March 6, 2015

What Teachers’ Unions Could Learn from Koufax and Drysdale

After the Los Angeles Dodgers won the 1965 World Series, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the two great stars of the Dodgers’ pitching staff, jointly negotiated their contracts for the next season. In effect, Koufax and Drysdale formed a pact—a voluntary mini-union, if you will—hiring a Hollywood lawyer to present their demands. Koufax ended up getting $125,000 and Drysdale $110,000, which was quite a bit of money for a Major League player back in 1966.

Sandy_Koufax_1961-248x300Reviewing the literature on collective bargaining recently reminded me of this little bit of baseball history. The Missouri National Education Association (MNEA), one of Missouri’s teachers’ unions, published a pamphlet arguing that successful collective bargaining requires an “exclusive representative” who negotiates a contract on behalf of all employees, whether or not all employees want to join the union. I pointed out in a recent post that a teachers’ association need not represent all of the teachers in a school district in order to effectively represent its members. The Koufax-Drysdale holdout illustrates this point.

DrysdaleIt would have been absurd for Koufax and Drysdale to force the rest of the team into their mini-union. More importantly, forcing everyone to accept representation from the same negotiator would be wrong. If another member of the Dodgers’ pitching staff would have refused representation from Koufax and Drysdale, it would have been his choice to make.

MNEA could learn a thing or two from the Koufax-Drysdale holdout. Rather than forcing every teacher in a school district to accept representation from their organization and negotiating a contract on behalf of all teachers, MNEA could seek to represent teachers in a members-only capacity. Members-only representation is where a union only represents its own members and neither forces nonmembers to pay fees nor forces them to accept a contract the union negotiates. Members-only agreements allow workers the freedom to choose whether or not to be represented by a union. They also give unions the freedom to withhold services from nonmembers.

The Koufax-Drysdale holdout is just one example suggesting that there are alternative ways for groups of employees to bargain with their employers. These alternatives can be as effective as exclusive representation—and they can be done in a way that fosters individual freedom.

February 24, 2015

Ideas for Kansas City Schools: Focus on Teachers

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Last night the Show-Me Institute partnered with the Kansas City Federalist Society for a panel discussion on the Future of Education in Kansas City. Panelists included James Shuls of the Show-Me Institute, Doug Thaman of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, Amy Hartsfield of the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) Board of Directors, Andrea Flinders of the American Federation of Teachers, and John Murphy of the Missouri Catholic Conference. The event was well attended, and the discussion lasted two hours; I think everyone would agree that it was educational.

One topic of discussion was pay for teachers. Flinders asserted that Kansas City teachers are paid lower than the state average. She is most likely correct, and there is something we can do to fix it. In previous posts we suggested reforming teacher pay schedules to increase the incentive for teachers to stay on.

But the district actually can pay teachers more if it cuts back on hiring non-teacher personnel. According to my colleague Brittany Wagner,

Over the past 60 years, schools have increased non-teaching personnel positions by 702 percent. [A report] also found the U.S. spends more than double what Korea, Mexico, Finland, Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Spain spend on non-teaching staff salaries and benefits.

Recall that upon arriving Superintendent John Covington asserted that the district was too big, and in 2010 KCPS closed 30 buildings and eliminated 1,247 full-time equivalent positions. Doing so freed up a great deal of money. According to Wagner,

One study showed that if non-teaching personnel grew at the same rate as the student population, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually.

This impacts pensions as well, which is far greater than the immediate cost of this educational bloat on salaries. Show-Me Researcher Michael Rathbone writes,

Non-teaching personnel also accrue pension benefits through the Public Education Employee Retirement System of Missouri (PEERS). According to the PEERS annual report, “PEERS is a mandatory cost-sharing multiple employer retirement system for all public school district employees (except the school districts of St. Louis and Kansas City), employees of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, and community college employees (except St. Louis Community College).” Members of the plan and their employers both contribute to the pension.

Over the last five years, the unfunded liabilities (liabilities minus assets) of this plan have increased by more than $64 million. Pension benefits like PEERS benefits are guaranteed and must be paid out. If PEERS can’t make those payments, taxpayers (i.e., you) will have to.

By spending too much on non-teacher personnel, KCPS is draining resources from both funds to pay teachers in the short term and teacher pension funds in the long term. Cutting back on non-teacher staff—or perhaps just restricting growth—would allow school districts to better meet their financial responsibilities to teachers and to demonstrate a real commitment to the children in the classroom.

February 20, 2015

Teachers’ Union Gets Collective Bargaining Wrong

IMG_5945_Last week someone forwarded me this pamphlet from the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA) on collective bargaining for teachers. It’s a well-put-together brochure that explains the MNEA’s position on a pretty complicated issue. While I applaud the union for producing a primer on an area of public policy I think most people do not know a whole lot about, I take issue with a few of the points they make.

1. The MNEA’s pamphlet argues that the only way for teachers to successfully achieve an enforceable labor agreement is when one union acts as the exclusive representative of all the teachers subject to the labor agreement. This requirement is nowhere to be found in the constitution. It was not mentioned by the Missouri Supreme Court when it created collective bargaining rights for teachers in 2007. And the Missouri Supreme Court failed to mention the necessity of exclusive representation in any further decisions.

Furthermore, there are school districts in Missouri, such as Hillsboro and Warren (see below), where the school district has a labor agreement with multiple teachers’ unions. The fact that both the Missouri State Teachers Association and the MNEA already represent teachers in multiple multi-party labor agreements proves that a single exclusive representative is unnecessary.

2. The MNEA’s pamphlet suggests that collective bargaining through an exclusive representative is a democratic process that results in fair representation for all teachers subject to the labor agreement. Ordinarily, once a government union obtains the privilege of acting as the exclusive representative for employees, it never has to run for re-election. There’s hardly anything democratic about a representative winning a lifetime appointment after a one-time election.

Worse still, when one union wins the privilege to act as the exclusive representative for a group of government employees, other employee groups often lose out. We’ve seen this with both teachers and police.

3. The pamphlet fails to mention the history of teacher collective bargaining in Missouri. Instead, it simply alludes to a couple of Missouri Supreme Court cases in the late 2000s. In fact, the Missouri Supreme Court imposed collective bargaining on teachers in those cases. Prior to 2007, the courts had long held that the Missouri Constitution did not give government unions the right to collectively bargain with the government. Indeed, when collective bargaining language was added to the Missouri Constitution, collective bargaining with the government was seen as impossible and potentially unconstitutional.

Teachers’ unions, like the MNEA, may now collectively bargain with the government. However, this is not some long-established right. The court created teacher collective bargaining law only eight years ago. Whether you consider this an activist decision or the product of a living constitution, the law is still in flux. There is no reason for the MNEA to assume that principles used in the private sector, such as exclusive representation, have a necessary place in collective bargaining with the government.

February 11, 2015

Teacher Pensions: Let’s Not Become Illinois

When talking about pension reform, it’s easy to lose sight of the real, human consequences of the decisions policymakers make.

Jessica Canale is an art teacher in North Saint Louis City. She commutes every day from O’Fallon, Illinois. While it might seem like a trivial decision to choose between working on the east or west side of the Mississippi, in actuality, when it comes to the money that will be available when she retires, it matters a great deal.

In January, Dick Ingram, executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) explained just how bad Illinois’ fiscal position has become. In order to deliver promised benefits, the state has divided teachers into two categories—Tier I and Tier II.

Tier I teachers will enjoy promised benefits, while Tier II teachers, those hired after 2010, will receive greatly reduced benefits. According to Ingram, “Tier II is designed to help solve the financial problems faced by TRS and the other systems by reducing pension benefits for these new members. Lower pensions means reduced long-term costs for the state.”

But “reducing pension benefits” is an understatement. In order to pay for Tier I pensions, Tier II teachers and administrators will have to contribute 9.4 percent of their salary while only receiving 7 percent toward their retirement. No wonder Jessica would rather commute to Saint Louis than give 2.4 percent of her compensation to older teachers.

But Missouri is not much better. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Missouri’s pension plan earned a grade of D-.

In his 2013 policy study on public employee pensions, AEI resident scholar Andrew Biggs called the situation in Missouri a “looming crisis.” Luckily, he offered several suggestions:

  • Promote better accounting, which will show the extent to which plans are underfunded.
  • Attract and retain quality public employees like Jessica by changing existing plan structures to either a defined contribution or a cash balance approach.
  • Give employees more freedom to choose the retirement plan that works for them.

As Show-Me Institute analysts have continuously argued, there are solutions to Missouri’s pension problems. For teachers like Jessica, Missouri has to do better.

January 23, 2015

For Education, It’s More of the Same

Basic RGB

In Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon doubled down on the same education initiatives that have gotten us nowhere—increased funding, mandated standards, accountability tests, strong tenure laws, smaller class sizes, increased teacher salaries. This has been the strategy for the past 20 years, and it hasn’t worked.

Since 1992, per-pupil spending in Missouri has increased nearly 40 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Missouri has had state-imposed learning standards since 1993. We’ve participated in No Child Left Behind mandated testing for more than a decade. Teachers are given an indefinite contract after five years, making it difficult to remove even an ineffective teacher. In 2014, there were approximately 13 students to every one teacher. The average teacher’s salary is nearing $50,000, with a 14.5 percent match on retirement contributions and benefits that far surpass private-sector counterparts.

More of the same is not going to propel Missouri forward.

Allowing charter schools to enroll students across district boundaries, creating opportunity scholarships, reducing mandates—these are the types of policies that will create an ever-improving educational market. These are the types of changes we need.

If we truly believe that “education is the key to the economic future of our state,” as the governor suggested, then we need to re-think our policies and re-imagine what it means to have a quality public education system. Mandating, taxing, and spending will not get us to the schools that we need. We need policies that enable school leaders to be change agents who empower parents with educational options.

January 15, 2015

Missouri Ranks 33rd on New Quality Counts Report

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As they do at the beginning of every year, Education Week released their “Quality Counts” state report cards. Once again, Missouri ranks in the middle of the pack, 33rd overall with a C- grade. For regular readers of the Show-Me Daily blog, this should come as no surprise. Missouri has been stuck in the middle for years.

Why is Missouri perpetually in the middle when it comes to academic rankings? After all, we are several years into an initiative launched by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to get Missouri into the top 10 by 2020. This initiative has spawned changes at nearly every stage of education, from pre-kindergarten to teacher preparation. One could argue that these changes just haven’t had time to take root, and once they do, Missouri students will be making academic gains like gangbusters. I doubt it.

Missouri is not likely to make significant improvements, because Missouri’s education policies are predicated on getting things right—if we get certification right, teachers will get better; if we get standards right, instruction will improve; if we get accountability tests right, achievement will rise. The list could go on and on. The problem is that we don’t know the “right” way to do these things for every child and every teacher in every school, and we never will. Until our education policies shift from a “getting things right” mentality to one that fosters continuous improvement, we should not expect marketable differences in outcomes.

How do we do this? Andy Smarick outlines a nice plan in his book, The Urban School System of the Future. He starts with a somewhat controversial but true premise, “The traditional urban public school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed. It must be replaced.” Smarick goes on to substantiate this claim and offer a solution, creating an educational market where new schools regularly open and bad schools regularly close. This is how improvement happens in every other sector.

Smarick’s proposal would require substantial legislative changes, but here are two easy places for Missouri to start moving in the right direction.

  1. Allow charter schools to enroll students across district boundaries.
  2. Expand options for students by establishing an Equal Opportunity Scholarship program.

These changes themselves will not get us anywhere near what The Urban School System of the Future outlined. They will, however, begin moving Missouri toward that system of continuous improvement.

January 9, 2015

Should Missouri Use an A Through F System to Grade Public Schools?

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The practice of grading organizations using an A through F grading scale has been utilized by many types of industries. This legislative session, elected officials will decide if the system is right for Missouri’s public schools. Senate Bill 28 “requires the State Board of Education to develop a simplified annual school report card for each school attendance center using a letter grade of A to F.”

To understand Missouri’s current accountability system, the MSIP-5, a parent must first have access to the Internet. The Comprehensive Guide can be located using the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website. Navigating the site is notoriously difficult, especially for a first-time user. Once the document is found, the parent must read through 104 pages of confusing tables and formulas just to, hopefully, understand the accreditation process on page 56.

The table below shows Missouri’s accreditation scheme. Although there are only four categories, words like “partially accredited” are not intuitively associated with the word “underperforming,” as the letters C and D are.

accreditation

To gain a different perspective, imagine if restaurants were evaluated using the MSIP-5—“How about dinner at Barcelona in Clayton? It got an APR of 73; oh, but its MPI was Floor.” Simply saying the restaurant has three and half stars on YELP indicates the restaurant is good, but perhaps some have had a not-so-good experience.

Our familiarity with letter grades, stars, and even “$$” provides us with simple indications of the type of service we should expect to receive. States such as Florida, Oklahoma, and Indiana have developed similar A through F school grading schemes. Some criticisms state that the systems are “oversimplified” or “have arbitrary cutoffs.” With any system, including the MSIP-5, there may be questionable cutoff points.

Ultimately, an A through F grading scale would allow parents a better understanding of what a school offers, turning them into more effective consumers of educational services.

 

 

November 17, 2014

Ideas for Kansas City Schools: Pay Teachers More Sooner

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) is seeking input from parents, school staff, and the community about how it might regain and sustain full accreditation and retain and attract students. To that end, it is forming a School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) and has been seeking applicants to serve in that capacity. Previously, we shared some ideas for strengthening administration and staff. Today, we’d like to suggest at least one change to Kansas City’s teacher pay schedule: pay teachers more sooner.

As it stands, the pay schedule for Kansas City teachers starts low and provides only modest increases in the initial years. Largest pay increases come at the end of a career, in a manner to maximize pension value. As my colleague James Shuls has argued in previous posts, this is a disincentive for new and effective teachers to stay on. Dane Stangler and Aaron North of the Kauffman Foundation wrote in a March 2014 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Because most of the pension value accrues in the final years of an educator’s career, the typical new teacher in Kansas City or St. Louis does not benefit from the current system. Based on our research, we estimate the likelihood that a traditional public school teacher in St. Louis stays in the profession long enough to earn the maximum pension benefit to be about 4 percent. In other words, 96 percent of teachers in St. Louis will leave prior to reaching the full benefit and the percentage is comparable in Kansas City (approximately 3 percent).

As a result, new teachers are less likely to stay on. According to the Show-Me Institute’s Michael Podgursky, “After eight years, roughly 70 percent of teachers remain on the job. The eight-year survival rates in STL and KC are far lower, ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent.”

Podgursky’s paper urges more transparency and,

Given the relatively small share of new teachers in Kansas City or Saint Louis who can expect to complete an entire career in either district, as a strategic recruiting tool it makes more sense to raise front-end salaries, 

rather than “generous end-of-career retirement benefits.”

Certainly, there are many reasons why teachers in Kansas City and Saint Louis are much more likely to leave, and creating a more fair pension system will not solve all of them. But one thing we can do in Kansas City is to let new teachers know they are valued early on in their careers and that we want them to stay on.

November 14, 2014

Vail Lifted from Teacher Collective Bargaining Negotiations in Colorado

Colorado voters said YES to Proposition 104 last week at a ratio of 7 to 3. The ballot initiative will open collective bargaining negotiations between teachers’ unions and school boards to the public. Supporters say the new law will bring transparency to local government, allowing parents and taxpayers a look into what teachers’ unions ask for during negotiations.

Should Missouri pursue similar reform?

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Many existing agreements can be viewed on Show-Me Sunshine. Here are just a few of the hundreds of items teachers and school boards have bargained for:

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Sick days
  • Student behavior
  • Parent communication
  • Amount of time a parent may spend in the classroom
  • Paid release days for union activity
  • Hiring policies

Parents may not be aware of the restrictiveness of some of these contracts. A study by USC Associate Professor Katharine Strunk found that in school districts with more union power school boards had less flexibility in decision making. This is unnerving, as school board members are elected by citizens; teachers’ unions are not.

Perhaps if Missouri’s Sunshine Law was expanded to include collective negotiations, school boards would be less likely to give in to cumbersome demands in the presence of taxpayers and parents. In the absence of a collaborative policy, this would bring parents and taxpayers a step closer to having a place at the bargaining table.

October 30, 2014

Our Take on Amendment 3

There’s been a lot of talk about Amendment 3, which limits teacher contracts to three years and ties evaluations to personnel decisions. Some arguments against Amendment 3 are rational, evidence-based, and well thought out; others are not. In this post, we present our analysis of several arguments that have been made regarding Amendment 3. We conclude with some final thoughts on the matter.

(1) Amendment 3 will mandate more standardized tests.

Analysis: False.

Here’s what the ballot language says:

The majority of such evaluation system shall be based upon quantifiable student performance data as measured by objective criteria.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch claims:

. . . the worst thing about Amendment 3 is that it imposes an untested experiment on all local school districts in the state, requiring them to devise a new standardized test for students that becomes the primary evaluation tool for teachers. Don’t our children take enough standardized tests these days?

This is a tremendous overstatement. With the state tests that students already take and the multitude of internal assessments that districts already administer, there is no need for additional tests under this amendment. Moreover, there are other types of performance data, such as districtwide common assessments, which could fit within the Amendment 3 language.

(2) Amendment 3 takes away local control.

Analysis: Both true and false.

If we were moving from a neutral system to an Amendment 3 system, it would be a loss of local control. Of course, we are not moving from a neutral system. Current Missouri tenure laws grant teachers a permanent contract after five years within the same school district and prescribe the exact steps that districts must undertake to remove a tenured teacher. This is a clear loss of local control. Amendment 3 would remove these centrally imposed mandates and would also remove the disastrous “Last in, first out” provision.

Under an Amendment 3 system, contracts would be capped at three years. Amendment 3 would also mandate that districts make staffing decisions based on teacher evaluations. A majority of such evaluations must be based on student performance data. Aside from this provision, districts would largely get to shape their evaluations.

(3) If there is a problem with the new system, Amendment 3 would make it difficult to change policies in the future.

Analysis: True.

How much of a teacher’s evaluation is tied to quantitative data should not be in the state constitution. Ideally, policies such as this would be determined as close to home as possible. That is, authority to determine contract length and evaluation practices should be devolved to the local school district or set in state regulations that could be changed when necessary. Even statutory changes would be preferable to a constitutional change.

Final thoughts:

Proponents argue that Amendment 3 will lead to better teacher evaluations and more recognition for great teachers. Ultimately, they hope this will create an improved teacher workforce. There is just one fundamental problem with that argument—when it comes to teacher quality, we have what is known as a principal-agent problem. That is, we as citizens (the principal) want great teachers in our schools and we hire school administrators (the agent) to make sure this happens. If the agent does not do his or her job, there is little we can do about it. Ultimately, we are dependent upon the school administrator for hiring the right people, evaluating them effectively, and retaining the most effective teachers. If a school administrator lacks the will to remove low-performing teachers, there is little that parents can do about it. Amendment 3 does not change our fundamental principal-agent problem. It may remove tenure restrictions, but if school administrators lack the will, then nothing will change.

The only way to change this dynamic is through greater school choice. With school choice, a parent does not have to depend on an administrator to remove an ineffective teacher. The parent can simply choose to go somewhere else. This places pressure on school administrators to take a more active role in managing the teacher workforce. School choice is the answer to our principal-agent problem. School choice is the answer for improving the overall quality of the teacher workforce.

James Shuls contributed to this post.

October 23, 2014

An Idea for Kansas City Schools: Give Principals Power

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) is seeking input from parents, school staff, and the community about how it might regain and sustain full accreditation and retain and attract students. To that end, it is forming a School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) and has been seeking applicants to serve in that capacity. We have a few ideas we’d like to share about strengthening administration and staff, rewarding teachers, and empowering parents.

First, it is noteworthy that the stated purpose of the advisory committee is seemingly small ball. Their email soliciting participation asks only,

What’s it going to take for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) to regain full accreditation? What’s it going to take for your school to regain/sustain full accreditation? How can we retain and attract students?

In other words, “What do we have to do to provide the minimal state-required level of service?” We’re also suspect that they are looking toward parents and the community for ideas when there is an entire industry of specialists who have researched, written, and talked about what to do to improve schools. We at the Show-Me Institute have our own suggestions, and they aim at rebuilding world-class education in Kansas City. All our ideas have a common theme: Move power away from centralized school districts and toward students and parents.

For his 2003 book Making Schools Work, UCLA Professor and Author William G. Ouchi studied more than 200 schools in six cities and found that a school’s educational success may be most directly affected by how it is managed. The way to increase successful management, he argues, is to give schools more control over their own budget.

While schools may boast large budgets, Ouchi’s research uncovered that very little of it is controlled by the principal or the school itself. In one anecdote, he relates that a Los Angeles principal said her school had a budget of $21 million but added, “It doesn’t really matter because I only control $32,000.” Ouchi’s further research indicated that in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago the local schools only controlled 6.1 percent, 6.7 percent, and 19.1 percent of the budget, respectively.

In school districts that have seen tremendous improvements in their urban school performances, such as Seattle, Houston, and Edmonton, Canada, the percentage of the budget controlled by the local schools was 91.7, 79.3, and 58.6, respectively. This should be no surprise. Administrators, teachers, and parents at the school are best able to identify and address the specific needs of their students.

Here in Kansas City, better school management means moving the power of the purse away from the top-down centralized control at 12th and McGee streets and out to the principals at Paseo, Lincoln Prep, and elsewhere. Ouchi offers this warning to parents:

Control goes with the money. If your superintendent smiles, invites your group into his office, and tells you that he agrees with you and that he’s going to roll out a new school-based decision-making program that includes parent involvement—smile sweetly and ask him who will control the school’s budget. Don’t let him off the hook. Don’t let him think that you can be so easily fooled.

Remember, the author was chief of staff to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. He has academic credentials, but he has weathered political fights as well. And the Kansas City district appears to be doing exactly what he describes: They smile, invite people to discuss the district, but surrender none of the control that is necessary for success.

August 22, 2014

Education: A Brief History Of Federal Overreach

When Americans think of federal overreach in education, they might think of programs like Race to the Top, Common Core, or No Child Left Behind, but federal education interventions began long before the Age of Standardized Testing.

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted a series of welfare programs called the War on Poverty. One of these programs was Head Start, a program aimed at preparing low-income children for kindergarten.

Also under the umbrella of the War on Poverty, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was enacted in 1965. The purpose of ESEA was to start funding schools with federal money, but it forbade a national curriculum.

Under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, the Department of Education was founded in 1979. Just a few years later, in 1983, the American public was shocked by the findings of A Nation at Risk, a report issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education during President Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton left their mark on standards-based education in the 1990s with America 2000 (Bush) and Goals 2000 (Clinton).

In 2001, President George W. Bush reauthorized the ESEA under a new name, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education began awarding states with flexibility waivers from NCLB if they did things like adopt Common Core or evaluate teachers based on student achievement.

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_Act

In just 50 years, federal oversight in education has grown and evolved. On the anniversary of one of LBJ’s key initiatives, some are calling for even more government intervention to fix the inequalities that still plague the United States today.

But federal intervention will not solve Missouri’s education problems—just look at the results. Few would argue the education system in America is in good shape, or that every child is receiving a quality education. So why institute more government intervention?

If the past 50 years has taught us anything, it’s that Missouri needs to enter a new era of education reform, one in which choice and competition are embraced.

 

 

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