Archives for category: No Child Left Behind

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.

Mercedes Schneider has followed the development of the new federal legislation to replace the failed No Child Left Behind. She is one of the few people in the U.S. who has actually read every word of both the Senate bill and the House bill.

She concludes in this post that there will be no federal sanctions for opting out. The Congress has made clear–in both houses–that it does not want the federal Department of Education to take an activist role in punishing states. Will states punish school districts where parents rise up in rebellion against high-stakes testing. Schneider thinks not.

However, I now think that if the House and Senate conference committee whose task it will be to merge SSA and ECAA into a single bill decide against the SSA blanket opt-out and go with the state-level opt-out provision in ECAA, the federal government will not sanction states, regardless of state-level opting out.

In other words, if according to the future ESEA revision, states are supposed to set their own opt-out policy and include as much in the future ESEA Title I funding application, and if a state includes no opt-out provision in its future ESEA application yet dips below the 95 percent of students completing federally-mandated annual tests, the federal government is not likely to strong-arm states with federal sanctions.

I believe the federal government knows it has gone too far in strong-arming states via conditions attached to federal tests. For example, both the SSA and ECAA revisions include language to limit the role of the US secretary of education. The current US secretary, Arne Duncan, has actively promoted and defended Common Core and its annual tests; with the backing of President Obama, Duncan has lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen with the lure of Race to the Top (RTTT) funds; he has paid for two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced; he has made it a condition of states’ RTTT funding to use student standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and via his NCLB “waivers,” he has cornered states into agreeing to institute Common Core and its associated annual tests as well as testing teachers using test results as a condition for avoiding having the almost all schools in all states declared “failing” according to NCLB.

So, the fact that major news outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are doing their best to chastise those who support opting out of standardized tests is not enough to conceal what is obviously a federal blunder to make annual testing the end-all, be-all of American public education.

In its August 15, 2015, editorial, the New York Times points to possible federal penalties for New York State’s failure to test 95 percent of its students. It also notes that parents’ opting out of tests “could damage educational reform… and undermine the Common Core standards….”

Gee, that would be terrible.

It seems that the plan in New York is for state officials to put the squeeze on superintendents and principals to encourage participation in future annual tests– and to not encourage opting out. But the opt-out movement is not driven by superintendents and principals. It is driven by parents who are tired of the toll that test-centric education is taking on their children, including the artificially branding of their children as failures and the state’s allegiance to this branding…

The reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.

Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.

There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.

Federal and state officials need to take the hint as they formulate a non-test-centered Plan B.

Duane Swacker, teacher and loyal blog discussant, redponds to a comment with a suggestion:

“I teach in SC and we have the same pressure.”

Can we get 50 states chiming in???

I teach in MO and we have the same pressure.

I teach in ____ and we have the same pressure.

Emma Brown of the Washington Post has a good article about the Murphy amendment, which Democrats favored and Republicans opposed.

 

The chamber voted 54 to 43 against the amendment, which aimed to give the federal government more say in defining which schools are low-performing and require intervention.

 

Instead, the bill allows states to decide not only how to judge schools’ success, but which schools don’t measure up and what to do to improve them.

 

The proposed amendment’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said that could return the country to the days when states and school districts could ignore achievement gaps and allow poor, minority and disabled children to languish.

 

“This law is an education reform law, but it has to be a civil rights law as well,” said Murphy, invoking the law’s original passage in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

 

The measure was opposed by many Republicans who want to rein in the federal government’s influence over education, which they say ballooned under the Bush and Obama administrations.

 

“Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee.

 

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers are sure to continue pushing for stronger accountability provisions before sending the legislation to the White House. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that the Obama administration would not support the legislation unless it strengthens the federal role in school accountability. But he stopped short of saying whether the president would veto it.

 

Why do Democrats believe that the U.S. Department of Education has the capacity or knowledge to identify “failing” schools or to intervene to improve them? Nothing in the past decade suggests that this is a realistic expectation.

 

Democrats have now almost completely bought into the assumption that more testing=more equity, when it is a well-established fact that standardized tests always have a disparate impact that disadvantages students and adults of color. For many decades, the same civil rights groups that now defend standardized tests for students have litigated to block the use of standardized tests as decisive measures, whether in school or in employment. But for reasons that are hard to discern, certain leading civil rights groups now insist that without testing every child every year, children of color will be overlooked and neglected. Of course, if standardized tests could meet the needs of children of color and children in poverty, these children would be in far better shape today than they are because they have been taking standardized tests every year since 2003, when NCLB was implemented. That is an entire generation of children. What are the results? Where are the benefits of the billions spent to test every child every year? How many children have lost access to courses in the arts, history, science, civics, geography, physical education, and foreign languages because they took time away from test preparation?

 

NAEP already documents the achievement gaps every other year for every state and for many urban districts by scientific sampling. No other nation tests every child every year. The cost of testing and the instructional time lost to test prep actually hurts the children it is supposed to help.

 

Why don’t the Democrats listen to other civil rights groups, such as the Journey for Justice Alliance, which opposes high-stakes testing. Is it because they don’t have lobbyists? Here is part of their open letter to the leaders of the Senate:

 

The Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.

 

We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist. What, from our vantage point, happens because of these tests is not improvement. It’s destruction.

 

Black and Latino families want world class public schools for our children, just as white and affluent families do. We want quality and stability. We want a varied and rich curriculum in our schools. We don’t want them closed or privatized. We want to spend our days learning, creating and debating, not preparing for test after test.

 

In the Chicago Public Schools, for example, children in kindergarten through 8th grade are administered anywhere between 8 and 25 standardized tests per year. By the time they graduate from 8th grade, they have taken an average of 180 standardized tests! We are not opposed to state mandated testing as a component of a well-rounded system of evaluating student needs. But enough is enough.

 

We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?

 

High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.

 

Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive.

 

Throughout the course of the debate on the reauthorization of ESEA, way too much attention has focused on testing and sanctions, and not on the much more critical solutions to educational inequality.

Emma Brown reports in The Washington Post that the Senate turned down an amendment that would have allowed parents to opt out of federally mandated tests without penalty.

 

The lead author of the Senate bill said that this decision should be left to states.

 

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said.

 

But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — the Republican co-sponsor of the carefully crafted bipartisan bill — spoke forcefully against the proposal, saying it would strip states of the right to decide whether to allow parents to opt out.

 

“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” said Alexander, who has framed the bill as an effort to transfer power over education from the federal government to the states.

 

I have great respect for Senator Alexander but his argument is not logical. The federal government mandates the tests, but it leaves to states the power to decide whether parents have the right to opt out. Why is the federal government mandating any tests? Why is this not a state responsibility? If he were being consistent, he would leave the testing and the right to opt out to the states. I would just remind the Congress that the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 was a resource equity act, not a testing and accountability act. It was meant to send money to schools and districts that enrolled students who lived in poverty. It was No Child Left Behind that turned the ESEA into a testing and accountability act in 2001-02. And it was the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 that first proposed that states create their own standards and assessments.

 

No matter what the Congress does, no matter what the states do, parents can opt their children out of testing if they believe the tests are neither valid nor reliable.

 

If anyone has a list of Senators who voted for or against the amendment, please send it.

 

A large coalition of grassroots groups and civil rights organizations wrote a powerful letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and every member of the Senate expressing their views about what should–and should not–be in the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

 

This is how their letter begins:

 

The Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.

 

We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist. What, from our vantage point, happens because of these tests is not improvement. It’s destruction.

 

Black and Latino families want world class public schools for our children, just as white and affluent families do. We want quality and stability. We want a varied and rich curriculum in our schools. We don’t want them closed or privatized. We want to spend our days learning, creating and debating, not preparing for test after test….

 

The letter points out that the children of Chicago will have taken 180 standardized tests by the end of eighth grade. This is not education.

 

We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?

 

High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.

 

Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive….

 

They don’t just complain. They have clear solutions that Congress could enact if it had the will.

 

First, there are 5000 community schools in America today, providing an array of wrap around services and after school programs to children and their families. These community schools serve over 5 million children, and we want to double that number and intensify the effort. We are calling for a significant investment in creating thousands more sustainable community schools. They provide a curriculum that is engaging, relevant and challenging, supports for quality teaching and not standardized testing, wrap-around supports for every child, a student centered culture and finally, transformative parent and community engagement. We call on the federal government to provide $1 billion toward that goal, and we are asking our local governments to decrease the high stakes standardized testing with its expensive test prep programs and divert those funds into resourcing more sustainable community schools.
Second, we want to include restorative justice and positive approaches to discipline in all of our sustainable community schools, so we are calling on the federal government to provide $500 million for restorative justice coordinators and training in all of our sustainable community schools.
Third, to finally move toward fully resourcing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we call on the federal government to provide $20 billion this year for the schools that serve the most low income students, and more in future years until we finally reach the 40% increase in funding for poor schools that the Act originally envisioned.
Finally, we ask for a moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program, which has pumped over $3 billion into new charter schools, many of which have already closed, or have failed the students drawn to them by the illusive promise of quality. We want the resources that all our schools deserve – we don’t need more schools. We need better ones.
So now we are prepared to say, clearly, that we will take nothing less than the schools our children deserve. It will cost some money to support them, but that’s okay, because we have billionaires and hedge funders in this country who have never paid the tax rates that the rest of us pay. We are a rich country, and we can afford some world class community schools.

 

 

 

Carol Burris, who recently retired as principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Néw York, here explains why she supports the Every Child Achieves Act.

She writes:

“It forbids the Federal Government from:

–requiring or promoting teacher evaluation systems.

–setting, mandating or encouraging standards such as the Common Core.

–imposing school improvement strategies.

–taking federal money from states that allow parents to opt their kids out from testing.

“In short, ECAA would require Mr. Duncan to stop imposing his reform strategies on the states and our schools. And that allows all of us to have more influence at the state and local level to help set a better course. No State Education Department can hide behind federal mandates to justify the Common Core or evaluating teachers by test scores.”

The act has too much federal funding for unaccountable charter schools and for school choice.

But Burris believes it is a step forward nonetheless.

Mercedes Schneider reviews the D.C. Merry-go-round, where legislators who are not educators are deciding what to do to the nation’s schools.

The Senate’s bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act has the singular distinction of telling the Secretary of Education that he is prohibited from meddling in state standards and tests and teacher evaluations. Until now, Arne Duncan claimed to be very satisfied with the bill. Maybe he actually got a briefing, as the Obama administration now says it is not happy with the bill.

Civil rights groups continue to clamor for federally mandated annual testing, even though Black and Hispanic students have seen their schools turned into test-prep centers, with loss of non-tested subjects.

Higher education groups are lobbying for the Common Core, which has sinking support. Apparently they look forward to shrinking enrollments, since most students fail the “rigorous” CC tests. They will see an especially large decline of Black and Hispanic students, whose failure rates in PARCC and SBAC are scandalous. Do they care?

Expect more federal funding for charters and more charter scandals.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, writes here about the Every Child Achieves Act and the distortions that are filling her email box these days. Haimson is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education and a fearless supporter of public education.

She writes:

Over the last few days, I have been flooded with blog posts, Facebook comments, memes and tweets, claiming that the bi-partisan bill to be debated this week in the Senate, called ECAA, or Every Child Achieves Act, must be opposed, because it “locks in” Common Core and many of the worst, test-based accountability policies of Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education.

Yet this is far from the truth. For nearly 13 years, students have suffered under the high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NCLB was likely the dumbest law ever passed by Congress, because it required that all public school children in the United States reach “proficiency” by 2014 as measured by test scores, or else their schools would be deemed failing.

The inanity of NCLB was exacerbated by Race to the Top and other policies pursued by Arne Duncan that put testing on steroids. These policies treated our children as data points, reduced our schools to test prep factories, and attempted to convince parents that their education must be handed over to testing companies, charter operators, and ed tech corporations. This disastrous trend resulted in huge parent protests and hundreds of thousands of students opting out of state exams last spring.

The current Senate bill is admittedly far from perfect. It still requires annual standardized tests in grades 3-8, as did NCLB. It would allot far too many federal dollars and too little accountability to charter schools, while encouraging merit pay for teachers – all policies likely to lead to wasted taxpayer funds that would be better spent on programs proven to work, such as class size reduction. It would do nothing to protect student data privacy, while allowing the continued disclosure of sensitive personal information to vendors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent. Hopefully this critical issue will be addressed separately by Congress, by improving one or more of the many student privacy bills introduced during the past few months.

Yet ECAA still represents a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards. In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Duncan has done with the Common Core, through his Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.

It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

It is true that many states have already drunk the Common Core/testing Koolaid, led by Governors and legislators influenced by the deep pockets of corporate reformers or tempted by RTTT funds. ECAA also still requires annual testing, which the Tester amendment would replace with grade-span testing, as many organizations including FairTest and Network for Public Education have strongly urged. (Full disclosure: I’m on NPE’s board.) The bill has a provision aimed at alleviating over-testing, by requiring that states audit the number of standardized exams and eliminate duplication, though it’s not clear how effective this requirement will be.

But with or without the Tester amendment, ECAA would release the stranglehold that the federal government currently has on our schools, and would allow each of us to work for more sane and positive policies in our respective states and districts. For this reason alone, it deserves the support of every parent and teacher who cares about finally moving towards a more humane, and evidence-based set of practices in our public schools.  

Politico,com reports that the states are working to reduce testing. Do you believe it? Color me skeptical. As long S NCLB and Arne’s waivers threaten school closings and teacher evaluations based on test scores, how can any state cut down on testing?

STATES CONSIDER CUTTING TESTING: The Council of Chief State School Officers sent states a survey earlier this year and recently revealed [http://politico.pro/1NxwAQH] one of their findings: At least 39 states are working to reduce unnecessary testing in various ways. That might include establishing a task force, surveying existing tests, gathering feedback from educators and more. Last October, CCSSO and the Council of the Great City Schools announced an effort to review testing across states and districts.

– Which states aren’t among the 39? According to CCSSO’s survey results: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas. But doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing – CCSSO stresses that some additional states have taken action since the survey was administered earlier this year. For example, North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler launched a task force to review the state’s testing options after glitches with the state’s Smarter Balanced vendor, Measured Progress, interrupted exams this spring. Some states took action prior to the survey and some may not have responded to the survey.

– Speaking of testing, a group of Florida state lawmakers wants Republican Gov. Rick Scott to dump this year’s testing results on the Florida Standards Assessment. Tampa Bay Times: http://bit.ly/1JxPjxF.

– And the California high school exit exam may be suspended immediately. EdSource: http://bit.ly/1JyxqPb.

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