Adam Heenan. Common Core threatens good teaching.


– Adam Heenan is a social studies teacher at Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago.

I teach Financial Literacy as a semester-long social studies course in a Chicago public high school. This quarter we focused on professional skills. My students must find living arrangements on a fixed salary, then explain their plan to the class.

Students must calculate their biweekly net pay (based on last quarter’s grades, e.g. an “A” earns you $42,000 a year), and living expenses and search for a place to live on websites such as Craigslist. They quickly realize that students who earn a higher income have an easier time finding a good place to live, while those who didn’t fare as well had better find a roommate. Some might even have to live in their parents’ attic — and explain that in their presentation!

This is one of the most popular lessons I teach each year. They will (hopefully) be moving out of their parents’ homes soon, and this lesson is usually the first time they have considered how well they might, or might not, fare. They love comparing who got the “better deal” on the “coolest” apartment.

Students must use core math skills; computer literacy and community mapping to find a place to live; and communication skills in their presentation and negotiations of “what’s fair” between roommates. Some students argue that since their partners/roommates might be contributing unequal amounts of money, then that person’s bedroom should be the size of a walk-in closet. We all get a good laugh and move on to Real World Budgeting.

It’s a tremendous shame, then, that this style of teaching is quickly going out of style.

I’m teaching an inherently valuable lesson, but the new Common Core learning standards and the related College and Career Readiness standards — which tell teachers what topics should be covered each year in reading and math and are being implemented in schools across America — are threatening my ability to teach this unit and others like it, including resume-writing, civics education and budgeting.

The English standards, the ones I am supposed to cover, do not encourage teaching in this way — a way that is developed with student input — and some of the skills imparted are not emphasized on the all-important standardized tests. The consequence? As they say, what’s tested gets taught.

Most of my lessons prioritize what is relevant to the content and valuable to my students. But this is changing across the country, with pressure either to align current curricula to the standards, or to design different activities that justify the high-stakes standardized assessments. When I choose as a lesson-planner to consider what “the standards say I should teach” I risk compromising my students’ voices in the learning process, which sets students on a path toward disengagement in activities, then classes, and finally school in general.

What happens to valuable lessons like the one I’ve described? They’re relegated to “extra credit” instead of everyday learning.

This is not an appeal for help implementing the standards. I could ask my union or my principal. I could attend any number of professional development sessions, or sign on for webinars in my pajamas any night of the week.

I don’t want support for Common Core. I believe we must actively resist it because it does not prioritize the needs of students and teachers. Instead educators need autonomy and support to design engaging lessons for and with students.


2 thoughts on “Adam Heenan. Common Core threatens good teaching.

  1. Just who do you think you are, Adam? How dare you substitute your knowledge as a mere teacher, innstead of that of the bureaucrats who, through their incredible ability to compile statistics, have proven they know MUCH MORE about how to teach children than we mere educators.
    Seriously: that’s a great idea for a lesson. I taught budgeting but never took it to your level. If I was going to teach it again I’d follow your model. BUT: I’m retiring (another nail in the coffin of experienced educators). Sorry: I’m going to leave it but that sounds condescending, although I don’t mean it to.

  2. Thanks, Adam. As the CTU (as well as other teacher unions across the country) have rejected the Common Core and have been resisting testing, I think it’s important for all those active teachers (AND administrators!) from the suburbs and towns and cities all over ILLAnnoy to read your post carefully, and to consider the consequences that you have outlined in your post. I can’t speak for districts throughout ILLAnnoy (although I’m quite certain that the spirited Rockford teachers will be getting their union to oppose CC!), but I am not feeling (or hearing about) protests or resistance from any Chicago suburban school districts, particularly those in my neck of the woods (northern suburbs). Guys, I quite understand that your kids do well here, and that that may give some of you a sense of security (which I would believe to be a false sense, given everything that’s happening just next door in Chicago as well as all over the country), but the bottom line is that IT WILL HURT THE STUDENTS–ALL the students, everywhere. Glad–SO glad that my daughter is an adult and out of school, I cannot for one minute picture her–or all of her wildly creative & curious & questioning & artistic friends– attending a public school that is teaching all of this absolute balderdash. They would be deeply depressed.
    None of them would want to attend school…EVER. Of course, the solution here would be that many would be pulled out and enrolled in private schools, because their parents could afford it. However, once again, WHAT happens to the majority of our children?
    And–as someone who taught (in 8th Grade Math, otherwise known as “The Game of Life”) the life skills that Adam is teaching (but soon will not be “allowed” to do so)–I cannot imagine this vital part of real-life curriculum deep-sixed. Students growing up not learning to budget, how to figure percentages given for store sales (thus wisely spending their money after computing a budget) how to figure principal, rate and interest in order to purchase a car or a home mortgage–these are skills not taught at home
    (&, no, parents are not necessarily responsible for teaching these things, as they may not have learned them…after all, isn’t our U.S. economic crisis due, in large part, to the greed of the mortgage industry & banks? In fact, these corporate entities depend, I think, on citizens NOT learning life skills! The better to take advantage of us, to steal from us, using the euphemism, “to be college & career ready”–utter nonsense!)

    Illinois teachers outside of Chicago, gather your local union members and your leadership and say NO to Common Core! Then, get your IEA & IFT to do the same. Follow the lead of the CTU NOW, before it’s too late. Yes, WE can. And we WILL. Thank you, Adam.

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