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

Monday, July 20, 2015


Over the past week, Ohio Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Ross has been forced to admit that his office manipulated grades to improve the ratings of charter school sponsors, a crime known as "scrubbing" the scores, which got some teachers and school administrators jail time,

AND he concealed his work on the Youngstown Amendment from the State School Board while he took them on tours in Youngstown's schools and encouraged them to work on solutions for the very schools he secretly planned to privatize through said amendment.

Complete the following sentence...

Dr. Richard Ross...

a) is a criminal who should immediately resign his post pending an investigation.
b) has the greatest push broom moustache in the history of government.
c) will keep his position and continue to wrong Ohio's school kids.
d) all of the above.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stop calling. OK, keep calling.

The Governor signed HB70 into law today. You can stop calling him, unless you're calling to rail against him for other reasons (like Ohio being 49th in the nation in job creation), or you're calling in order to take part in scream therapy. Far be it from me to dictate actions associated with your psychological well-being.

On second thought, let's keep calling him (whatever name you like) because the manner in which the Youngstown Amendment passed is an affront to democracy, and the ridiculous array of powers it doles out to a single individual are frightening.

If you've forgotten the gyst of the Youngstown Amendment, Patrick O'Donnell does a fine job paring it down in this article...

Check it out. I'll wait.

Good, you're back and pissed off again. You're welcome. Now call the Governor and tell him about himself. After all, is this any way for the future President of the United States to act? No, it is not, which is why I'm rallying for the Democratic Socialist from Vermont.

I have also contacted my Senator and Representative, Gayle and Nathan Manning respectively, and they have graciously extended an invitation to my wife and I to meet next week to discuss this legislation. I hope to get a better grasp on the ramifications for Youngstown, and also for Lorain, which is currently in Academic Distress and could fall under the same rules in 2017-2018. 

For what it's worth, if my math is right, any given school district is 3-5 years from complete takeover by a state appointed CEO (depending on safe harbor and the maintenance of successful scores on state assessments that we haven't seen yet). So, if you're someone who has trouble with empathy and doesn't do shit unless it effects you, then act now so it doesn't effect you.

Here's Kasich's number...

Here's where to find your State Representative...

Here's where to find your State Senator...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Welcome to Youngstown. We are all Youngstown.


Kasich will be signing HB70, including the Youngstown Amendment on Thursday. Contact him in order to voice your outrage. Encourage him to VETO the bill because of the Youngstown Amendment.

Call his office at this number...

Contact him through email here...

Here's his Twitter handle...


After you contact him, do yourself a favor and search Lego John Kasich on Twitter.

Alright tear it up.

On behalf of Youngstown Public Schools and public schools everywhere, thanks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Prophets and Pariahs

It is July, and with my district's calendar set to begin earlier this year in order to fit more prep time prior to state assessments, it is time to consider the coming year. In a little more than a month I'll meet 130 or so sophomores brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of learning American History, and (better yet) being tested by the state of Ohio on their acquired knowledge of American History, in order to facilitate their graduation, overall sense of accomplishment, and self-actualization.

On day one, I will be able to report that their state legislators have worked in their interest to revise the albatross of a testing system that they suffered through last year. The state's budget bill has dumped PARCC, I will inform them, limited the testing to a single window, moved the tests nearer the end of the year, assured a quick turnaround on scores, and promised shorter assessments overall.

Upon delivering said information to my classes, I imagine the cheers will be heard for miles around before we share high-fives, and our laughter mixes with tears of joy. The religious might offer up a quick prayer of thanks, while the non-religious will simply shake their heads in disbelief at an example of adults in leadership roles doing the right thing. Their faith in the goodness of humankind will be restored. I will become something of a prophet and cult hero having delivered the information.

I conservatively estimate that this celebration will last through the first few days of school. By day three, having exhausted a case of tissues, and nearly suffered dehydration through the expulsion of tears, we will begin to regain control. At this point, a conscientious hand will rise in the back of the room.

Mr. Jablonski, exactly when will the tests occur?

Well, I'm not sure.

How long will they be?

Uh, PARCC was going to shorten them by 15%, but Senator Lehner, Head of the Education Committee, said she'd like to see them shortened by 50%, but the law did not specifically indicate how short they'd have to be. So, I guess somewhere between half as long and not shortened at all.

So, we might have to take a 3 hour assessment in a single testing window?

Well, that's terribly pessimistic, but yes.

What will the tests look like? Like, how many essays, how long will they have to be? How much multiple choice? Are there source readings? Will they be long? Boring? And how does this effect the graduation requirement? Will we take the tests with our class? Or homeroom? Or be placed in testing groups with administrators we don't know?

And just like last year, this group of students will be met with a resounding and unfair, "I don't know."

And most assuredly my hero status will plummet, and I will be a pariah, trying to balance something of a meaningful American History course while schlepping test prep materials in order to meet the demands of an albatross of an assessment system.

No, I don't know what the tests will be like, kids, but I know that without a proper process to assure their reliability and validity, those tests will judge your merit as my student, my value as your teacher, the quality of our school, and the accomplishments of our district. Now let's get to it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Vendor Has Been Chosen.

In a remarkable (or predictable) turn of events, the state of Ohio has chosen AIR as its test vendor less than 24 hours after abandoning PARCC. In this photo, Ohio Governor John Kasich is trying his hand at the new 4th grade reading test just written by the American Institutes for Research. The test is piled there to the Governor's left.

"You know what I like best about the park?"

"You know what I like best about the park?" is what I heard a kid on my soccer team ask me.

"What?" I played along. "That I don't have to take them."

Well, of course, he meant PARCC, and as we found out yesterday, nobody has to take them because Ohio has passed legislation that forbids that vendor from providing tests.

In some sense this is good news. So, first, thank you to that kid, and his parents as well as all of the other kids and parents that had the courage to refuse the tests. Thank you to the handful of parent activists here in Elyria who got this thing rolling locally, and continued to provide information and raise hell as the movement spread throughout the county. Thanks as well to those state-wide who played a similar role, those who wrote letters to the editor, contacted legislators, spoke publicly against the intrusive assessment system, or simply educated themselves and others.

Now that we're done patting ourselves on the back, let's look at this for what it is, a small victory. Yes, PARCC is gone, but as I've been saying all along, the American Institutes for Research wrote the Social Studies and Science tests to be PARCC-like (read confusing and inappropriate). Guess who has the inside track to write the new assessments. You guessed it, AIR. So, in all likelihood, the next thing could be just as convoluted and demoralizing as the last thing. Sorry, I don't mean to bring you down.

I know, they've done away with the multiple testing windows. Testing will occur on a single occasion near the end of the year and be shorter in length according to the legislation. Don't get me wrong, the move to one testing window is awesome, a clear win, less intrusive, but how long is the test? The legislation fails to spell out an exact time limit for assessments. Senator Lehner said she hoped to see the testing time cut by half, but this is not in the legislation.

Also, when will they take place? My school year begins in a month and a half. I am developing lessons and setting the pace of my course. Where is my end point? What is the nature of the assessment? How many and what type of questions? You see, my students will have to pass this test in order to graduate. So, while the legislators are patting themselves on the back and heading off to their own summer break, I'm going to prepare to head into yet another school year where my colleagues and I will have very little information regarding the assessments under which we're all being judged.

And as long as I'm being pessimistic about this thing, there is still completely unnecessary testing from 3rd through 8th grade that seems to exist for the sole purpose of grading schools and teachers. These tests have created a culture of assessment, a season (or longer) of anxiety, and despite the new deadlines for feedback on results, will likely still provide absolutely no meaningful information from which to inform instruction. We've been testing like this for better than a decade to bridge the achievement gap and improve college readiness, to leave no child behind. It is not working.

Don't misunderstand me, the developments regarding Ohio's assessment system as passed into law in the budget are a victory. However, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. This is a beginning. We have collectively created change, but it is a change (while an improvement) to another imperfect, intrusive, and unnecessary high-stakes testing system.

Congratulations? I'm going to the park.