Archives for category: New Orleans

Eli Broad has recruited Paul Pastorek, former state superintendent in Louisiana, to lead his effort to privatize the schools of 50% of the children now in public schools in Los Angeles.

Pastorek oversaw the elimination of public education in Néw Orleans. He was also a member of Jeb Bush’s far-right “Chiefs for Change,” a group dedicated to high-stakes testing and privatization.

In his new post, he will press for the elimination of many public schools.

“Few issues have roiled the LA Unified community more than the foundation’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district. An early report by the foundation said the goal is to serve as many as half the students in the district in 230 newly-created charter schools within the next eight years, an effort that would cost nearly half a billion dollars.

“It’s also a plan that district officials have said would eviscerate public education as it is now delivered by LA Unified. The LA teachers union, UTLA, has also attacked the plan as part of the Broads’ latest effort to “privatize” public education at the cost of union teaching jobs.”

Yesterday, the ex-CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme involving SUPES Academy. She is facing serious jail time. The owners of SUPES Academy, who made an agreement to pay BBB, have yet to be judged. Mayor Rahm Emanuel would like to pin the guilt squarely on BBB, but the Chicago Tribune revealed yesterday that the owner of SUPES is an ally of Emanuel and recommended first J.C. Blizzard as CEO, then BBB.

Jonathan Pelto, master blogger of Connecticut, sees connections that go beyond what we know so far. He sees Paul Vallas as a player in the Chicago drama. If you like to read truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories, read his post.

Pelto writes:

Charges were also filed against The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC, as well as against the owners of those two companies, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas. According to the indictment, their role in the kick-back scheme includes charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

A third company owned by the two individuals, PROACT Search, a superintendent search firm that provided New Haven with Superintendent Garth Harris and Norwalk with Superintendent Steven Adamowski has also been caught up in the FBI’s investigation into the Chicago scandal….

Prior to being hand-picked by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to run Chicago’s Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant and lead teacher for The Supes Academy, worked as a consultant for Synesi Associates and was listed as a part of the management team at PROACT Search.

While many key actors in the Corporate Education Reform Industry have been involved with Gary Solomon and his companies, one of the most prominent names on Solomon’s list of close colleagues is the Great Paul Vallas, the Education Reform Guru and former CEO of the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans public school systems.

More recently, Democratic Governor and education reform disciple Dannel Malloy brought Vallas to Bridgeport, Connecticut and then twisted Connecticut law in knots so that Vallas could stay for two years until local residents had finally had enough and forced Vallas to leave the job and return to Illinois.

As for the situation in Chicago, it could certainly be said that Gary Solomon’s ability to build such a “successful” corporate education reform company is due, in no small part, to his close relationship with Paul Vallas.

Vallas not only hired Solomon and his companies when he worked in Philadelphia, but brought Solomon with him to New Orleans.

And Vallas worked to bring other business to Solomon and his companies as well.

While Vallas has publicly claimed that he has no financial interest in any of Solomon’s consulting activities, in Vallas’ Philadelphia days Solomon’s consulting company advertised that it had “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model of education reform….”

The story gets weirder and weirder, as Vallas and Solomon play tag team:

When Paul Vallas moved on to New Orleans to head the Louisiana Recovery School District, Solomon picked up even more lucrative contracts.

But it is a story out of Illinois that provides a true snap-shot and insider’s view into how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works;

While Gary Solomon and his companies profited greatly via Vallas in Philadelphia and New Orleans, it is the somewhat more hidden story surrounding the Rockford School District (PSD 150) in Illinois the provides telling evidence about how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works.

More consulting contracts. Follow the story. Pelto is an amazing investigative reporter.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, explains why corporate reformers are in a bad mood. Nothing seems to be working out as planned. The word is getting out that Néw Orleans was not a miracle. Worse, black communities are angry at the white elites who took control of their schools.

Thompson writes:

“It has been quite a year for school reform anniversaries. This is the fifth year of the $500 million Tennessee Race to the Top, the prime funder of the $44 million Memphis Achievement School District, and the $200 million One Newark; the tenth anniversary of Katrina and the mass charterization of New Orleans; and the 15-year anniversary of the man-made Katrina launched by the Gates Foundation.

“The corporate reformers’ top-dollar public relations gurus must have anticipated a series of lavish celebrations of their market-driven reforms. But, reality intruded. It’s a safe bet there will not be ten-year and 15-year victory laps for those prohibitively expensive urban experiments that produced underwhelming results. If the Gates Foundation stays its course, even its education division may not be around for a 20-year birthday party.

“The reason why this was supposed to be the great reform victory lap of 2015 was that the incoming Duncan administration, heavily staffed by former Gates officials, rammed through the entire corporate reform agenda all at once. In 2009 and 2010, the contemporary school reform movement became the dog that caught the bus it was chasing. The wish list of market-driven reformers, test-driven reformers, and even the most ideological anti-union, teacher-bashers, became the law (in part or in totality) in more than 3/4ths of the states. Due to the Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and other innovations, competition-driven reformers were given the gifts and contracts that they claimed would reverse the educational effects of poverty.

“So, how did they do?

“The year that was supposed to be triumph at the top became the year of reckoning for accountability-driven reformers. Or should I say it became the year of the Billionaires Boys Club’s non-reckoning and avoidance of accountability?

“The anniversaries began with excuses over the disappointing outcomes in Memphis, as well as the Tennessee Race to the Top. True believer Chris Barbic worked himself into a heart attack and resigned as superintendent of the ASD. The money was spent, and instead of a series of victorious public relations events, reformers found themselves explaining away the outcomes. In the wake of falling test scores, the previous spring, Barbic told Chalkbeat TN’s Daarel Burnette, “I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected. … We underestimated that.”

“The refusal to listen to people who understand extreme poverty is almost certainly one reason why Memphis is now first in the nation in young persons out of school and without a job.

“Barbic’s parting excuse was:

“Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

“Then came Dale Russakoff’s The Prize. It would have been more difficult for Newark to have proclaimed victory after the decline of Governor Chris Christies’s political fortunes, the election of Ras Baraka as mayor on an anti-One Newark platform, and the removal of Cami Anderson as the state-appointed superintendent. But, Russakoff’s best-selling account of the battle over “Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” made it impossible to spin the corporate reform experiment as anything but an embarrassment. Russakoff revealed, “For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else.” Elite reformers were seeking “a national proof point” which would demonstrate how they could provide incentives and disincentives to solve society’s problems.

“Partially because of their refusal to tolerate dissent and to learn from the people who best knew Newark schools, One Newark actually drove down student performance in its high-challenge Renew schools. And tellingly, Russakoff cites the creator of the growth model that was inappropriately imposed on teacher evaluations. He said that simply focusing on teachers and growth is “pretty obviously myopic” and “a lot of high-stakes accountability has become self-defeating.” But, reformers ignored such advice, so “nonetheless, test-based teacher accountability for student performance remained a primary goal of the reform movement.”

“Third, whether it was a tribute to the sincerity or the hubris of New Orleans reformers, they broke tradition and invited scholars and educators representing multiple perspectives to their ten-year celebration. In contrast to the opaqueness of the financial statements typically issued by charter school chains, NOLA reformers acknowledged that during the early years of their experiment an additional $8000 per student was invested, and a decade later it still receives an extra thousand dollars per student. The most prominent result of all that spending is that it turned much or most of the New Orleans African-American community against the do-gooders who came down to save them.

“True believers in mass charterization proclaimed large gains in test scores. But the conference featured panels of scholars who were very articulate in questioning whether those metrics reflect actual learning. Moreover, experts noted that the gains must be seen in terms of NOLA’s shamefully low pre-Katrina starting point; post-Katrina demographic shifts; curriculum narrowing, a focus on test prep and remediation that doesn’t prepare kids for college or life; and the nation’s 3rd highest rate of young people out of school without a job.

“Finally, the Gates Foundation ordinarily seems to be allergic to learning from others, but it certainly conducted its 15-year anniversary in a way that was cognizant of the New Orleans conference experience. The clear lesson was that scholars and educators with differing views should not be invited. As the Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner reported, the event was presented to “a hand-picked audience.” Moreover, as Alexander Russo notes, the interview with the USDOE’s Ted Mitchell was closed to the press (due to a request by the USDOE), and the second day’s presentations were not live-streamed. If they were anything like the first day sessions, I doubt there would have been much of an audience anyway. The events I watched were merely infomercials.

“The Gates Foundation has spent about $4 billion on K-12 education since 1999 with nearly a billion of it going to its teacher effectiveness campaign. It still lacks a plausible scenario where its support of high stakes testing and charters will not damage the poorest children of color as in Memphis, Newark, and New Orleans.

“One would think that they would ask the same question as those who pushed the Memphis ASD, the federal RttT, and the Newark and NOLA experiments should ask. Why would the supposed beneficiaries of their largess be so livid, demanding that corporate reformers go home? If billions of dollars of test, sort, reward, and punish regimes were actually doing more good than harm, why would there be such a rejection of their programs?

“Even Bill Gates acknowledges, “Test scores in this country are not going up,” while taking solace in what he has been told are a few bright spots. He admits that a decade from now his teacher evaluation system may still be unwelcome by teachers. I doubt we will have to wait anywhere near that long before it is rejected. As Larry Cuban predicts, Gates’s value-added evaluations and other reformers’ panaceas will be “like tissue-paper reforms of the past … that have been crumpled up and tossed away.”

“Melinda and Bill Gates both seem perplexed as to why educators and patrons reject their gifts. Melinda remarked about how difficult it can be to persuade parents to accept their innovations. Bill said, “Nobody votes to un-invent our malaria vaccine.”

“Of course, Gates was criticizing the opponents of corporate reforms, not the reforms themselves. It’s a shame that he doesn’t seem to get an opportunity to be asked the seemingly obvious question. How is the malaria vaccine different than his education policies? The malaria vaccine works. Why not consider the possibility that educators and patrons oppose his education schemes because they don’t work?”

By now, you may be feeling “reform fatigue” in relation to stories about Néw Orleans. But since the propagandists never sleep in their boasts about the glories of privatization, this is a story that remains important in our civic life.

Mercedes Schneider reviews a study of charter school performance on NAEP, conducted by Francesca Lopez and Amy Olsen of the University of Arizona.

Schneider writes:

“One of the primary problems with Louisiana’s state-run, all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) is that the same state that is in control of data (and the official word on its data) is also committed to representing its state-run district in the best light.

“For this reason, independent analysis of data on Louisiana’s schools is particularly valuable, especially when the researchers are able to procure data independently of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE)….

“In order to make clearer comparisons between traditional public school students and charter school students on the eight-grade 2011 NAEP, Lopez and Olson controlled for socioeconomic status, special education status, English language learner status, and ethnicity of students as well as the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the schools.

“Regarding 2011 NAEP eighth-grade math, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, DC (counted as a state in this study), Texas, Rhode Island, and– with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

“As for the 2011 NAEP eighth-grade reading, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, DC, and– once again with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

“On the 2011 NAEP in both math and reading, eighth-grade students in Louisiana’s traditional public schools outscored their charter-school counterparts by between two and three standard deviations.”

Schneider says the post-Katrina reforms was “too much ‘white’ done to the black community.”

“New Orleans charter success is white-privileged-blown smoke and state-controlled mirrors. However, a more realistic, sobering word is surfacing, and the frayed, marketing edges of all-charter, state-run RSD are getting increasingly more obvious to the American public despite the likes of John White and Campbell Brown.”

Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, has recently written about the disappointing results of the chartering and privatization of almost every school in New Orleans.

Jonathan Alter was unhappy with her article in the New York Times because he is a fervent believer in the privatization of public education by charters.

The irony, as Gabor notes, is that she and Jonathan were classmates at the Francis W. Parker School, a noted private progressive school in Chicago many years ago. The “no-excuses” charters that Alter so admires are nothing like the Francis W. Parker School.

If you have read Lawrence A. Cremin’s The Transformation of the School, a magisterial history of progressive education, you know that Francis Parker preceded John Dewey as the “father of progressive education.” Here is the thumbnail sketch of the man who started the progressive education movement: Francis Wayland Parker (October 9, 1837 – March 2, 1902) was a pioneer of the progressive school movement in the United States. He believed that education should include the complete development of an individual — mental, physical, and moral. John Dewey called him the “father of progressive education.” He worked to create curriculum that centered on the whole child and a strong language background. He was against standardization, isolated drill and rote learning. He helped to show that education was not just about cramming information into students’ minds, but about teaching students to think for themselves and become independent people. This is the spirit that infused the school where Andrea Gabor and Jonathan Alter were both educated.

But now Jonathan Alter is a rabid advocate of “no-excuses” charters that look nothing at all like the Francis W. Parker School. Also, Alter is a fierce opponent of teachers’ unions. Generally, progressives support unions, because they understand that unions build a middle class and enable working people and poor people to raise their standard of living. That is not Alter’s perspective. He seems to think that having union-free schools is a recipe for success, even though there is no evidence for his belief and much evidence to the contrary (think Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, three unionized states that are the highest scoring states on NAEP).

In this post, Andrea Gabor gives some homework lessons to her former classmate.

Alter’s biggest mistake is that he fails to see public school systems as, well, systems. Even if he’s right that the “top quintile” of charter schools perform very well, that’s virtually meaningless from the perspective of creating a better system. There are good public schools as well as good charters, after all. A 20-percent success rate is meaningful only if you can show a path to scaling that success in a practical way.

The two questions we should be asking are: A) What is the best method by which to improve all schools? B) If, as in New Orleans, charter schools are used as Trojan horses for turning public schools into dumping grounds for the weakest students and, eventually, eliminating public schools altogether, what is the cost of doing so—to kids and to our society?

There is growing evidence that the market model of large-scale public-school replacement by charter schools—one based on a competitive race for limited philanthropic funding for whoever produces the highest test scores—is a zero-sum game that can only work by sidelining the most vulnerable kids.

Gabor goes, point by point, through the problematic nature of the New Orleans story.

I hope Jon Alter sits down with his former classmate and gives some more thought to his extreme views, which echo those of Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

Destroying our nation’s public schools is not a liberal goal, or should not be.

Jonathan Alter is an insightful writer about politics but knows little about education. He doesn’t like public education. Unfortunately, he thinks he is an education expert. He had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” where he looked solemnly into the camera and said, “We know what works. Accountability works.” Right. Like No Child Left Behind was a huge success.

Alter adores charters. Recently he wrote an article for the Daily Beast about why liberals should love charters. He doesn’t like me because I don’t love charters. A few years ago, he got very angry at me when I wrote about schools–both charter and public–that claimed to have produced miraculous score increases. Alter and I debated on David Sirota’s radio show in Denver, and Alter made clear that he believes any claim that a charter school made about test scores and graduation rates, no matter how outlandish. I guess I should thank Alter for giving me some good laughs, like the time he compared me to Whittaker Chambers, the ex-Communist who turned against Alger Hiss (Chambers had moved from left to right, while I had moved, in Alter’s words, from right to left, which he thought was a very bad thing for me to do) or the time he interviewed Bill Gates and called me Gates’ “chief adversary.” That still makes me laugh. I loved that and wrote a reply to Gates’ questions in the Alter interview.

Mercedes Schneider responded to Alter and walked him through the facts about charters, and their lack of accountability and oversight. She schools him about the New Orleans “miracle.” She calls her post “Why Liberals Should Think Twice About ‘Learning to Love Charters.'” Alter, she notes, is oblivious to charter mismanagement and scandals, apparently never having heard of them. He knows nothing of the politicians and entrepreneurs who open charters to make a fast buck.

She writes:

In his piece, Alter repeats the misleading statement “charters are public schools.” However, charter schools take public money without being held accountable to the public for that money. That contributes to the charter school scandal and turnover, which Alter refuses to address, instead insisting that the fact that traditional public schools in general outperform charter schools “is not especially relevant” because those “underperforming charters” run by “inexperienced groups” just need closing.

Keep the charter churn going. Never mind how it affects children and communities.

Never mind that 80 percent of charter schools can’t cut it. Alter chooses to pick his own cherries once again and focus on “the top quintile” of charter schools that tend to be charter chains. Since according to Alter this top 20 percent of charters beats traditional public schools (even though such is really “irrelevant”), it justifies the whole under-regulated, scandal-ridden charter venture.

One of her best lines (classic-Mercedes):

Alter thinks it is better for the wealthy to make it possible for the inept to fund their own schools than to buy yachts.

If the Waltons wanted to truly improve public education, they would invest in yachts.

Peter Greene says that he might be convinced to love charters, but they would have to make some very important changes.

He writes:

I’m not categorically opposed to them on principle. My aunt ran a “free school” in Connecticut decades ago, and it was pretty cool. I have a friend whose son has been seriously assisted by cyber school, and I know a few other similar stories. I think it’s possible that charter schools could be an okay thing. But the charter systems we have now in this country are so very, very terrible I can’t even like them a little, let alone love them.

So when will I love charter schools?

I will love them when they’re fully accountable.

Public schools have to account for every dollar spent, every student who falls under their jurisdiction. Charter schools are only “public” when it’s time to be paid. The rest of the time they are non-transparent and non-accountable. We have charter scandals over and over and over and over again in which somebody just makes off with a pile of money, or isn’t really providing services they claim to be, or doesn’t really have a plan in place. This is bananas!

We’re learning that in the New Orleans Wide World O’Charters, nobody is accountable for the students. A school can purge a child from its records by essentially saying, “Yeah, she went somewhere” without even having to confirm what happened to the student. In New Orleans, there are thousands of students missing– school authorities literally do not know where those children are.

Charter schools will be accountable when they are just as transparent and just as accountable as public schools. Financial records completely open to the public. All meetings of governing bodies completely open to the public. And run by people who must answer to the public and whose first responsibility is not to the nominal owners of the school, but to the actual owners of the school– the people who pay the bills and fund the charter– the taxpayers.

I will love them when education is their primary mission

Private industry is plagued with a disease in this country, a disease that has convinced business leaders that the purpose of their widget company is not to make widgets, but to make good ROI for investors. This has led to all manner of stupid, destructive behavior, as well as a glut of really lousy widgets.

Modern charters all too often export that bad business attitude over to the world of education, with everyone from hedge fundies to pop stars getting into charter schools because someone told them it’s a great investment. If financial returns are located anywhere in your success metric for your charter school, just get the hell out. Because all that can mean is that you will view every student and staff member as a drain that is taking money away from you. You’ll want to select students based primarily on how they can help you achieve your financial goals (by looking good on paper and not costing much). I can’t think of a much worse attitude to bring into a school.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is a national treasure. He is a well-educated researcher. He has a conscience and a heart. And with all that, he has courage and humor.

I love reading his blog, Cloaking Inequity. Not only his analyses sharp, but he usually has clever graphics.

This is latest post. He responds to critics of his policy brief on Néw Orleans, and he glories in some unexpected recognition.

Julian is a professor at California State University at Sacramento. If your community is planning a public forum, invite him to speak. You will learn and enjoy.

Julian Vasquez Heilig collected data on New Orleans and Louisiana and wondered what the hullaballoo was about. The state is one of the lowest-performing in the nation, by federal measures; and the charter schools have produced mediocre results.

Heilig’s policy brief was sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Since NPE supports public schools, it is hardly surprising that it looks with disfavor on a massive experiment in privatization. Every high-performing nation in the world has an equitable public school system. We should too.

The report examines NAEP scores, ACT scores, high school graduation rates, dropout rates, AP course taking rates, and other criteria.

A useful conclusion to a day of all-New Orleans, all-the-time.

You might want to refer to this policy brief when your legislator or Governor offers a proposal for an “achievement school district” or an “opportunity school district” modeled on New Orleans “Recovery School District.”

All day long, I have posted about the free-market reform of the schools in New Orleans. I have done so because the mainstream media has been touting the success of privatization for almost ten years. States and districts have declared their intention to copy the New Orleans model, believing it was a great success. I just heard a CNN news report stating that the elimination of public schools was controversial, but test scores are up, and the city is investing in its children’s futures. The same report said that 50% of black men are unemployed and 50% of black children live in poverty.

As this report from the National Education Policy Center shows, the test score gains have disproportionately benefited the most advantaged students.

The rhetoric of corporate reform is always about “saving poor black kids.” In New Orleans, they have not yet been saved.

This is a fascinating article about the New Orleans Recovery School District, that appeared in the International Business Times.

Which children were left behind? Who benefitted by the expansion of choice to cover the entire district? It describes the special education students who were pushed from school to school. The students who were suspended again and again for minor infractions. The high school graduation rate, still far behind the state rate.

Broader measures show a rejuvenated school system. ACT scores in the state-run district increased from 14.5 in 2007 to 16.4 in 2014, and far fewer students in the majority-black district attend schools deemed failing. The proportion of Orleans Parish high school graduates enrolling in college has grown more than 20 percent since 2004.[ed. note: a score of 16.4 is very low, too low for admission to four-year colleges.]

But parents of children like Jeremiah feel left out. Critics worry that many children, particularly those with behavioral needs, fell through the cracks. And newly available data from independent researchers, corroborated by former district employees, suggest that due to misreporting, official graduation rates may be overstated by several percentage points.

In relinquishing oversight to independent charter operators, former employees say, district authorities lost sight of at-risk students. Under stiff pressure to improve numbers or face closure, schools culled students and depressed dropout rates. And as families muddled through a complex and decentralized system, a sizable contingent of at-risk students may have left the system unrecorded.

“With an open system like that, it’s relatively easy to misreport information and fudge it,” says Clinton Baldwin, who coordinated the district’s student data from 2012 to 2014. “It was definitely something that was prevalent.”

Meanwhile, for the parents of the most difficult-to-teach students, the notion of school choice seemed to become a mirage.

“It’s not what you decide,” Osbey says. “It’s what they decide for you.”

The good news in the article is that the charter leaders are paying attention to the local critics and making changes.

The RSD, facing community pressure, has made substantial efforts to ensure students don’t get pushed out. A new enrollment system allows families to list their top eight picks. A lottery-like algorithm matches kids to schools so no one is excluded.

And a centralized expulsion system, designed in consultation with community groups, has curbed schools’ abilities to dump students for minor misbehavior, such as talking back to a teacher or violating dress codes. The state reports that expulsions dropped 39 percent last year.

“We listened to the community,” says Superintendent Dobard. “Parents have more opportunities now that the district is decentralized to make their voices and concerns heard.”

The efforts of people like Clinton Baldwin and Karran Harper Royal, the special education advocate, reflect a less-recognized current of reform that has characterized the post-Katrina recovery. Though outsiders largely defined the course of institutional reforms, native New Orleanians have made them more equitable.

“Many of the local critics of this system have led to dramatic changes,” says Stone, the head of the reform outfit New Schools for New Orleans.

That’s true in the charter community as well. “I’ve seen a big shift in the last five years,” says Gubitz, the principal at the K-8 Renew Cultural Arts Academy. “We are all listening more.”

Although there are powerful forces who want New Orleans to be a national model for urban districts–fire all the teachers, get rid of the unions, recruit Teach for America, replace public schools with privately managed charters–we should all look more deeply into the consequences of these changes in New Orleans before adopting it in other cities.


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