Republicans betraying education?

Hey, Lizard Queen!“We have been inexorably centralizing control over the schools in this country for 150 years. We’ve gone from one-room schoolhouses overseen directly by the parents of the children who attended them to sprawling bureaucracies that consume half of the operating budgets of their respective states. We’ve gone from 127,000 school districts in 1932 to fewer than 15,000 today — despite a massive increase in the number of students.”
Andrew J. Coulson

Arnold Kling discusses free markets, education, and NCLB here.

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  1. 🙂 Yes, Coulson and Kling are definitely preaching to *this* choir member.

  2. No arguments here.

  3. Zathras

     /  January 19, 2007

    Of course, the centralization occurred in the first place because most decentralized schools were not doing their job. The one room schoolhouse was fine on the prairie, but not in the modern setting.

    One of the most pervasive myths is that schools have become worse over time. In fact, the average of performance has increased slightly. However, the standard deviation has gone way down, so that the better schools have become worse, and the worse schools have become much better. This is not to say that the system is working now; more that it wasn’t ever working.

  4. It wasn’t ever working after the 1960s, that is. Huge societal changes happened — ethnic and gender integration, increasing urbanization, rise in “brown people” immigration, and more — and the public schools, in trying one thing or another, has turned into a multi-headed monster in which, chopping off one problem, three new problems pop up.

    The rise and increasing importance of the community college system (which was created in the late 1960s and early 1970s), I think, is both a symptom of how bad public school education has become for a large part of its student population and also a BIG FAT CLUE of how to fix it.

    I’m percolatinig on a blog entry on this, BTW. 🙂

  5. Alex

     /  January 20, 2007

    Okay, I read the article and while I don’t disagree with NLCB in its current form, I think more privatization of public schools, or teaching children wholesale by for-profit companies is a far worse choice.

    Profits and the public good always conflict. The ever strong desire for better profit margins begins the slippery slope to shoddy service, cut benefits, and finally crap for your money. I know I know…take your money elsewhere. Easy to say if you have the money to pick up an move or drive your kid 50 miles across down each day to go to a better school run by another company. If you’re barely making ends meet, well guess what – you’re a steady customer for the local education monopoly because you can’t move away and you have to have your kids educated.

    However, just like the argument in the paper relies upon 1 datapoint (MD school system, which really isn’t quite as bad as the article author lets on), I have 2 data points in favor of public education where I’m very pleased with the education my children get. The local district in Midland, MI was very good, and schools here in Kettering are quite good as well. Whatever the school doesn’t cover (which isn’t very much), we cover the rest with our kids. I think way too many people look at one horrid example, especially in poor areas where the tax base can’t support good schools, and think the whole system is broken. If I could be any more cynical, I’d say those speaking out against public schooling who point to poor districts as a problem to be fixed are feeling guilty their kids have it so good.

  6. happycrow

     /  January 20, 2007

    If the Dems in Congress (with some Rep crossover) didn’t consistently block tax vouchers for education, this wouldn’t be SUCH an issue. My Dad looked at teaching in PA and MD, and, although much less political than I, came away disgusted by the way the unions basically had permission to run your life.

    The Lizard Queen had a truly fairy-tale education — in the public schools. Mine was okay, mostly because Mom and Dad insisted that we take honors track courses and didn’t take no for an answer. (And we’re natural nerds, so it’s not like we put up much of an argument).

    But there are places where privatisation could be a serious boon, by presenting competition where there really isn’t any except for the local Catholic or Korean Baptist school. In that respect, it would be a boon by presenting more options, since most charter schools, if I recall my facts as presented by NPR about two years ago on Tavis Smiley’s old beat, are by and for folks who don’t have a pot to pee in.

    The worst solution would be the public-private partnership route where a governmental monopoly is replaced by a corporate one. In that case, I fully agree with the profit!=public benefit argument. But if profit means “we’d like to be able to pay our teachers and keep up the plumbing,” I don’t see an issue.

  7. Alex

     /  January 21, 2007

    If profit would only equal pay teachers and keep up the plumbing I don’t see a problem either, but it never stays this way for long. Eventually greed sets in which ruins everything, and so regulation is needed, which eventually leads back to public-owned systems once all the for-profits get out and exclaim “too much regulation”, when it was their acts in the first place that led to the downward spiral.

    Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it, indeed.

  8. happycrow

     /  January 21, 2007

    Yes, but the reverse argument holds as well: just because one is in a governmental agency does not mean that bureaucratic principles cannot be every bit as damaging and self-serving as an overweening profit motive…

  9. happycrow

     /  January 21, 2007

    and when it happens to the private institution… the students can simply go elsewhere. When a govt has an effective monopoly, there’s nowhere to go.

  10. Alex

     /  January 21, 2007

    Yes, the reverse does hold true, but since bureaucracy is a reactive animal, rather than proactive, it reacts to faults it has to regulate. However, I’ll admit it isn’t perfect.

    As for going elsewhere, that only works in theory. If you have to drive your kids across town and have to pay more to get the better education, you will only be able to do so IF you have the money to do so. Which means only the well-heeled have the freedom to take advantage of market forces. Everyone else gets to live with what they have.

    I suppose truly public owned school systems (say like a co-op) where you have a vested interest in seeing it succeed would be a great alternative to govt. owned or private-owned schooling systems. I will also admit however that this ideal system will not work in today’s society, at least not in places where civic duty doesn’t exist and people have little time to donate to school supervision and assistance.

  11. Alex

     /  January 21, 2007

    And due to a server error my reply didn’t make it, let’s try this again.

    I do admit that bureaucracy can be just as bad, but government is a reactive, rather than proactive beast, and so it is actions outside the govt. that lead to regulations which end up damaging the public system because the for-profits abused it to begin with.

    As for going elsewhere if the private institution doesn’t work, this only works in principle if you have the cash to afford driving to a new location or paying more for a better education. Only the well-heeled can truly take advantage of “free market” forces. Everyone else has to live with what they have the minute the “choice” is out of financial reach.

  12. Happycrow

     /  January 21, 2007

    This doesn’t account for the rapid rise of charters schools primarily in areas served by poor students. These communities are beginning to self-organize. (Also, I don’t think most profit-oriented companies are going to try to run grade schools… there’s *really* not a lot of money to be made. The sharks will hunt in fatter waters, methinks.)

  13. I will sound like a broken record on this. The only way to “save” — i.e. increase the quality in public school education — across all school districts, no matter what the state, commonwealth, or territory — is to get rid of the multiple tracking system that exists in grades 6-12, Have only *one* track — the highest one.

    The model for this exists in public education. It’s called the community college system, where the enrollment is open to all students of all abilities — just like the secondary public school system.

    Repackage it to meet younger students’ needs. That’s what Happycrow meant by “fairy-tale education.” I was tracked high, with the highest quality of education in the public schools. Students in that track make As, Bs, and Cs. But those grades — especially the Cs — are higher quality Cs than those in the “lower” tracks. C-students in the AP/Honors/College-bound track are better prepared for college — and life, for that matter — than C-students in the “regular” track, IMHO.

    And that’s just DREADFUL. It’s “separated-but-equal” discrimination in education all over again. It’s Orwellian Animal Farm “we’re all equal, but some people are more equal than others.”

    It defies what public education was supposed to do in the first place, and is a violation of the public trust and good-faith public funding.

    IT MUST CHANGE, in order for the US to be competitive in the 21st century and for a High School Diploma actually to be worth a damn for change, instead of a pre-req for college (of whom many are woefully unprepared) or a pre-req for a Working Poor service or retail job.

  14. Alex

     /  January 22, 2007

    It’s Orwellian Animal Farm “we’re all equal, but some people are more equal than others.”

    I remember the first time I read this it hit me hard and I got it – and was rightly incensed about its meaning in modern society. Now that I’m older I realize that this phrase points out instead the truth of life over the course of all human history. It has always been this way. However, I would love to see that change.

    I don’t know how this would work though – as even under a “one track” system, the system is only as good as it’s local teachers can implement. Not all math/science/history/english teachers are the same in quality, and if I go back to the argument on poor districts vs. rich ones, it all boils down to the tax base, which is based on economic class, not ability. So unless you take the money and spread it around evenly to hire equally good teachers everywhere, AND make those same places able to retain the good teachers (which could mean cleaning up whole neighborhoods), it seems like you’ll be back where you started: Some are more equal than others.


  15. happycrow

     /  January 22, 2007

    It’s not all money: contrary to myth, teachers are actually pretty well-paid… and a good teacher can overcome a lack of schmancy materials.

  16. I want a hybrid.. If we’re going to have taxpayer-funded education, so be it.. But RUN it with private schools.. Let everyone get a ‘credit’ for a certain amount of money for tuition and then let the private schools compete for those $. A certain amount of regulation would balance out rich vs poor vs tax-base, ie regulated tuition rates that are ‘immune’ to the income base.

    Then you’ll see private schools competing for the same monies, and competition will drive them to differentiate from each other, largely through quality.

    But then, I don’t subscribe to the ‘big evil business’ stuff that’s been thrown around on here and Lemurland.

  17. happycrow

     /  January 22, 2007

    I don’t subscribe to “big evil business,” either. I do strongly believe in, having seen, “big, badly-run business” …..

  18. Alex

     /  January 22, 2007

    A truly good teacher who is ideally motivated by teaching others doesn’t need a lot of cash…but when someone who could be turned into a good teacher and is very brilliant can choose between a high-paying University job and median income high school, then money really is an issue. I will admit though, that money isn’t everything, but it helps keep the roofs from leaking, the puke from sick kids off the floor, enough paper for printing out tests, and all the additional support services that go into an education, public or private.

    If only the free market competition model would really work in principle – I’d love to see competition push to better products. In the case of essential services though the competition doesn’t really work as you have captive customers. The customers cannot easily pack up and leave because service stinks. The amount of upheaval in the life of a child and their learning habits, not to mention the parental sanity of changing everything serves as a deterrent to going elsewhere. Further, while the parents and child may decide to go to a better school, if the next closest school is too full then they have to go to another place which now is to far away and again they have no choice. It’s sort of like saying “well I’m not paying for water anymore because the service sucks!” Who are you going to get water from if not the local company/municipality who has all the plumbing and lines? Sure you could make your own…but are you ready for the hassle? And what makes the hassle go away…money. Therefore, only those with lots of money can take advantage of the free market system. Those in lower classes cannot.

    And for the record, I’m not against capitalism and free markets. I just know that due to inherent human laziness, eventually shortcuts will be taken and the easy path (which usually is the evil one, even if it is inadvertently evil) dominates how most companies act. This is why I always stick with local businesses that do the right thing, even if they’re not the absolute leader. They have a vested interest to survive locally since they live here. Someone from a global conglomerate could care less – they only want the money to support next quarter’s goals. Hmmm…maybe a hybrid where the companies that run the private schools have a regulation where they have to be locally owned and they MAY NOT sell to a larger firm/holding company. Got a problem with the local company, go tell your neighbor he or she is doing a crappy job and to get their act together.
    Nah…probably won’t work. I’m being to idealistic again.

  19. The private educational institutions that I have been familiar with during my tenure looking at college applications at a university tell me these things:
    1. most private educations are provided to a local community by local organizations, be they the local catholic parish, church or other local community organization.
    2. most of the students that come from these institutions have at least as good an education as their public school counterparts and usually better, the real competitor being children that are home-schooled in an accredited home school program.
    3. public schools are much more positioned to give social counseling and behavioral conditioning than they are at math or reading.
    4. working to educate the ‘lowest common denonimator’ through exhaustive but rather useless state testing has made an entire generation perfectly capable of taking mutiple choice questions but rather poor at writing basic essays.

    Opinion: The reason that Carter and his congress created the Department of Education was an excercise in growing federal bureacracy and control. It has had little positive effect on what education really happens in the schools, and I believe in many cases it is deleterious. I do not think that the people involved were actually evil beings that had some great evil plan, but they fell victim to the belief that the federal government could improve the private sector. Now that that is in place, there is a real feeling that private sector schools are not just in competition with public schools, but that they teach evil things like prayer in schools, morality based on a religion, memorization, excellence over mediocrity, and personal responsibility. The basis for the opposition to a voucher system, for example, has been based on the lack of the government’s ability to control the curriculum of private schools and that private schools have been exempt from the onerous and useless state exams. Many private schools share these concerns for obvious reasons, and I share those concerns. The fact that private school students generally do better than public schools in college entrance exams has escaped the notice of the public eye, and when it is noticed you hear the tired argument that it is because all private school kids are “the rich.” That is just not so, and I can point to many, many parents that have paid the extra expenses at great personal cost to get their kids through a good private education. As a result, it is my belief that there is hardly anything that the private sector cannot do more efficiently than the public sector, most especially education.

  20. happycrow

     /  January 23, 2007

    In particular, Alex, one thing you’re missing on the pay scale, is credentials. I can get a bachelor’s, and pull 40k a year in education (this in TX: that figure rises dramatically once you go to the coasts and upper midwest in the pockets of ridiculous living expenses). That, unless you’re in a specialized technical field, is remarkably close to what a whole bunch of other folks are earning with the same degree. Teachers are NOT impoverished, and are actually paid well.

    To teach in a 4-year school, you need a doctorate. So if somebody with dramatically higher credentials is going to teach in the high schools, they’d need a salary incentive. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d be a more effective teacher in the process — lots and lots of PhD’s are in it for the research, not the teaching.

  21. Alex

     /  January 23, 2007

    Perhaps my opinions are skewed due to having 2 kids in a public education system – and I’m very pleased with how things are working for them. But I know that the schools are good because I live in an area where 1) Tax base is good 2) Parents generally care about the quality of education and tend to volunteer at the school to help out and stretch the budget dollars. I do worry about the “teaching to pass a test standard” but anything that the schools don’t cover Julie and I do.

    I have heard the horror stories about public education, but I have not seen them here in Ohio, nor in Michigan. Maryland had its problems, and South Carolina…well it is hit or miss. Good schools in Charleston SC, so-so to poor in the rest of the state. The schools I attended in Virginia when growing up were very good. With these data points I’m not fully convinced that the public system is as screwed up as everyone makes it out to be or that “big government” at national/state/local is a problem. Yes there is plenty of room for improvement – and while I know that sometimes the private sector can do things better, any time profit to meet the bottom-line/next quarter results is involved the chance of doing it wrong goes up dramatically. Maybe this is why private school systems run by non-profits (Catholic schools, local organizations) are better and I don’t have a problem with them. If I could afford it I might consider sending my kids to St. Charles Borromeo right up the road just to get them that extra boost, but for now I’ll stick with what I have.

  22. I have much rambling discourse to share later but for now:

    “(this in TX: that figure rises dramatically once you go to the coasts and upper midwest in the pockets of ridiculous living expenses). ”

    I know a number of teachers here on the East Coast who would reply to this with ‘where the hell does he get THAT?!’ .. One of my best friends teaches 9th grade and only JUST cracked the $40k mark, after about 7 years of teaching..

  23. Alex

     /  January 23, 2007

    My mother teaches in Virginia (teaches 7th grade) and I think just broke the 45k mark after teaching for 15 years.
    So Russ, I’m not sure if your numbers are correct. As I understand it in very high cost of living areas, teachers cannot make ends meet and so ironically some of these high-tax base areas have crappy public education, but those who can afford to really live there can also afford private education.
    One thing I will agree with Russ on is that pay is degree based. Had my mother completed a masters degree a few years ago she would have gotten much more in pay. Obviously a doctorate is better, but at that level the US university system pushes research, not teaching, as a way of life, and so all PhD students are taught to think like researchers. So I further agree with Russ that by the time one gets a PhD which would warrant better pay, 95% of candidates are thinking research since this is how they were taught and trained. Maybe it is time to change that methodology, but that involves a major cultural shift in higher degree education that I don’t see coming anytime soon.

  24. The bridge between high school (teacher’s cert.) and university (Ph.D.) is the community college system (MA). It’s also the key to fixing the public schools, which is why Prez. Bush mentioned the community colleges in picking up the slack that the public high schools have failed.

    And that’s the thing. Public elementary schools seem to be doing okay, across the board. But once kids reach middle school and high school, it becomes hit-or-miss, because the state agencies that cover preK-12 public schools don’t talk to, and often don’t cooperate with, the state agencies that cover state higher education.

    One notable exception to that is Texas. Hence the rise of public charter schools, the increase in home-school communities, the increase in Collegiate High Schools *on the community college campus*, and the call for high schools, community colleges, and state universities to work together, to provide a clear path for a kid coming out of the public elementary and middle school.

    Notice that I haven’t mentioned the private sector not once. Because, as Alex points out, we currently don’t have the infrastructure (i.e. publicly funded vouchers) for poor parents to send their kids anywhere *but* the public schools. If one has a good charter school (which is publicly funded but locally — i.e. parent — controlled) in the neighborhood, then struggling to pay for private tuition becomes moot. Unless we reform the federal financial aid system to include pre-higher education costs as well. And that would be a bureacratic mess.

    Perhaps Texas is a guinea pig in reforming public education, in that respect. I haven’t researched the other states.

  25. Russ: Public school teacher salary tends to be the same rate, no matter the cost of living of the city or state they happen to be. For isntance, a brand-new teacher in Dallas, Texas makes about the SAME salary as a brand-new teacher in San Francisco, CA.

    Which is insane. For housing costs in Dallas, Texas is $125K for a three-bedroom/three-bath, while in San Francisco it’s more like $750K. That means, in Texas, a public school teacher is middle-class, while in California, a public school teacher is working-poor.


  26. Zathras

     /  January 23, 2007

    Discussing issues with teachers misses the point. The real problem is with curriculum. There is nothing near a consensus as to what education a well-schooled child should possess for any academic field. This means that curricula get overhauled every few years to match the flavor du jour.

    This happens even in supposedly static fields such as mathematics. Do you want Johnny to do (1) arithmetic and algebra efficiently, or (2) do you want him to be able to engage in original problem solving, or (3) do you want him to have a deeper understanding of the math? You simply can’t have it all. I keep hearing how Chinese students have superior math skills, but this comes from the fact that they can do (1) really well, while they can sort of do (3), which ignores the fact that they struggle with (2). The same thing occurs with Eastern Europeans, except switch the order of (1) and (3).

    I imagine this problem comes out just as much in other classes. Is an English class for literature, or for writing (and what type of writing)? Without a consistent program, consistently implemented, it is hard to move forward on these issues.

  27. That’s why the core curriculum of any state’s school district, especially in middle school and high school, should be pre-requisites for the core curriculum of that state’s largest public university.

    My high school, tracked for the highest-track, did this. The core curriculum for the highest track at South Grand Prairie High School were pre-requisites for the core curriculum of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, College Station, back in the 1980s. I’m a result of that. The problem is that the *lower* tracks didn’t get that core-curriculum alignment, and so folks like my sister struggled in developmental/remedial studies at the local communityc college.

    I agree with Zathras — money helps, but without a good curriculum towards preparing students for success in the future (not just success on the du-jour grade-appropriate state exam), funding a broken system only perpetuates a broken system.

  28. Alex, you do make a point about the quality of education changing between different areas of the country. I know, for example, that the public school system in PA is MUCH better than the public education in Texas. That is just one more reason that I think the federal government should step out and let the states take care of their own.

    Lizardqueen, I have known, still know, and was once one of the parents of limited income that managed to send their kids to private schools. One has to be careful with this because what is meant by “poor?” That invites a whole social argument that probably does not bear fleshing out in this particular blog, but I guarantee we were going to the Sack-n-Save and pricing out what kinds of ‘facny ketchup’ we could afford. It was a macaroni and hamburger meat existence, but the reason that we did that was to try and give our boys a better throw than what they were getting in the publics here. If we did not have these outrageously high millages here in Irving, more people could pay for private schools, if you gather my meaning. And I agree with both of you that the kind of curricula offered makes all the difference in the world.

  29. Zathras

     /  January 23, 2007

    The comparison between states is certainly an interesting issue. Here in Michigan, the public schools are also much better than what you find in Texas here. I have a theory about this which will not be popular among people here: the quality of public services has a direct relationship with how government is perceived in the community. In Texas, government is viewed with more suspicion,as compared to say Michigan. That means that public sector jobs in Texas are considered lower prestige than public sector jobs in a state where government is not viewed as such. So the state of Texas will attract a lower rung of worker than the state of Michigan. Therefore, suspicion of government becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: people’s experience with government workers in Texas, who are more likely to not be up to the job, will be less satisfactory, and reinforce the opinion that government is no good.

    In short, to put it in the most offensive way to people here ;), the libertarian viewpoint systematically corrodes the ability of government to get the job done.

  30. Zathras: If true, good. Government is the enemy of efficiency and liberty.

    If false, then your argument sucks. Nanny nanny on you..

  31. happycrow

     /  January 23, 2007

    Good argument for DFW, not so compelling in New York City and Detroit. 😉

    Wasn’t aware that teacher pay was that low in Va. This NoVA or elsewhere? VA Beach or Norfolk is about but a little lower than what I’d expect (albeit, if your bud’s teaching with only a bachelor’s, that’s probably on a par with here): the living expenses are vaguely comparable (or were when I lived there) once you whacked taxes out of the picture. Now, maybe I’m out of date…

  32. James: I’m actually using the standard, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Dept of Labor’s definition of “the working poor”. I’m not being political or subjective at all:

    The “working poor” means people who are still at or below the national poverty level, and yet they are employed. Many of my students are “the working poor” — and often, they have to drop out of school because they must work more hours or lose their job. And it’s a job that barely pays rent, utils, and food. Home ownership is beyond their ken, and they’re just one paycheck away from being homeless.

    What with the cost-of-living at high-price places like San Francisco, Boston, and New York City, it is possible for a public school teacher in those cities, making $40,000, to be one of the “working poor” and not have any of the choices of the middle class — even the “lower” middle class. There’s no money to shift, squeeze, or save in order to send any child to private school. The only difference between the working poor and those on welfare is pride (perhaps pig-headed pride) and a job that barely pays.

    Not surprisingly, teachers from those high-price places work in states in which education is highly unionized. And *that* — teachers’ unions — is a whole can of worms that I don’t want to go. 🙂

    Talking about “the public schools” is necessarily messy because education in the United States is not nationalized — it’s a reserved right to the states. And depending upon the geography, economy, population, culture, and size of the state, you’ll have vastly different experiences of what’s wrong or what’s right in U.S. public schools. Does the state allow teachers’ unions or not? Does the state centralize power from the capital — i.e. Unified School Districts, as in Kansas and New York — or does the state delegate power to community/municipal entities — i.e. Independent School Districts, like Texas and Michigan? Does the state fund education through a state income tax or not? How about sales taxes? Property taxes? Gambling? Etc. etc.

    All of these things, and many many more, must be considered when qualifying one’s opinions of what’s right or wrong with the U.S. public school system, or, at least, what level or levels of bureacracy needs to be altered or removed.

  33. Zathras, I see where you are coming from. I would posit that perhaps the cart is before the horse there. The teachers I know here in Texas in both the public and private sphere are generally very dedicated. They want to make a difference. The public teachers that I have known have pretty much all complained to me that the most onerous part of teaching in the public sphere is the fact that they are teaching to the state test and little else. That may be different in other states, after all, we were the ones that spawned Bush and his stupid “Leave No Child Behind” and the unrelenting testing that followed. I just cannot wrap my mind around the idea that if we were to all suddenly love the government bureacracy that suddenly SAT tests here would just explode with over-achievers. These children and these teachers are not, in general of course, stupid.

    The curriculae have to have some impact. When I graduated in the early 80’s from HS, my HS counselor summed it up beautifully. When we met, she began the session by saying “I realize that you have no idea what the liberal arts are, but there is this college in Irving you should look at….” That was before the state testing took off in flying colors. Now, looking at applications from around the country, it really strikes one how these students have suffered.

    What I want to know is: what happened to the idea of excellence over mediocrity? What happened to the idea of discipline coming from the home? MY oldest got a ticket from the Irving Police Department because a teacher heard him use a naughty word in the hallway. Do I condone that sort of behavior? Of course not, but nevertheless, the official law enforcement agency of the city is there in the hallways enforcing discipline. These kids are being taught that discipline comes from the state, and that the standards are set by the state, and, therefore, the morality and learning is the object of the state and not the individual or the individual’s family.

    While the monetary rewards of teachers is important, I am much more concerned that we are sleepwalking into a totalitarian mentality

  34. 1. I stand corrected.
    2. Any post containing a link is held for moderation automatically, to inhibit spam. So there may be flow glitches for y’all who’ve posted.

  35. Why WordPress seems to hate Superbiff, I have no idea.

  36. I think its just protecting your blog from my rants.. 🙂

    It’s worked though, I no longer care enough to post my opinion on this matter hehehe..


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