Archives for category: Education Reform

I read Jeff Bryant’s interview with the President-elect of NEA, Lily Eskelsen, and I think I love her.

She is smart, strong, and she doesn’t mince words.

She was a classroom teacher for many years, and she speaks from experience teaching many kinds of kids, including kids in special education and kids in a homeless shelter.

She knows that VAM is ridiculous.

She knows that tests can be valuable when used for diagnostic purposes, but harmful when used to pin a ranking on students, teachers, principals, and schools.

She gets it.

Here is a small part of the interview. Jeff asked why NEA delegates voted for a resolution calling on Duncan to resign.

“Bryant: So what’s the frustration for teachers?

“Eskelsen: Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

“Bryant: So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?

“Eskelsen: Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.

“Bryant: Doesn’t Duncan understand that?

“Eskelsen: No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.”

Teachers, time to make your voices heard!

Parents, help your children’s teachers get fair treatment!

Students, you need teachers who can speak truth without fear!

Teachers should not be fired for teaching “The Invisible Man.” Teachers should not be fired for opposing war. Teachers should not be fired for allowing students to express controversial views. Teachers should have due process, the right to a fair hearing.

Time to speak up!

There’s an important conversation happening Thursday night, and we need your help—and your tweets—to make sure the right questions are asked.

Former journalist Campbell Brown is going on “The Colbert Report” to spin a new lawsuit she’s pushing in New York state. It’s a copycat of Vergara v. California, and it would strip New York’s teachers of key job protections like due process.

Brown’s organization—ironically named the Partnership for Educational Justice—has hired some of the fanciest PR firms in the country, including the firm that ran Mitt Romney’s online program in 2012, to sell its snake oil. This will be her first big media appearance to sell it.

Brown is hoping to get softball questions and spin them to blame teachers. But there’s one big question she doesn’t want to get: Who’s funding these attacks?

Brown refuses to disclose her donors, but we know she’s deeply connected in the corporate “reform” crowd. Her husband even sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY!

We need to make sure Campbell Brown doesn’t get a free pass from the press. We’re launching #Questions4Campbell to make sure our voices are heard every time she makes an appearance.

Will you ask Stephen Colbert to make Campbell Brown answer the right questions? You can just click any of the suggested tweets below, or write your own using #Questions4Campbell and tagging @StephenAtHome.

Why won’t @campbell_brown disclose her funders? Afraid Americans might not like what they see? #questions4campbell @StephenAtHome

The usual anti-teacher funders: Walton. Koch. Wall St. Silicon Valley. Who’s funding @campbell_brown? #questions4campbell @StephenAtHome

Just “holding the coats” or pulling the strings? @campbell_brown doesnt speak for this NY parent. #questions4campbell for @StephenAtHome

One of your “student plaintiffs” has a parent who’s paid by StudentsFirstNY. Conflict of interest? #questions4campbell for @StephenAtHome

You’re against due process for teachers. Who else shouldn’t have rights, @campbell_brown? #questions4campbell on @StephenAtHome

Campbell Brown and her friends want to sell you the same “blame teachers” line we’ve seen from Michelle Rhee and right-wing politicians for years. They’ll tell you tenure means a job for life and that due process makes it impossible to dismiss ineffective teachers. Now, emboldened by a radical ruling in California, they’re spreading this misinformation across the country, starting in New York.

Their claims couldn’t be further from the truth. In New York, teachers are granted tenure—and due process protections—after three years of success in the classroom. Once your boss grants you tenure, due process simply means he or she must produce just cause to discipline or terminate you. Due process gives teachers the protections to speak up for their students, stop cronyism and innovate in the classroom.

Campbell Brown is hoping to cruise through her media appearances unchallenged. But news shows and the media are paying more and more attention to social media.

Your tweets can be a powerful force in the fight to reclaim the promise of a high-quality public education for every child. Help us challenge the “blame teachers” crowd by adding your voice on Twitter right now.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten
AFT President

Just when you think things can’t get worse in Connecticut, another “reform” scandal pops up.

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the clear pattern of hiring unqualified people to run impoverished districts. Their way of operating: cut services, bring in Teach for America, install unproven programs.

She writes:

“It is becoming painfully clear that in Connecticut, the refrain that education reform is “all about the children,” is a sad joke. To Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his allies, children are merely collateral damage.

“Recently, there was the scandal involving Hartford’s Milner school, in which the children were used as pawns in a scheme to expand the charter empire of now-disgraced Jumoke/FUSE CEO Michael Sharpe. Pryor never bothered to discover that Sharpe is a former felon and falsified his academic credentials. Instead, while Milner was floundering under Sharpe, Pryor, a longtime Sharpe supporter, handed him two additional schools. The fate of public school children was clearly the last thing on Pryor’s mind. Currently, the FBI is investigating Pryor’s, Sharpe’s and Jumoke/FUSE’s connections.”

The latest drama is playing out in impoverished New London, where the state is pushing to hire a superintendent with a phony doctorate.

Connecticut is one of the nation’s highest performing states. It didn’t get that way by turning children over to inexperienced, unqualified teachers and superintendents. The achievement gap is a direct result of the opportunity gap. It won’t be closed by experimenting on children but by reducing the poverty that creates obstacles for children.

The following letter appeared as a guest post on Anthony Cody’s blog:

Paul Horton’s Open Letter to President Obama: Listen to Committed

Dear Mr. President,

Like thousands of experienced classroom teachers throughout our great country, I am very concerned about how you decided to go the way that you did with your Education policies. I was recently told by a close friend of the yours that “Arne’s Team looked at all of the options” and decided to go with its current policies because “they would get us where we needed to go more quickly than any other set of alternatives.” I was also told, “that not everybody could be in the room.”

The problem was that you and Mr. Duncan did not listen to experience. The blueprint for Arne’s plan for stimulus investment that morphed into the Race to the Top Mandates (RTTT) featured advisers from the Gates and Broad Foundations, analysts from McKinsey Consulting, and a couple of dozen superintendents who were connected, like Mr. Duncan, to the Broad Foundation. Most of those who were invited to advise you were committed supporters of heavy private investment in Education who favored high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations. Most of these advisers also favored the scaling up of measurable data collection as a way to measure progress or lack of progress in American Education.

If you had listened to the leading experts on standardized testing and the achievement gap, you would have learned that your policies were bound to fail. Our former colleague here at the U of C, Professor James Coleman, was the first to establish this empirically. You should have taken the time to learn learn about Campbell’s Law, a concept that is taught in every graduate level statistics course here at the University of Chicago.

On a more personal level, Mr. President, you consulted many of your contacts in Democrats for Education Reform, an organization funded mostly by Democratic leaning Wall Street investment firms. And you were also very impressed by the ideas and passion of a Denver charter school principal and Democratic activist, Michael Johnston….

Thousands of teachers possess the experience, training, and commitment to advise you on Education matters. But you chose to listen to those who went to places like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford who have only two years of classroom experience. Commitment, I submit, is a very important word.

The true measure of one’s commitment to Education is one’s willingness to sacrifice one’s will to power and economic potential to be successful in the classroom. TFA kids who go back to grad school after two years in the classroom and buy into corporate education reform are embracing their will to power. Most of these kids tend to have every advantage to begin with, they get an Ivy League education, and they are ambitious young liberals. Rather than staying in the classroom and truly making a difference by developing their teaching skills over twenty or thirty years, they can achieve administrative positions in the charter world that have far more economic potential than teaching positions by buying into the mantra of data-driven corporate reform lingo.

You have left thousands of us behind and allowed inexperienced “experts” yellow-brick road access to take charge. You and your administration have encouraged a “Cultural Revolution” in American education. Your Education Secretary embraced and applauded the Madame Mao of this movement and allowed his Inspector General to whitewash an investigation of cheating in DC Schools. You promoted your basketball buddy and very close friend of your campaign finance manager to be Secretary of Education. You chose someone with a Broad Foundation background. The Broad Foundation has written a “toolkit” for the destruction of public schools that is being used in Chicago, Philly, and New Yorks and in many cities across the country.

Your policies represent a new elitism. You seem to think that: “if we can get these really smart Ivy League educated former TFA people in senior policy, superintendent, and administrative positions, then we can turn this whole thing around.”

This idea is arrogant beyond belief, the equivalent of the “best and the brightest” idea that drove us into the ground in Vietnam, only you have decided to do it in Education. Robert McNamara was brilliant, he had an analytical razor, but he lacked a moral compass and anything resembling empathy for the lives of those who were dying in a “winnable” war. Mr. Duncan has a great deal of empathy, however his policies are misguided. Indeed, in my humble opinion, his department’s policies are an inarticulate mess. If he were ever asked the tough questions under oath in senator Harkin’s committee, we could very well discover that his use of the authority of his office overstepped the legal parameters of the laws circumscribing federal involvement in the formulation of Education policy. Ms. Weiss and Mr. Sheldon III, two of Secretary Duncan’s advisors who worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation prior to serving under Secretary Duncan, articulated what Mr. Gates wanted on his terms in exchange for tacit support for your campaigns. Several Wall Street investing firms also made it clear to you and to Mr. Emanuel that they were willing to support you if your Education policies encouraged private investment in charter schools.

Much as McNamara destroyed the U.S. Army in Vietnam, your Education policies are destroying two or three generations of dedicated and excellent classroom teachers by allowing them to be humiliated by young people who have very little experience. The policies that you have endorsed will set the teaching profession back twenty years much as the Cultural Revolution set China back twenty years. While recent studies have indicated that only two to three percent of classroom teachers are ineffective, your policies vilify the 98% who are effective and exemplary. Your policy makers would have done well to examine the teacher assessment policies of Montgomery County, Maryland that are based on the AFT’s Toledo Plan to learn how to deal with ineffective teachers.

You have bought into a corporate model of Education Reform: you seek to create competition among public and private schools, you encourage the “creative destruction” that your University of Chicago Business School buddies and Judge Posner love, and you seem to be gung-ho about selling off the public commons of American Education that were built with the sweat and blood of American farmers and workers. Do your policies work for young people who need stability in their lives? Creative destruction might benefit some kids (I was a military brat), but it probably does not benefit most.

Your Education policies embrace the management tactics of McKinsey Consulting that call for the firing of twenty to twenty-five percent of the teacher workforce every two years. You have said that Education should not “all be about bubble tests,” but your policies measure progress by bubble tests and they narrow the curriculum when they require standardized testing in some subjects, but not in others.

Your campaign pledged to address income inequality, but you and many of the mayors that you support are actively working to destroy what is left of the American middle class. Your Education policies work actively to destroy teacher unions. Many of your mayors and governors are working to bust teacher, hospital, public employee, firemen’s, and police unions….

The questions that you need to examine more closely are:

How do we get and keep candidates who would be brilliant in any career into the classroom?

How do you increase the size of the quality teaching pool?

The answers are clear and they don’t have anything to do with charter schools.

If Mr. Gates were really serious about Education in this country, he could invest in creating a system like Finland’s. The problem is that he is more interested in selling product than investing in four well qualified and well trained teachers in every classroom.

Progress in Education is not about buildings, it is not about technology: It is about human investment, not the expansion of markets.

President Obama, I have great respect for you. I have taught many of the young people who work for you. Ask the young man who has cooked for you for many years what a hard ass teacher I was. Please find the time to talk to committed teachers who have given their entire professional careers to improving Education in this country. This would require you to step outside of your comfort zone inside of Democrats for Education Reform and Teach for America circles. It will also require you to look beyond the mess that Ms. Weiss, Mr. Shelton III, and Bill Gates have helped to create. It will require you to talk to exemplary, veteran teachers about teaching and schools rather than to Arne Duncan

Please encourage Senator Durbin and his committee to completely defund No Child Left Behind. Do you prefer to fund Pearson Education or allow thousands of teachers to be laid off? This is what it is coming down to. Will you allow the middle class to be further eroded? Or will you fight for the jobs of teachers? Will you reward Wall Street investors in Education and Bill Gates, or are you willing to fight for neighborhood schools and arts and humanities programs? Will you use Value Added Measures tied to standardized testing to further discredit teachers? Or will you begin to understand how complex real learning is, learning that can not be measured by “bubble tests.” These are your choices, Mr. President. Please look beyond your current Education advisors if you want to explore complex questions and solutions.

All best,

Paul Horton
History Instructor
University High School
The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Marion Brady is a retired teacher and administrator and prolific author.

He writes:

“In a commentary in the July 21, 2014 issue of Time magazine, columnist Joe Klein takes aim at one of the usual targets of today’s education reformers—unions. In a dig at New York City mayor de Blasio, he says, “A mayor who actually cared about education would be seeking longer school days, longer school years, more charter schools…and the elimination of tenure and seniority rules…”

“Like just about every other mainstream media pundit, Klein thinks he knows enough about educating to diagnose its ills and prescribe a cure. That he’ll be taken seriously testifies to the power of what’s become the conventional wisdom, that if America’s schools aren’t performing as they should it’s because teachers aren’t getting the job done.

“What’s the teacher’s job? Raising standardized tests scores.

“What’s the key to high test scores? Rigor.

“What does rigor look like? No-excuses teachers doing their thing for as long as it takes to get the job done.

“What’s “their thing”? Teaching to demanding standards—the Common Core State Standards.

“The market-force-education-reform juggernaut set in motion by business leaders and politicians about a quarter-century ago is simple and easily summarized. (1) Adopt tough performance standards for school subjects. (2) Use high-stakes tests to measure performance. (3) Reward high-scorers; punish low scorers.

“Which, when you think about it, is off the mark. School subjects are just tools—means to an end. We don’t tell surgeons which scalpels and clamps to use; what we want to know is their kill/cure rate. We don’t check the toolbox of the plumber we’ve called to see if he (or she) brought a basin wrench and propane torch; we want to know that when the job’s done the stuff goes down when we flush. We don’t kick the tires of the airliner we’re about to board; we trust the judgment of the people on the flight deck.

“School subjects are tools. Kids show up for kindergarten enormously curious and creative. What we need to know is how well schooling is enhancing that curiosity and creativity. Kids learn an incredible amount on their own long before they walk through school doors. What we need to know is how much improvement there’s been in self-directed learning. Kids appear to begin life with an innate sense of what’s right and fair. What we need to know is how successfully that sense is being nurtured.

“We’re on a wrong track. Standards? Of course! But not standards for school subjects. What’s needed are standards for the qualities of mind, emotion, character, and spirit the young must be helped to develop if they’re to cope with the world they’re inheriting.
The Common Core Standards, says the CCSS website, “provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness.” Just stick to the CCSS script to be prepared for college and career.

“College? Years ago, the Association of American Colleges’s Project on Redefining the Meaning and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees said, “We do not believe that the road to a coherent education can be constructed from a set of required subjects or academic disciplines.” I’ve seen no evidence that the thoughtful among them have changed their minds.

“Careers? We have no idea how the interactions of globalization, automation, climate change, clashing societal
worldviews, and trends not yet evident will effect careers. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that nobody knows what careers are going to be available when today’s elementary school kids are looking for work.

“Back in the 70s, in his book Reflections on the Human Condition, Eric Hoffer, philosopher, writer, and longshoreman, wrote something that the Common Core Standards don’t adequately reflect: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

“Standards? Sure. But not standards for solving quadratic equations, or for recalling the chemical formulas for salt, sand, baking soda, and chalk, or for interpreting Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail as some self-appointed “expert” thinks it should be interpreted.
And not standards that make it easy to create machine-scored tests that perpetuate the destructive myth that quality can be quantified and turned into data to drive education reform.

“Standards—proper standards—could work wonders. Consider, for example, the effect just one standard could have on teachers, on teaching materials, on kids, on the citizenry, on America:

“Schools will be held accountable for sending learners on their way with a deep-seated love of learning and a willingness and ability to follow where that love leads.”

Federal law enforcement agencies, armed with search warrants, raided the offices of Concept Schools in Illinois.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
“The recent FBI raid at the Des Plaines headquarters of Concept Schools focused on many of the politically connected charter-school operator’s top administrators and companies with close ties to Concept, according to federal documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

“Authorities last month said FBI agents carried out raids at 19 Concept locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as part of an “ongoing white-collar crime matter” but declined to provide further details of their investigation.

 

“Copies of the search warrants that FBI agents served in Des Plaines and a subpoena seeking records show investigators went hunting for a wide range of documents pertaining to Concept president Sedat Duman, founder Taner Ertekin and other current and former executives of the fast-growing charter network.

 

“The investigators also sought documents about companies that were hired by Concept to perform work under the federal “E-Rate” program, which pays for schools to expand telecommunications and Internet access.

 

“Concept is linked to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and has developed strong relationships with many local politicians, including state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

 

“Four of Concept’s 30 publicly financed schools are in Illinois, including the 600-student Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park and two campuses that opened a year ago in the Austin and McKinley Park neighborhoods. Chicago Public Schools officials approved another two Concept schools on the South Side for the 2014-15 school year.

 

“For one of the two newest Concept sites, in Chatham, more than $528,000 in public funding was earmarked to pay rent for the coming school year to an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 swearing-in and served on Emanuel’s transition team….

 

“The federal documents obtained by the Sun-Times, however, reveal that the FBI is taking a close look at the operations of Concept.

 

“Federal law enforcement authorities in Cleveland, who are leading the probe, sent a grand-jury subpoena to Concept on May 30. The subpoena gave the charter chain’s administrators until June 17 to provide a long list of records…

 

“The warrant gave agents the right to take any documents relating to Concept’s involvement in the E-Rate program as well as “all bank records,” “all general ledgers,” “all calendars,” “all documents related to employee travel” and “all telephone records, telephone lists and contact lists.”

 

“Concept officials have said they were cooperating with the investigation and would not make any further comment.

 

Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey W. Snyder explain the new educational philanthropy–and how it intersects with federal priorities–in this valuable article.

They spot three significant trends:

“Our analysis proceeds in three parts. First, we examine phil- anthropic grant-making for political activities and demonstrate that funding for national policy advocacy grew from 2000 to 2010. Second, we analyze the shifting policy orientation among top education philanthropies. We find that most major education foundations increasingly support jurisdictional challengers— organizations that compete with or offer alternatives to public sector institutions. Meanwhile, funding for traditional public education institutions has declined. Third, we examine the range of actors and perspectives supported by philanthropic grants, applying social network analysis to identify overlapping patterns of grant-making. We find that top donors are increasingly supporting a shared set of organizations—predominantly jurisdictional challengers. We argue that the combination of these trends has played a role in strengthening the voice and influence of philanthropists in education policy.”

What are jurisdictional challengers? These are organizations that challenge the traditional governance of education, such as charter schools. More philanthropic money goes to these challengers, less money goes to traditional public schools, and more money goes to networks of jurisdictional challengers, like the NewSchools Venture Fund and Stand for Children.

This is a fine scholarly work that confirms what many of us saw with our own eyes. The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.

Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong?

EduShyster has discovered a mole inside the reform movement in California. He or she plans to share insights into the wonderful world of school reform in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

Russ Walsh has been teaching about literacy for 45 years. He started blogging to share his thoughts.

But then he discovered that his views about literacy did not exist in isolation. They were part of a great national debate that involved the Common Core, education reform, charters, and other aspects corporate education reform. He read other bloggers and found that he was engaged as a. Teacher,a reader, a writer, and a thinker. These were not stages of development but a process of thinking, writing, and acting.

Now he too is part of the national debate.

Just received good news from crack investigative journalist David Sirota:

http://davidsirota.com/

July 14, 2014
————————————————————

Friends:

http://www.ibtimes.com

I just wanted to share some exciting news in my world – as of July 21st, I will be starting a new job at the International Business Times (www.ibtimes.com). I will be a senior writer focusing on the intersection of politics, business and finance. This will be in addition to continuing my nationally syndicated newspaper column.

As you may have read in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/03/business/media/tiny-digital-publisher-to-put-newsweek-back-in-print.html?_r=1) , IBT Media is the company that recently purchased Newsweek. I will be doing investigative reporting for IBT Media’s flagship publication, International Business Times, which is right now building out its newsroom under its new editor, Peter Goodman (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/business/media/huffington-post-editor-leaving-for-international-business-times.html) . An award-winning journalist, Peter came to IBT after stints as a top economic correspondent for the New York Times and Washington Post and then as executive business editor of the Huffington Post. Getting a chance to work with him and the team he is putting together as they build out IBT’s newsroom is an amazing opportunity.

After an incredible winter and spring breaking stories with PandoDaily about pension politics (http://davidsirota.com/sirotas-pandodaily-investigation-of-the-new-jersey-pension-system/), campaign donors in Chicago (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/south-loop-hotel-benefits-rahm-donor-griffin/Content?oid=13056486) , stealth programming arrangements at PBS (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/business/media/wnet-to-return-3-5-million-grant-for-pension-series.html) and secret deals on Wall Street (http://pando.com/2014/05/05/leaked-docs-obtained-by-pando-show-how-a-wall-street-giant-is-guaranteed-huge-fees-from-taxpayers-on-risky-pension-investments/) , I’m really looking forward to expanding that investigative work for IBT. The IBT folks have made clear to me that they are supportive of that kind of hard-hitting, non-partisan journalism – and they have built an esteemed editorial team in support of that commitment.

So many of you have reached out to me in the last few weeks with support and encouragement. I’ve really been blown away by all the kind words about my work, and I want to thank you for that – it has meant a lot to me. As always, if you have story leads, sources or ideas you’d like to discuss, I’m available by email (mailto:david@davidsirota.com) , Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/davidsirota) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/rocktheboat) .

Onward!

Rock the boat,

David

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