Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I decided to be a teacher so that I can spend my free time defending public schools, dodging verbal abuse, suffering uninformed criticism,disseminating information to the contrary, studying pending legislation, and lobbying legislators.

I get asked often why I became a teacher. To be fair, there are a lot of reasons. 

To be honest, it wasn't a decision I was equipped to make at 18 years old. I feel very fortunate that a decision that I made as an old child (more than a young man) has worked out as well as it has.

My favorite answer to the question is that, like a lot of kids, I didn't have an easy time with high school. It wasn't terribly problematic, but it wasn't a walk either. 

While I was there, though, I had the good fortune of encountering some teachers who treated me with interest and respect. I saw that it didn't matter to them if a student was different, didn't have money or wear the right clothes, play the right sports, or quite fit in. They also seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs, to be having some fun with it. Yeah, some content you had to grind through, but that didn't mean you couldn't keep it entertaining along the way.

On a very basic level, these people were reasonable and decent enough human beings to make time for kids, and not seem put out by the effort.

So, in deciding my career I suppose that my thinking went something like, "Hey, I'd like to be a reasonable and decent human being. Those guys were good people who made me feel like I was good people. Kids have a hard time. I'm going to be the kind of teacher that makes school a more inclusive and fun place to be."

You'll notice the relative lack of depth in my process. I certainly didn't consider the fact that there were absolutely no jobs for history teachers. 

What I think is reflected here is what I valued most in my education, all academic advantages aside, which is the value of relationships. I'm sure that somewhere in there lies the importance of education to a democracy, and a desire to promote critical thought and individuality. However, I got involved in this business to help kids, and have some fun in the process.

This is a terribly simplistic view of a teacher's job. Don't get me wrong, I also understand the professionalism involved. If I took myself too seriously I would reference my degrees and years of experience. I might even provide a copy of the electronic documentation of my satisfaction of the state of Ohio's professional standards for teachers through the albatross that is the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, the evidence, the artifacts, the pre and post tests, the all important data that supposedly proves my worth. But these things hardly demonstrate the value of a good teacher intent on providing an environment that facilitates the relationships necessary for a quality education.

Coming out of 2015, I feel as if I've spent an inordinate amount of time and energy in a political fistfight to defend the ability of public school teachers to do just that.

It's too much.

This is not why any of us got into education.

So I guess this is about a New Year's resolution, then. 

In 2016, I'm going to focus on being a decent and reasonable human being, accepting of the students I encounter, focused on making school a fun (or at least more tolerable) place to be, just like many of my teachers did for me.

I'd like those in legislative, and other power, positions to consider the same resolution from their own perspective. Strengthen the ability of public school teachers like myself to provide a quality education.

If 2016 is another year of excessive high-stakes testing, the demonization of teachers, unconstitutional school funding, the absurdity of championing a failing charter school system, furthering a process that facilitates the privatization of public schools, and then purposefully misleading the public (I'm looking at you Dick)...

Well, if that's the case, I'm not afraid of the fight.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"An Assessment Written By Ohio Teachers"

Much has been made of the new and improved testing system that will be rolled out this spring. With its shorter assessments and elimination of PARCC as a vendor, the state and accountability advocates claim that the people have spoken, so the state has responded with a more humane system, a more effective system.

Except that it isn't. Length and vendor issues completely miss the point. These tests are telling us nothing about student learning that classroom teachers couldn't answer in greater depth and in a more timely manner. 

It has also been widely documented that the single thing that standardized tests measure best is economic standing. Generally speaking, we can accurately predict test scores from rates of free and reduced lunch in our schools.

As a classroom teacher, this would be the point in my discussion where I offer the obligatory disclaimer that I believe in accountability. Sure, OK. Come into my classroom, interview my students, survey their parents, but please stop insisting that this system of assessment is anything more than it is, a measure of relative poverty.

In a discussion of scores from last year's PARCC and AIR assessments, I heard it suggested that next year's tests will be more valid because they were "written by Ohio teachers."

This is a problematic statement for several reasons. First, they were NOT, in fact, written by Ohio teachers. As has been documented, Ohio is borrowing questions from Florida, Utah, and Nevada for this new round of tests. It would be more accurate to say that portions of these assessments were not even written in Ohio, let alone by Ohio teachers.

To be fair, what those in question were referring to was Ohio teacher participation in a group that also included administrators, members of the Ohio Department of Education, and reps from the American Institutes for Research. These stakeholders met to select existing questions that they believed would accurately depict student mastery of Ohio's standards thus making the tests valid. While this process is commendable in its inclusion, it is hardly "an assessment written by Ohio teachers."

These assessments will also hardly be valid. First, questions regarding validity have become common in states administering tests electronically. Second, the new tests, some being given now as make-up tests in high school and for the 3rd grade reading guarantee, have never been administered before. There have been no field tests or live high-stakes precedents for these assessments, unless you count the use of individual questions on disparate assessments in multiple other states as validating mastery of Ohio standards. The scenario is problematic, and should raise some significant questions. The situation is criminal, especially if you're a 3rd grader relying on this assessment for promotion, or a high school student acquiring points toward graduation.

Once again, I'm stuck quibbling over technicalities that completely miss the point. To say that the next round of tests will be more valid because they're written by Ohio teachers is terribly misleading, and I am not at all happy about the suggestion. However, the larger issue is that we're still suggesting that we can fix a system of punitive standardized tests. We cannot.

Shorten, lengthen, change vendors, include or exclude teachers in the process, and the assessments will continue to measure what they have always measured, the economic standing of the students assessed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Assessments and Poverty

Say what you will about the "Every Child Succeeds Act," it ain't no Race to the Top, nor is it No Child Left Behind. Yes, there are issues, but it is better than the current system. 

Best of all, it brings the fight regarding accountability, among other things, to the states.

I took this week's House passage of the ECSA, and combined it with some unsettling news about poverty rates in the city where I live, threw in the annual study that illustrates that standardized testing measures poverty better than anything else, and delivered the message to my legislators.

We have spent a long time and a lot of money on an assessment system that does a terrible disservice to our children. It's time for it to change. Check out the letter below, then go contact your reps as well. 

Senator and Representative Manning,

I hope this finds you well and in anticipation of the holiday season. I also hope that you had the opportunity to read the Plain Dealer article regarding the correlation between test scores and poverty. If not it can be found here...

Perhaps you read the similar report at the Columbus Dispatch here...

Put simply, the only thing that our system of standardized tests is accomplishing is indicating to us which students are wealthy and which are poor. This corroborates the evidence found in studies from previous years which indicated the exact same thing. Schools with high poverty rates will perform at lower levels on standardized tests than those with low rates of poverty. I would be so bold as to predict that if we continue testing for another hundred years the same would be true.

What is at least equally problematic are the Lorain County poverty statistics shared by the Chronicle Telegram this week. In case you missed it, the article is here...

Median income countywide has dropped from $57,357 to $52,610. 

In my city, Elyria, the poverty rate has climbed from 15.9% to 20.3%.

Obviously, these economic conditions have an incredible impact on the students that I encounter daily at Elyria High. If we were to couple the findings that I've mentioned here, add in an atrocious new testing system and graduation policy, then I believe that we could predict overall lower test scores in years to come as well as lower graduation rates. 

It doesn't have to be this way. We test far more than the federal mandate in Ohio, and at higher stakes. As you know, requiring tests for graduation is not federal law, nor is the 3rd grade reading guarantee. And it gets better...other news this week indicates that the revision of ESEA (No Child Left Behind), the so-called "Every Student Succeeds Act" has passed the House, will likely pass the Senate, and is nearly certain of a Presidential signature. The bill is not great, but it is far better than the "test and punish" philosophy of the current law. There is some information on that bill in a Wall Street Journal article here...

We have spent a ridiculous amount of time and money on assessment here in Ohio and found that we can consistently measure levels of poverty, not achievement. The federal government is about to provide us with an opportunity to dramatically scale back this senseless system, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue on doing just that. Perhaps then we can allocate our resources to more valuable ends like supporting programs that help to remediate the effects of the growing poverty in our communities.

Thank you, as always, for your work and consideration. 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your families.

Matt Jablonski

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Proficient or Above" or "Why do I have to deal with this shit?"

Ohio released its preliminary scores today for the next generation assessments administered last spring. In them they indicate the percentage of students who scored "Proficient or Above." As a high school teacher, I am interested in the implications on student graduation according to the new formula as it relates to the released scores.

Fortunately for our students, the ODE has made the path to graduation simpler by making it more complex. Students may graduate through an acceptable score on a certification in a vocational field. OR They may graduate through receiving a remediation free score on a college entrance test (scores not yet verified). OR They may graduate by earning 18 combined points on the aforementioned state assessments with a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in mathematics, a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in English Language Arts, and a minimum of 6 points from assessments in Biology, American History, and American Government equaling a total of 14 points with the 4 additional points picked up when students score 3 or higher, which is to say "Proficient or Above."

Does that make sense? My sophomores couldn't explain it to me either, and they're expected to graduate under that system. Fear not, I provided a thorough and engaging explanation replete with visual aids and low brow humor that seemed to do the trick. I could not, however, provide them with a satisfactory explanation as to why they "have to deal with this shit." (Their words, not mine)

As for the scores...

I teach American History, which has always been a tested subject toward high school graduation. If I'm not mistaken, on the Ohio Graduation Tests our Social Studies "Proficient and Above" percentage was typically around 70% and better for sophomores. The percentage for last year's next generation assessment in American History was 40.3%. To be honest, I'm disappointed it wasn't lower. Last year's students who took the tests did NOT need it to graduate. They graduate with the OGT, but were required to take this test too just for kicks. I am appalled that 40.3% of students took it seriously enough to score at these levels. Granted, our official message was simply "do your best," but these kids knew that they were getting screwed into taking another test. I feel terribly that I was complicit in implementing this system. I overheard lots of students say things like, "I just wrote F-U a dozen times in those essays, man." and I couldn't help but smile. One girl was called out of my class to test, and returned five minutes later.

What is more problematic, of course, are the comparable low percentages of "Proficient and Above" in subjects taken by this year's students, whose graduation is actually dependent upon this system. 
          ELA 9: 67.2%
          Algebra: 47.8%
          Geometry: 79% (students taking Geometry as Freshmen)
          Physical Science: 40.2% (transitioning to a Biology assessment)

The above percentages represent students who achieved the theoretical minimum required, plus at least one. That's good for them. However, 59.8% of students who took the Physical Science test failed to keep an adequate pace toward graduation. (Again, these are the numbers from my school) Yes, that is the subject with the worst scenario, but all of these scores are far more problematic than the remediation that was necessary with the OGT.

Now, the state has provided "safe harbor" for these kids, allowing them to retake tests. We're administering retakes in December, and encouraging students who scored 1's to retake. However, because students are getting their scores next week, this will leave no time to even glance at relevant review materials before they retake a test on a subject they studied last year.

But wait, it gets worse...if a student scores moderately well, say a 2 on these early tests, and assume that they'll pick up points this year, but only score at those levels again or just higher, a 2 and a couple of 3's on this year's tests, then they've got some serious problems. All of their eggs are in one basket, the American Government test, where they may NEED a 5 in order to graduate. 43.7% of students scored "Proficient and Above" on the Government test according to the numbers just released. Well, it's statistically improbable that a student who scores low on prior assessments will miraculously pull down a 5 in Government, so they will need to retake tests. Now they're conceivably retaking assessments on subjects they studied 2 years prior, and counting on significantly higher scores than they earned previously.

Look, maybe my scenario here is confusing. On a very basic level, this new testing system is terribly problematic. The issues lie in the fact that it is new, and being created as we go, but also in the nature of the convoluted paths to graduation themselves. The sheer number of variables at play here are impossible to fathom, from student strengths to test performance, low scores in these areas, but not those, 2 points here, other scores there, nothing formalized until very late. Now, take this level of absurdity and factor in real problems like hunger, poverty, instability in the home, disability, health problems, you name it, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

What seemed like a more humane system to someone is turning out to be nothing short of a nightmare. And now the tests are changing again in ELA and Math. Who knows what new issues may arise?

How many students will be adversely affected? I don't know. The ODE deals in percentages, I deal in human beings, the 140 plus sophomores I'm teaching. Like the one who told me, "I left half that math test blank. We hadn't even learned that stuff yet." Or the other kid who said, "There were some questions...I didn't even know what they were asking." These are good people, hard working kids that we're simply grinding through this machine for some political rhetoric regarding career and college readiness.

When I startle myself awake at 3 in the morning, and stare into the darkness toward the ceiling, I'm not thinking of percentages or politics. I'm thinking about these kids in my class and what I can do to assure their success, to assure that they become expansive and critical thinkers. I am looking to expand their horizons and opportunities, not limit them through a testing system that, for the most part, has not gone through an appropriate level of validity testing, nor been implemented long enough to assure reliability. A system like this only serves to increase levels of anxiety, even among advanced students (especially among advanced students), and to punish. As always, all we're really measuring is socioeconomic status. Look at the scores. What districts are top? What is their median income? How does that compare to the median income, or poverty level of the districts at bottom?

I have no interest in a punitive high stakes testing system. I am only interested in "Proficient and Above" percentages inasmuch as they impact the kids I teach. I am ashamed to be a part of the implementation of such a system, and I work every day to attempt to remediate its terrible impact. Like many of you, I am angry.

Friday, November 13, 2015

News of the death of the American public school teacher has been greatly exaggerated (a short poem)

      Teachers and the Stages of Grief.

On one of those
bright early fall days
when odd shadows
cast across hardwood floors
speak of the severity
of changing seasons,

we speak
of how we love our work
as someone in discussion
of the recently deceased.

"Man, we really had a good time
with that lesson on the Federal Reserve,"
I said, falling into it

wistful and bittersweet,
almost tearful.

"He was the nicest guy
you'd ever want to meet,"
I could've been saying
in the same tone.

We're fluctuating between
depression and acceptance
as our work is increasingly

Not quite ready
to give in
or give up
on most days,

I'm lobbying to add
as the final
stage of grief.

Friday, November 6, 2015

So long, Dick.

"Nice laptop, Timmy. A gift from Ohio taxpayers, I mean your charter school."

Justice would be this man being investigated and tried for fraud, mismanagement of public funds, and criminal negligence against Ohio's school children. However, men from his social standing don't get punished for their crimes, they get a fat retirement check and a comfortable home in a homogenous neighborhood in an affluent suburb of the state capital.

As it stands, this champion of failing charter schools and their mismanagement of millions in public dollars, supporter of the abusive 3rd grade reading guarantee, accomplice in the privatization of public schools, leader of the roll-out of two excessive, inappropriate and wildly unnecessary standardized testing systems...not to mention the wholly intrusive albatross that is the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, co-author of The Youngstown Plan, and accessory to the manipulation of charter school data in the interest of channeling bonuses to Republican friendly charter school sponsors...this guy, gets to ride quietly into the sunset of a second retirement.

Lesser men are jailed for these offenses, at least publicly shamed. Ohio Schools Superintendent Dick Ross will be profusely thanked by all of his crooked friends who currently hold an office for everything he's done for Ohio's children.

Bullshit. Thanks for nothing, Dick.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Phone Forum Propaganda with ODE Associate Superintendent Lonny Rivera and an Ohio Teacher of the Year.

I just took part in a telephone forum, conference, what have you, regarding Ohio's new learning standards and assessments.

We were told by Lori Michalec, Ohio Teacher of the Year from Tallmadge High School, that she assures her students that "the tests aren't punitive."

First, someone should tell Lori that if her students do not do well enough on their state tests at the high school level, then they do not graduate. This is, by definition, punitive.

Also, third graders who do not pass the reading test are held back. Again, punitive.

Finally, Ohio's Teacher Evaluation System relies heavily on student test scores which can dramatically impact teacher ratings. These ratings can then used to determine teacher salaries or job security. Depending on the situation, this can also be quite punitive.

She also assured the audience of Ohioans that she never teaches to the test, but rather "simply teaches" the skills necessary for her students to find success. Test prep, in her opinion, is utterly unnecessary.

Her message was clear until she later discussed the valuable data provided by state assessments. While she acknowledged that this year's data will come late, she assured the audience that it normally comes much earlier. This is misleading. While it has never arrived the following year, even the high school tests that used to be given in March never produced results until mid-May. That's a few weeks before students leave for summer. This hardly makes the data valuable for the students or their teachers.

However, the teacher of the year explained that she looks at her students' scores in order to determine where her teaching succeeded, and in what areas she might "do more." I nearly threw up in my mouth. What she is talking about here is teaching to the test. She'll do more to assure student success on those weak components of the assessment. 

In brilliant form, she contradicted her own teaching philosophy and proved the utter worthlessness of data from standardized tests.

Lonny Rivera from the ODE was also on the scene assuring everyone that the tests are written by Ohio teachers, and are only given after a thorough validity study. He did indicate that this year we are getting some questions from "the vendor." However, he failed to indicate that those vendor questions are being purchased from Florida, Utah, and Nevada. Nor did he mention that all of those states have had issues aligning questions to their standards, which brings their validity into serious question.

He also avoided a question about whether or not charters are measured in the same way as public schools. It's OK Lonny, I already know they're not.

So, I dialed star 3 to address some issues, but they ran out of time before I had an opportunity to speak. I don't think my commentary would have fit in with their propaganda.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hi Andy.

In an ideal world, the leader of the Ohio House Education Committee would meet with people like me, public school teachers with experience in the classroom and a moderate knowledge of educational policy. We've gone so far from logic in educational policy in Ohio that this has become terribly unlikely.

I, however, imagine a more beautiful scenario where Representative Andy Brenner and I sit down and shape policy for the betterment of all of Ohio's students. He shares something about his love of Ayn Rand. I convey my working class sensibilities, and love of Steinbeck. In my scenario, I describe Elyria as Cannery Row and champion the saints in my city who've become victims of the system, and somehow Andy buys it. Or a bit of it, perhaps. Anyway, I wrote Rep Brenner in the interest of my dream, and I encourage you to contact him too. Here's my letter to Andy...

Representative Brenner,

Congratulations on your promotion to Chair of the House Education Committee. As a public school history teacher at Elyria High School, I look forward to your efforts on behalf of all of Ohio's kids. Having championed shorter assessments, and having voted for HB2, you have begun the process of correcting what has become a troubled education system, and laughable charter school system.

Let us be clear. This progress is fine and well, but it is a beginning. HB2 is important, but terribly limited. Public schools like mine still outperform charters despite Ohio law working in their favor. Let's level that playing field, Rep Brenner.

I also believe it's high time our legislators addressed the unconstitutional funding system and resume adequate funding to successful publics. A vital component of this would be fixing a system that allows charters to get funding for nonexistent students, or those who had returned to their home, community public school, but remain on charter rosters.

As for student success, our testing system still sucks far too much time from instruction, and its high stakes nature warps any prospect of meaningful instruction or authentic learning. Ohio's children deserve a move to federal minimums of standardized tests at a shorter duration.

These are the issues that come to mind off the top of my head this evening, Mr. Brenner. I hope that in your new position, you will be open to public input regarding Ohio's education system. I can assure you that I enter my classroom daily with a deliberate resolve to do everything in my power to assure my students' success. When you accepted your position you indicated a desire to "make sure every child in this state has equal access to an excellent public education." I agree. Let's go.

Please, let me know your plans as we move forward. If there is anything that I can do to be of assistance in the way of educational experience or otherwise, do not hesitate to ask.

Yours in education.
Matt Jablonski

Thursday, October 22, 2015

All Hail the New Chair of the House Education Committee

Who's that? Why it's Powell's Republican Representative Andy Brenner, the new chairman of the House Education Committee.

Rep Brenner is an outspoken conservative charter school supporter tasked with leading a legislative committee on policy issues to ensure equal educational opportunities for Ohio's children.

He has shown an interest in assuring that Ohio's children are not over-tested. He sponsored a bill a few years back that sought to limit assessments to four hours per subject per year. This was more testing for some subjects at the time. He then got on board with the push for 3 hour tests and the elimination of PARCC.

Here's a Plain Dealer article that quotes Andy on testing...

Anyone who follows Rep Brenner on Twitter or Facebook can attest to his being a bit of a reactionary. He even took time out of his schedule to call and yell at me when I criticized his 4 hour plan. "Do you even know what the bill does!!" I did know. I'm not even in his district and yet he took time out of his busy afternoon to argue with me about my conflicting viewpoint. At least I know he's paying attention.

More frightening, however, was Brenner's recent comparison of Planned Parenthood to Nazi Germany. I am appalled by this attempt to demonize for several reasons. First, because I disagree with Rep Brenner on the politics of the issue, and in general on the idea of politicizing the issue of health care, which I believe is a human right. Furthermore, to use Nazi Germany is the most predictable, terribly unoriginal, and insulting rhetorical hyperbole at his disposal. Rep Brenner is welcome in my public school any time to learn more about the tenets of National Socialism in order to better intellectualize his opinions in the future.

Here's a piece on Andy's take on Planned Parenthood...

And, of course, Brenner has equated public education to "socialism." (He assumes, I suppose, that we all consider socialism to be a bad thing) At the time, he believed that a move to a privatized system is better. Called out on the issue, he backpedaled a bit.

Here's Brenner's take on the evils of socialism, I mean public education...

So, should we supporters of public education be afraid. Perhaps, but I'm going to go with cautious. I don't anticipate a dramatic shift toward wholehearted support of public schools, but in light of a legislative response to the citizenry's demand to remedy assessment issues, and the more recent passage of charter school reform, I would hope that Representative Brenner would be more responsive to the public and less combative.

On accepting his new position he said, "I am passionate about making sure that every child in this state has equal access to an excellent public education, and am excited to have this opportunity.”

He sounds up for the job, or like a consummate bullshitter.

Either way, let's welcome Representative Brenner to his new position, and let him know what we think his priorities should be going forward...

Find him on Facebook here...

Twitter...  @andrewbrenner

Or contact him at the office...

77 High Street
13th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Engage them in the process.

Engage them in the process.

Perhaps not as fun as the phrase "engage them in fisticuffs," for obvious reasons (not violence, just the use of the word fisticuffs), it is time to engage our elected officials once again in the process of democracy.

If you're anything like me, then you've spent the time since the passage of charter school reform in Ohio caught somewhere between tears and laughter. To be honest, I've also been watching the skies for it to start raining frogs, for incoming plagues of locusts, and other such signs of the end-times.

I know, HB 2 and its reforms aren't that good. While I'm at it, the testing reforms were half assed as well. I'm starting to think our legislators are only doing just enough to shut us up.

Well, I'm not done. Ohio's education system is plagued with charter corruption and mismanagement, bogged down by a pointless system of standardized tests, funded through a long since labeled unconstitutional system, and riddled with regulations that are unequal and anti-democratic (read Youngstown).

I just finished sending the letter below to ALL members of the House and Senate Education Committees. I think you should contact them as well. Copy and past my letter, tweak it to your liking, or write your own persuasive argument. It doesn't matter much to me, as long as you engage them in the process. If we don't, nothing changes.

Representative/Senator so and so and the House/Senate Education Committee,

Congratulations on the recent passage of HB 2, the first attempt to regulate Ohio's atrocious charter school system. However, this bill should be viewed as a beginning. The legislation itself actually contains elements that benefit charters, and their attempts to profit at the expense of Ohio's taxpayers and children. Our system is still structured in such a way as to benefit charters at the expense of public schools that are often more effective.

I look forward to seeing continued progress in the legislature regarding this and the many other issues that plague education in Ohio. The committee might consider legislation that has charters rated in exactly the same way as public schools, thus truly leveling the field. Another possible avenue is to limit the per pupil deduction for charters to the amount allocated by the state. Any additional money would need to be budgeted separately.

If further charter regulation isn't in your plans, then perhaps you might consider the fact that you have been in violation of the Ohio Constitution every time schools are funded in the current manner. Fix this system that was declared unconstitutional more than a decade ago. At a minimum, you should consider restoring the Tangible Personal Property payments for 2017, and continue with the “offset concept.” Ohio's students, most of which remain in public schools, deserve equal access to educational opportunities.

Let us also not forget that our state assessment system is still broken. The single testing window was a nice step, but a minimalist change for a sizable problem. Tests are shortened, but assessments of 3 plus hours, even split into two sessions, are still far too long at any level. The data created is negligible and has little, if any, impact on instruction except to fuel an overemphasis on test prep, thus dangerously narrowing the curriculum. High stakes consequences for graduation, teacher evaluation, and especially the 3rd grade reading guarantee are completely inappropriate. Eliminate these and move to federal minimums of testing.

The Youngstown Amendment is anti-democratic. The legislation is clearly only a path toward a citywide charter school system. Charters are not “community schools” regardless of what you call them. They are private entities often manipulating the system for profit. Public schools with boards of education from the community, elected by the community, hiring members of the community to serve students are “community schools.” The state was already running Youngstown and failed to make an impact. Fix the mess, and while you're promoting democracy pass a law that requires all state school board members to be elected. This way, when there are suspected issues within the ODE like those with Mr. Hansen and Superintendent Ross, a true investigation can be undertaken.

As I said at the start of my letter, congratulations. Now, let's get to work on the rest of this mess.

Yours in education.
Matt Jablonski

Monday, September 28, 2015

Banned Books Week. What're you reading?

At the risk of promoting "anti-authoritarianism" and "rebellion against parents" I read some excerpts from Where the Sidewalk Ends to my 10th grade American History students today in honor of the beginning of Banned Books Week.

A few more of my favorite frequently challenged or banned books...

Brave New World
A Light In the Attic
Slaughterhouse Five
Of Mice and Men
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Fahrenheit 451
The Grapes of Wrath
The Bluest Eye
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Howl and Other Poems

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Testing times too long? What do I know?

Well, here they are. Testing times grade to grade in Ohio.

Less? In most cases.

Still problematic? Definitely. We have only to look to the increase in testing for 3rd graders because someone in the Ohio Department of Education believes that 3 hours of testing for an 8 year old is appropriate. At least they're allowed to split it into two 1.5 hour sessions. 

Hey Legislators. Find an 8 year old. Make him sit still for an hour and a half. 

In my personal experience, it has been difficult to get some 15 year olds to maintain focus on graduation tests for that length of time. 

Then again, what do I know? I'm just a teacher, not a legislator.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Day I Looked Like a Maniac at a Panel Discussion on Meaningful Assessment.

I'd like to thank our Superintendent, Tom Jama, for inviting me to participate in a panel discussion on the film, "Most Likely to Succeed." My initial outrage regarding a film that highlights a charter school funded by a millionaire philanthropist and is not held to any curricular standards or high stakes tests gave way to the realization that we are facilitating meaningful instruction and creative assessment in Elyria (and many other public systems) as well.

The idea in its essence is something that most educators know, that students learn through making meaningful connections between new content and their existing knowledge. Furthermore, if they are given the opportunity to make decisions within and about their learning process, then it becomes more meaningful. Project based learning can facilitate these ideas when it can be introduced to students.

I mentioned my son's elementary school teacher Ms. Amos, who is one of the best educators I've had the pleasure to meet. She engaged students where they were, facilitated group conversations, learned about their interests and background, and wasn't afraid to diverge from the content to pursue meaningful instruction and assessment based on student interest.

Built into all of these experiences is a reflective process. Students are encouraged to consider their role in their education, to reflect upon their performance or process, and how to move forward. If truly internalized by students, this becomes habit and can serve them in future educational settings and elsewhere in everyday life. Essentially the individual comes to understand their own strengths and shortcomings becoming self-aware and able to adapt, learn, and succeed in a variety of situations.

Our content is king in our world of standardized tests, but what is best about the above tactics is that they help to convey the hidden curriculum or soft skills like empathy, compassion, teamwork, compromise, skepticism, confidence, and perhaps a hint of anti-authoritarianism to name a few.

Of course, our ability as educators to facilitate experiences rich with meaning is limited by the political environment. The overuse and over reliance on standardized tests minimizes quality instruction time. Linking said tests to high stakes scenarios like retention and promotion, as well as teacher evaluation further complicates the situation. If we want a meaningful shift in instruction and assessment in our classrooms, we would be well served to remedy these terribly problematic political issues.

While seated on this panel with two superintendents, and a provost from the local college, moderated by another superintendent, I looked around and got a sinking feeling that I was out of my element like Donny in The Big Lebowski. I like to think that I held my own. If not, then I certainly looked like a raving maniac while trying.

You're out of your element, Donny.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Revision of Our State Assessment of Poverty.

The state of Ohio has continued to release more information regarding this year's revised standardized tests. Each communication arrives in my in-box and I become sick with excitement. I am the proverbial kid on Christmas Day, running from room to room in order to share the news with my colleagues.

"Look, look! The tests will be given over 10 to 15 days instead of four months!"

"Did you hear? Students may have an option of taking an assessment in two, hour and a half sessions, or all at once for three hours!"

"Gee, the state really listened to our concerns."

"They've just released 15 sample questions! Check it out!"

And so on, and so forth. I've tried to move into this process with optimism, but what I keep coming back to is the futility of the process.

Ohio is now admitting that the tests provide no data to inform instruction, but rather are being used to rate schools so that parents can be informed, and rate teachers to pinpoint the ineffective. The problem is that standardized tests were not designed for these purposes, and do nothing to accurately portray how much has been learned.

Furthermore, if the goal is to help struggling schools or to narrow the achievement gap, as was laid out to start this process, then a dozen years of assessments have failed to accomplish that goal. 

The schools that tend to score poorly are those whose populations have high rates of poverty. So, instead of providing social, academic, medical, or mental health services that might remediate the economic issues and actually create an environment more conducive to learning, we're going to double down on assessments, blame teachers, label impoverished schools as failures, then privatize.

Not long ago I spoke to a former teacher who said that she didn't believe that poverty was something that can impact academic success. My first thought was that she has never truly been hungry, experienced unemployment, transient or inadequate housing, a lack of heat or medical care...any of the above and tried to learn.

I would have assumed she'd at least have remembered Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. 

That aside, perhaps the school rankings based on state assessments might have been made available, and with a rudimentary knowledge of wealthy vs not wealthy communities a person could see a fairly clear correlation between income levels and test scores.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that students from a low socioeconomic background can learn, and be successful in school. Students from low income families are now in the majority in U.S. public schools. I am a public school teacher in an urban district. I would be a walking contradiction if I believed otherwise.

However, the success of the low income student comes with an extraordinary effort that often involves not only the public schools, but a combined effort of public and private nonprofit agencies providing remediation services to satisfy the primary needs of the student. Only with a freedom from hunger, an assurance of housing, security, and a sense of stability can a student move forward with any sort of focus on academics.

No, I do not think that poverty prohibits learning, but I believe it is terribly foolish to think that it is a non-issue. Our policy makers would be well served to consider this argument.

Yeah, the tests are shorter this time around. Last year's Ohio assessments were like getting punched in the throat. Twice. This year we're only getting punched in the throat once. And guess what, they will still only measure your child's economic status, with little variation, and they will do absolutely nothing to better the education of Ohio's kids, rich or poor. Millions of dollars will be spent on our revised testing system, that could be used in far more effective ways.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In Conversation with our Legislators.

My wife and I had the pleasure of sitting down with our legislators after school on Friday in conversation on education. Senator Gayle Manning, Representative Nathan Manning, my wife and I had a lovely visit in the historic Washington Building at Elyria High School. We discussed many things, mostly education related, though my wife reminded me that at one point I seemed to suggest that my grandmother was capable of more yard work than I am when she was 100 years old. I will neither support nor refute that claim, except to admit that she is the hard working daughter of Polish immigrants, as well as a 1931 graduate of Elyria High.

I would love to say that we discussed all of Ohio's issues with public education, even better that we developed solutions. Simply based upon the scope of educational issues in our state, this is impossible. However, I believe that we found a lot of common ground and that the Mannings are supporters of public education. As we know, agreement in one place doesn't necessarily lead to legislative action or success in another. Democracy is a beautiful, but complex and often cumbersome process. Because of this I'll remain realistic regarding possible reform of the current system.

Anyway, as always, I believe that it is important to let our elected officials at all levels know how we might move forward and improve our communities, educational and otherwise. In the interest of promoting dialogue between educators and legislators, I have sent the following email to all of the teachers and administrators in my school.  Check it out...


After our Professional Development on Friday, I had the opportunity to welcome Senator Gayle Manning and Representative Nathan Manning to Elyria High School in order to meet with my wife and I for a discussion of education. We had initially scheduled this meeting to discuss the Youngstown Amendment to HB 70 which takes effect October 15, and seems to be a piece of the end game of turning discredited public schools into charters through the appointment of a CEO. While this doesn't present us with immediate concern here in Elyria, Lorain would be the next district after Youngstown slated for take-over.

Senator Manning indicated that she and others were working on a legislative solution that would seemingly set Youngstown up as a pilot program to be studied. Unfortunately, this does little for Youngstown, but would seem to create a situation that buys Lorain more time. My wife and I indicated that we were aware that Senator Joe Schiavoni is also crafting legislation as a remedy, and Senator Manning indicated that she would initiate contact with her fellow Senator. For what it's worth, there are also a few lawsuits, and a request for an injunction to prevent the introduction of the plan.

We also spent some time discussing HB2, the bill that would begin to regulate the state's charter schools. The bill has passed the Senate and stalled in the House just before their recess. Both the Mannings are supportive of the current bill, but indicated that it would likely undergo further changes in the House before another vote. We indicated our overall support for the bill as "a beginning" in the overall regulation of Ohio's charters.

I would have been remiss had I not mentioned standardized testing. I reiterated my thanks for eliminating PARCC, while indicating that AIR has had its own issues with misleading and ambiguous questions. I thanked them for the move to a single testing window, while assuring them that we still assess far too much in Ohio K-12, that the 3rd grade guarantee is atrocious, our testing of Special Education students abominable, and the use of the VAM or any standardized testing in the evaluation of teachers was essentially meaningless.

By and large, the Mannings were receptive to our input. They were also very complimentary about what we do here in Elyria. I got the idea that they see us as an example of how public education can work in urban areas with diverse populations. We have done what is right for our students, and done well to promote our achievements. Be proud of your efforts.

Also, do not discount the power of your own voice. When a bill comes around regarding the Youngstown Amendment, or HB2 comes to a vote in the House, let your (and all) legislators know how you feel.

Thanks to Mr. Brown for letting us meet here at E-High. It gave me an opportunity to talk up our facility, programs, and students. If anyone has any questions about the meeting or otherwise, please let me know.

Yours in education.
Matt Jablonski
Social Studies Dept.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Auspicious Beginning.

When I moved into my classroom on the third floor of the Washington Building a few years ago, a praying mantis watched me from outside on the window ledge. I saw it as a sign of good things to come.

It has been.

Entering the building this morning, a praying mantis was waiting for me on the door, another auspicious beginning.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ready To Go.

It was a fairly short summer. Many districts have adjusted their calendars to afford, among other things, more time for instruction prior to standardized testing. It's a good thing, especially since we won't have a map of the new tests or sample questions until later in the fall. The degree to which this is problematic will vary from grade to grade and subject to subject, but it will be problematic, problematic for all of the reasons it has been in the past (too lengthy, cultural bias, no timely feedback, etcetera, etcetera), and problematic in new and exciting ways as well.

My apologies for using the word problematic four times in that run-on sentence. Have I illustrated that I believe there are problems with standardized tests? Good. I'm sure I'll have more on that as this school year progresses.

So, I went into my classroom this week to get some things ready. My first week and a half are planned, materials set. I had a look at class lists, and everything seems in order, five classes 26-28 kids each, sold out shows. I've been assigned a few hundred new friends on lists for cafeteria duty. I've put in some prep time this summer to adjust methods and materials. I'm ready to go.

I stood in the doorway of my classroom (see picture above), and all successes seemed possible. The thing is...every year I wonder whether I can do this again. Usually, I'm concerned that I won't remember how to teach, to interact, to build relationships, to put on the necessary show to hold the attention of 28 fifteen year olds at a time, and assure that they achieve the necessary level of mastery in American History according to Ohio's standards in relation to their own individual background knowledge, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses.

But now the issues have multiplied, with so many adults, in education, government and the community weighing in, and taking away, as well as adding to and coming down on what we do.

I ran into a few former students while I was in the building. They've become mentors to incoming freshmen, sharing information and support in a brilliant program designed to build connections. These kids are so enthusiastic, so terribly motivated, it is almost impossible not to be inspired to work for their benefit. Sure, they're not necessarily cheering on the end of summer, but they're ready to go. 

As always, the students have made all the difference.

It was a fairly short summer, but we're ready to go.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Remarks for the School Board

Tonight I had the pleasure of addressing the Elyria School Board and our new Superintendent, Dr. Tom Jama. My purpose was to encourage them to become more vocal regarding the many issues facing public education in Ohio. I was excited at the news this week regarding the Cincinnati School Advocacy Network, a coalition of 41 school districts engaging their communities and pressuring legislators on the premise that unfunded mandates and constant testing have become a burden to teachers, taxpayers, and children. My hope is that the leadership here in Elyria takes similar steps in order to continue facilitating change in the interest of public schools.

All in all, the response was positive. I received words of encouragement and/or agreement from many members of the community, administrators, teachers, and former students in attendance. The board president conveyed the concern of the school board over the issues that I presented, and suggested that they were in the process of considering a resolution.

Here is the transcript of my statement to the board this evening...

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Many of you know me as a history teacher from Elyria High, and while in many ways a teacher is always a teacher, I am here today speaking as a parent of a student entering Eastern Heights, an educational activist, a proud resident of the city of Elyria, and an advocate for children.

There is a crisis in public education. Contrary to what some would have us believe, it has nothing to do with failing public schools. It has everything to do with those who would, for their own private gain, discredit the incredible work being accomplished by public schools. As has been proven here in Elyria, if an educational community focuses on its function as a team, and celebrates its victories while pragmatically addressing its obstacles, that community can find success.

However, continued attacks on public education are making our efforts terribly difficult.

Over the last several years an increasingly vocal contingent of administrators, teachers, parents, and students have criticized our system of standardized testing. In the state of Ohio, this activism has forced the hand of politicians. Recently they decided to eliminate PARCC, and cut one of the testing windows. It is not enough. The assessments created by AIR are not any better. Three hours per test is still inappropriate. We are testing beyond the federal minimum of hours and content areas. While we squander instruction time for the sake of assessments, the tests will continue to measure what they measure best, which is the relative economic well being of the students taking them.

Parents are becoming more aware of the problem. Last year hundreds of families here in Elyria refused testing. Regardless of our opinions or guidance on the matter, they will again this year. Last week the ODE released its ramshackle system of “Safe Harbor.” Designed to protect students, teachers, and districts from punishment as we roll out yet another unfamiliar testing system, it fails to formally protect public schools from loss of funding due to refusals. Last year Senator Gayle Manning created an amendment that did just that. It needs to happen again.

With regard to the loss of funding, state legislators tout millions in funding increases to public education without factoring in the billions cut in past budgets, without mentioning the increases taken from local districts for charter schools that are very often less successful, and are as yet completely unregulated.

State Superintendent Richard Ross and the Ohio Department of Education have proven that their interest is not public education, but promoting charters. Ross and his staff manipulated the test scores of online charters to increase the overall ratings of charter sponsors. Despite having broken the law, Ross has refused to resign and no investigation has been undertaken.

Dr. Ross has also admitted to purposefully misleading the State School Board by hiding his involvement in the development of the Youngstown Amendment to HB70. In secret, Ross and others revised and championed a piece of legislation that dismantles the democratic process, dissolves the locally elected school board, and gives a frightening degree of power to an appointed CEO, who, within a year, can begin to turn over local public schools to charter school sponsors.

While this situation is currently catastrophic for Youngstown, it is dire for our neighbors in Lorain. They are next on the list of likely districts to be subject to this new plan unless they can raise their test scores in the next two years. Keep in mind that they are directed to do this despite being led by a state appointed Academic Distress Commission that has been criticized as dysfunctional, under a set of assessments that have yet to be created, in a district with high rates of poverty which, as I mentioned before, almost always correlates to exceedingly low scores on these assessments.

Those of us in districts like Lorain and Elyria have tried for years to illustrate the fact that socio-economic conditions have an adverse effect on our performance on these measures of school success. We've been criticized for making excuses, labelled as failures, then had our districts opened to charter schools. In something like the definition of hypocrisy, the charter sponsors who thrived under this system have now decided that it is not fair to rate them without considering socioeconomic factors. Responding to this request, the legislature has announced that they will study this issue through ratings created by the California “Similar Students” measure, which takes things like poverty into account when rating schools.

There is a crisis in public education, and these are but a few of the major issues. In order to begin to remedy this situation, we need to work as a community. We need to function as a team as we have done to find success in our schools. You are the leaders of this team.

Over the last year, local school boards and district superintendents have become more outspoken regarding education policy. School Boards have adopted resolutions to formally denounce issues as they have arisen. Superintendents from across the state have publicly condemned the assessment system. Dr. Jama, you are one of the greatest champions of public education that I have ever met, and one of the few people that I believe are as loyal to the city of Elyria as I am. I hope you will consider expanding on this outspoken tradition for the sake of our schools and our city. I also hope that members of the school board will consider the same.

I realize that resolutions, statements, and admonishments do not change the law. They do, however, send a message to legislators. Also, for those of us working tirelessly to change our public education system for the better, they arrive with a sense of vindication for our cause. They have a way of galvanizing the movement, of inspiring individuals who feel small in the face of this adversity.

I don't expect a response to these things today. I am simply asking that you consider the issues I have mentioned, others as they arise, and to consider taking a public stand. I believe that this is a natural extension of the work our community is already doing to assure success in Elyria’s schools. I look forward to hearing from, and working with all of you in the interest of doing what's right for Elyria’s kids.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Got 99 Problems.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, angry, disappointed, or put off? How about at the same time, like so much has gone wrong lately you're not sure where to begin?

I've scheduled two meetings, since cancelled, with my Senator and Representative, Gayle and Nathan Manning respectively, so that my wife and I could discuss the issue of the Youngstown Amendment and its implications for Lorain, Ohio. Well, it's been a few weeks, I haven't heard back, and now there is simply a shitload (forgive my language) of other problems created by a Republican directed Department of Education and state government.

What irritates me the most is that they didn't fix the first thing we tried to address. THREE HOURS OF TESTING PER SUBJECT is still too long. The process is meaningless, the feedback for students is not timely so is meaningless, the data for teachers is meaningless. The time in testing, test prep, in anxiety over testing is too much. They keep saying it's a federal issue. WE ARE ADMINISTERING MORE THAN THE FEDERAL MINIMUM. Stop with the excuses. Fix it. Then move on to the other messes you have created.

For a glimpse at the messes, as I see them, below you will find the message that I just sent to a legislative assistant regarding rescheduling our meeting. I don't mean to sound impatient. I know it's their summer break. It's mine too, but I have managed to complete coursework toward my renewed certificate, begin planning for a new course I'm teaching this fall, keep up with the almost daily train wreck of education news from Columbus, and harass legislators. This shit is a mess. Let's do something.

Ms. Staton,

I hope that you haven't forgotten about scheduling a meeting for my wife and I with Senator and Representative Manning. A lot has happened since we spoke last. We are still concerned about Youngstown as it applies to Lorain, especially as the Morning Journal has reported that the state appointed commission to facilitate Lorain's improvement has been almost entirely dysfunctional. We are also concerned with the utter lack of charter school reform, especially now as it is clear that Republican appointee Dr. Ross and his staff have purposefully cheated the system in favor of charters. Furthermore, the ODE's testing schedule has come out with 3 hours per test. This is beyond the federal minimum, if I am not mistaken, and clearly far too much meaningless testing. To make matters worse, the supposed "Safe Harbor" has done nothing to protect school districts from funding cuts in the likely wake of further parent refusals to take the test, and really only protects schools and districts from the use of letter grades and not other assessments of their progress. Overall, these policies seek to undermine proven public school education as provided by myself and my colleagues, in favor of unproven, unregulated, and underperforming charter schools.

As always, I appreciate the willingness of the Manning's to listen to constituent point of views. I trust you will pass along our concerns, and I hope that we can reschedule our meeting.


Matt Jablonski

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hey Lorain!

Today's Morning Journal opened the conversation regarding the Youngstown Amendment's implications for the Lorain Schools. You can find the article here...

I believe that this is an incomplete depiction, to be kind, and have suggested further study in a letter I submitted to the author, Carol Harper, the Journal's news room, and editors. Let's hope they keep investigating, and provide a more accurate depiction of the plan. The people of Lorain should be terribly concerned, if not outraged over this issue. The text of my note is as follows...

Good morning Mrs. Harper and other interested individuals from the Journal.

I appreciate your work in informing the people of Lorain of the ramifications of HB 70 and the so-called Youngstown Amendment. I am a teacher and resident of Elyria and an educational activist very concerned about the implications of appointing a CEO to lead a district. My wife and I have attended an informational forum in Youngstown and been in contact with their Senator, Joe Schiavoni. I believe that contacting ODE representatives for information has gotten you a whitewashed version of the issues. I have attached a form provided to me by Senator Schiavoni's office that provides a more accurate depiction of the plan (see below).

The issue regarding Lorain's improvement over two years in order to avoid take-over by a CEO is a very complex issue. As the chair of your Commission stated, the tests are changing, have not been vetted or assured of their reliability and validity, which is to say they are not necessarily measuring what they claim to measure or doing so with any accuracy. This creates significant problems in identifying progress. Furthermore, if you look at the research on standardized testing, what they measure best is poverty. Look at the top 5 highest and lowest rated schools in Ohio by standardized tests scores and you will find a predictable correlation to average income. With its relative rates of poverty, urban schools like Lorain and Youngstown (among others) are at a severe disadvantage.

The Ohio Department of Education, as an arm of the Governor's office serving the Republican agenda, is presenting this plan as necessary to help children in underperforming districts. However, the amendment that instituted the plan was attached to House Bill 70 less than a day before the vote. There was no committee meeting, nor any public discussion of the plan. If it is designed to help, as the ODE would have us believe, then why did it pass through this backroom manner that seems a violation of the democratic process. Representative Driehaus of Cincinnati, a key author of the original bill, who had worked for years on its construction, voted against it because of this scenario. As a matter of fact, all Democrats and a few Republicans (including Gayle and Nathan Manning) voted against the bill.

With this sort of scenario and resistance, even within the party championing the plan, we should find ourselves a bit skeptical. The bill gives a CEO "discretion" over the school board according to your article. It should first be mentioned that this is not an elected school board, but appointed, and a CEO who only needs "high level management experience in the public or private sector" according to the bill, conceivably none in education, not even a degree. More problematic are the powers given to the CEO, the ability to throw out collective bargaining rights, which you have mentioned and which should sound familiar to Ohio voters who fought against Senate Bill 5 during Kasich's first term. But after ONE year without achieving a C, the CEO may change curriculum, replace administrators, replace a majority of staff, contract non-profit or for-profit entities to run the school, or replace it as a charter school. The bill indicates that a district may cease to exist if no buildings remain.

And here we have reached the core of the issue. The plan does nothing to spell out a path to student improvement. What it does spell out is a path to privatization, the increase of charter schools in a given district and the state. Keep in mind that Ohio's charters have not proven to be more effective, and more often are far less effective than their public counterparts.

Please look into the information I have provided here. Contact Senator Schiavoni, the Manning's, the recently dissolved Youngstown School Board, and other stakeholders. Then come back to the people of Lorain with another story.

Thank you for your time.
Matthew Jablonski