do what I believe is best for America."

What on earth makes us believe there is a reason to "hope" let alone "believe" that in his last years as President, with both houses controlled by the opposite party, the President will be able to see some of his most innovative programs pass through Congress, especially education initiatives?

Obama said:

By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education...And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. That's why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college to zero. Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.

Last week, I wrote about the President's Community College proposal (free community college) and asked where the estimated $60B in federal funds for this program will come from.

The President has proposed free community college for students who maintain C+ grades AND make consistent progress towards graduation. I reiterate these questions -- why do we think more under-represented students will enroll and persist in college when tuition is only a portion of the cost of a college education? Could we use this to launch a meaningful policy-centric discourse around the factors that currently impede or prevent students who want to attend college from pursuing this path? How do we know that high school is truly preparing students for college? How are community and four-year colleges ensuring that undergraduate programs are relevant to employers?

The bottom line here: What needs to change so that we ensure all children have access to a quality K-12 education? And what more can be done to make the value of a high school and college diploma relevant and meaningful in today's economy?

Obama's SOTU speech also included mentions of a "free and open Internet" and said, "extending its reach to every classroom, and every community..."

The lack of broadband access for all students is a significant challenge in the United States, and a piece of the "equal access" equation. The promise of equal access to quality public education in 2015 means equal access to high-speed Internet with easy and persistent access to web-based learning resources for students and teachers.

While Internet and technology access by themselves are not silver bullets, the absence of these critical resources are real "barriers to entry" for students around the country. This is especially true for rural communities where students do not have the opportunity to travel or experience diverse cultures. Broadband access allows students to go beyond the classroom and outside borders of their communities. With high-speed Internet, these schools can provide access to resources that give all students a chance to connect to others, to dream, to learn and to imagine.

While we tend to focus on the access issue as critical for students, let's remember that the adults who work tirelessly to facilitate learning for our children also need to be supported with access to technology paths  -- to learn and dream for themselves  -- so they can model what a lifelong love of learning looks like. Maybe our elected politicians could use a little lesson in learning how to learn?