Under Bush it was ‘No Child Left Behind’. Under Obama it’s ‘Common Core’. Though I’m not a parent and not a teacher, I’ve been thinking about education in this country lately.

The two programs developed during the administration of two very different presidents seem to be, at their hearts, a means to raise the standards of education in this country so that we can adequately prepare our children to compete on a global scale.

No Child Left Behind was bad in that it pushed students through the system, regardless of their preparedness to move onto the next grade level. Students are evaluated based on one standard and does not take into account how different students learn differently and may have individual needs.

Common Core seems to want to establish a standard across the country for all schools regardless of state. I would assume that this is so that if a family relocates from one state to another, any school age children will not have to spend time catching up to what the new school is teaching or waiting on everyone else to catch up. The standards have changed the way students are reaching answers in mathematics so dramatically that parents are unable to help their own child if the child does not understand how to do the work for him-/herself. I have not seen any criticism of the language arts aspect of Common Core, but I’m sure there are some lurking around. Again, though, Common Core seems to ignore the fact that children learn at different speeds and through different methods.

When you have such a large country as the United States, divided into smaller sections with a will and mind of its own, standardizing anything is difficult. Imagine parents with 50 different children, each with their own personality, opinions on everything, desires on how they each see the future, etc. To get 50 individuals to agree on something can be difficult and that each of those individuals represents millions more makes the task even harder.

I don’t know what the answer is to improving education in this country, but I do know that we need to find a way to actually engage the students in their learning. I am somewhat familiar with the education system in England and like the way that in the final few years of high school, students take classes in a manner similar to college: whatever they plan to study in college is what they study in high school. So if a student is going to study art in college, they study only art in the last year or two of high school. However, I still believe that maths and language arts should be taught through grade 12 as there are still so many with a poor grasp of grammar and always need a calculator for the very basics of maths.

Perhaps thinking outside the box is what we need and outside the country.