Category Archives: Reforming schools

A Fairy Tale Reform

Once upon a time, there was much unemployment, poverty, and homelessness across our land. Leaders tried one thing after another to end these grim conditions. Nothing worked.

In the midst of these bad times, however, a small group of educators, upset over what our youth were learning in high schools decided to take action.

Schools were dull places. Students listened to teachers, read books, and took exams. Schools were supposed to prepare students for life but much of what they studied they forgot after graduating. Worse yet, what they had learned in school did not prepare them to face the problems of life, think clearly, be creative, or fulfill their civic duties. Complaints to school officials got the same answer repeatedly: little could be done because college entrance requirements determined what courses students took in high school.

So to give high schools the freedom to try new ways of schooling in a democracy, a small band of reformers convinced the best universities to waive their admission requirements and accept graduates from high schools that designed new programs.

Dozens of schools joined the experiment. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students created new courses and ways of teaching teenagers to become active members of the community and still attend college. For eight years, these schools educated students and universities admitted their graduates. And then a war came and the experiment ended. After years passed, few could recall what these schools and colleges did.

A fairy tale? Nope.

Between 1933-1941, thirty high schools in the country and over 300 universities and colleges joined the experiment sponsored by the Progressive Education Association.

Called “The Eight Year Study,” each high school decided for itself what curricula, schedules, and class sizes would be. There were no college admission requirements or must-take tests. Old lesson plans were scrapped. One school sent classes into the West Virginia coal region to study unions. Science, history, art, and math were often combined in projects that students and teachers planned together.

Needless to say, there were stumbles also. A few principals blocked the experiment. Some school faculties divided into warring factions.

While there was much variation among the schools, there were also common elements. Many of the large public high schools (of the 30, fifteen were private) created small schools within the larger one. Principals increased the authority of teachers to design and steer the program; teachers crossed departmental boundaries and created a core curriculum (math/science and English/social studies), set aside three hours a day for teams to work with groups of students, and planned weekly units with students.

What happened to these students when they attended college? To find an answer, evaluators established 1,475 pairs of college students, each consisting of a graduate from an experimental school and one graduate of another high school matched as closely as possible as to age, sex, race, social class, and academic performance. They then compared their performance in college.

Evaluators found that graduates of the thirty schools earned a slightly higher grade average and more academic honors than those who attended regular high school. Furthermore, the “guinea pigs,” as they were called, were more precise in their thinking, displayed more ingenuity in meeting new situations, and demonstrated an active interest in national and world issues than their matched counterpart.

What these startling results showed over 70 years ago was that there was no one single best way of schooling teenagers. The fears that parents and taxpayers had about experimenting with high school courses, organization, and teaching proved hollow in “The Eight Year Study.”

The results of these studies appeared during World War II. The war effort swallowed up any further interest in experimenting with high school programs. Whatever the reasons, “The Eight Year Study” lapsed into the obscurity of scholarly footnotes. Later generations of reformers seldom inquired or cared about this large-scale, non-federally funded experiment that showed convincingly that schools, given the freedom to experiment, could produce graduates that not only did well academically in college but, far more important, displayed an active interest in civic affairs, were resourceful in handling new situations, and could think clearly.

So what does this half-century old experiment say to us in the in the 21st century about school reform?

1. When engaged teachers, administrators, and students are given the freedom to experiment and the help to do it, they will come through.
2. There is no one best way of schooling youth.
3. Students can graduate high school who are academically engaged, involved in their communities, and thoughtful problem-solvers.
4. Standards of excellence that work in schools are those that are set and done locally by adults and students—not imposed from the top-down.

In 2017, federal and state decision-makers and policy elites drive school reform. They set standards, test students, and punish low performance. What “The Eight Year Study” demonstrated is that there are locals–districts, schools, and practitioners—who have the expertise and can be trusted. When locals are trusted they get engaged and produce results that still stagger us looking back nearly three-quarters of a century.

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Stability and Change in a Four-Decade Career in Teaching (Part 3)

After leaving the superintendency, I spent the next twenty years as  a professor at Stanford University. I taught four courses during the academic year and did research. Most of the courses I taught were about the history of school reform, leadership in schools, instruction and curriculum (for those preparing to teach history in public schools), and organizational theory. I team-taught “The History of School Reform” with historian of education David Tyack for a decade. I also team-taught with high school history teacher Lee Swenson a course on Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction for ten years. The seminar I taught annually was “Good Schools: Research, Policy, and Practice.” After I retired in 2001, I continued to teach the “Good Schools” course every other year until 2013. So for over a quarter-century, I have taught courses at the graduate level. I noted often to myself that what I had learned in teaching 16 year-olds, especially the need for a broad-ranging repertoire of teaching methods applied in many ways to 26 year-olds.

A specific example of how I taught courses might help readers get a clearer sense of my teaching graduate students in their 20s and 30s. Here is an actual lesson plan I prepared for the “Good Schools” seminar I taught in February 2006. The seminar met for an hour and fifty minutes twice a week.

The planning for the lesson generally went like this: the night before I taught, I would re-read the selections I had assigned to students from a reader that I had compiled and they bought. I would type out the lesson plan on my laptop. Next morning, I would review the readings, revise questions and items that I had in the lesson, then go to the campus classroom, arrange the tables in a horseshoe design, open my laptop and make any last-minute changes. I would use chalk to write on the greenboard an outline of the lesson and the central question I wanted the seminar to answer for that day. To keep the lesson moving and avoid spending too much time on any part of the content or activity, I would have on a nearby table a small digital clock.

The lesson plan below has the typos, bold-faced typing and sentences in capital letters as I had originally prepared it for a class mid-way through a quarter-long seminar. For elaboration on each part of the lesson, see description at end of post.*

February 12, 2006

Assignment for Tuesday. Questions on project? Announcements? I will pass back your analyses of articles at end of class today.

PASS OUT SCHEDULE FOR PRESENTATIONS AND EVALUATION SHEET USED LAST YEAR

  1. Central Qs for today: HOW DO YOU GROW “GOOD” ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS? HOW DO YOU GROW “GOOD” HIGH SCHOOLS?
  2. Summary on growing “good” elementary schools:

Based on these examples and earlier ones we have read about (Comer schools, Core Knowledge, KIPP Schools, Alliance Schools in Texas, Success for All, Child Development Project, Accelerated Schools, etc.—WHAT GENERALIZATIONS, IF ANY, CAN YOU DRAW FROM THE EVIDENCE ABOUT HOW TO MAKE A “GOOD” ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?

  1. Divide class into 6-7 groups—count off to get mix of people.

TASKS: Come up with at least 2 generalizations that the group can support with evidence from readings, direct experience, and other sources. Take a sheet of paper and divide into 2 columns. Label one column GENERALIZATION; the other column, label EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT GENERALIZATION. If group cannot come up with generalization, say why.

  1. Whole-group discussion of generalizations.

QUESTIONS: Which of your generalizations, if any, apply to high-acieving affluent suburban elementary schools? DISCUSS

Which of your generalizations, if any, apply to growing “good” high schools?

  1. Let’s now turn to growing “good” high schools. What is different between elementary and high schools?

           *Size

           *school organization

             *time schedule

           *training of teachers (generalist vs. subject specialist)

           *contact time

           *external expectations

  1. Let’s now look at different kinds of “good” high schools: Recall—Edward R. Murrow High School, HB-Woodlawn, The Wade High School (Central Park East Secondary School). ASK CLASS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOLS THEY WENT TO. HOW MANY WENT TO WHAT THEY WOULD CALL A “GOOD” HIGH SCHOOL? SIZE? WHAT MADE IT “GOOD?”

            *Science Skills Center (650 kids)

HOW MANY WOULD SAY SCIENCE SKILLS CENTER IS A “GOOD” HIGH SCHOOL? WHY? See if I can get debate going

  1. Let’s turn to Small High School movement. What makes small high schools “good” schools?

Mike Copland/Elizabeth Boatright piece on leadership in small high schools—WHAT RESPONSE DO YOU HAVE TO THEIR LESSONS?

Does the recent evaluation of the Gates venture into creating and sustaining “good” high schools influence your opinion of small high schools? Why yes or no?

In what ways, if at all, does Michelle Fine influence your opinion of the small high school movement?

Do “good” high schools have to be small?

SUMMARY: How, then, do you grow “good” high schools?

The above lesson was not a blueprint that I followed step-by-step. Student questions and flashes of insight I got from student comments during our discussion would lead to departures in the plan. Sometimes, parts of the lesson would unfold in unanticipated ways going far deeper than I had planned. I would glance at the small clock on my table and make a decision to continue or segue to the next question or activity. More often than not, I would be unable to complete what I planned, carrying it over until the next session.

Was the way I taught graduate courses similar or different from the path I had taken in teaching high school history for 14 years that I described in Parts 1 and 2?

The short answer is that in teaching high school in the 1970s and in teaching a graduate student seminar I hugged the middle of the spectrum between teacher- and student-centered instruction, using a mix of both methods and activities in the content and format of each lesson. The reforms that swept across the K-12 and higher education landscapes seldom bent my lessons in these years.

The long answer is that in those initial 14 years as a high school history teacher, I had traveled from the teacher-centered end of the spectrum to the middle of the continuum by blending traditional content and format with student-centered activities. Teaching at Stanford I continued to hug the middle of that spectrum. The graduate students I taught in those years, over time, would have seen their professor trying out new ideas in teaching and cautiously using new technologies provoking occasional laugh-inducing stumbles while continuing to mix old and new techniques such as video clips, frequent small group discussions, student presentations of their research projects, and using content from the Internet during a lesson.

Had a few Stanford students who had taken my “Effective Schools” course first offered in 1982 returned a quarter-century later and sat in my “Good Schools” seminar they would quickly note the differences in readings I required students to do, the sparsity of lectures save for occasional mini ones, and that I had abandoned the overhead projector for new technologies available to both students and the professor. They would have marked these as changes from the earlier course they had taken.

The more observant of those alumni, however, would have noticed that the lesson was still teacher-directed. They would have noted an underlying similarity in the format of the twice-weekly 110-minute lesson in whole-group discussions, small group work, a central question guiding the day’s lesson and much student participation. And, yes, even that their professor still glanced at a digital clock to keep moving the lesson along.

In short, my career as a public high school teacher and private university professor spanning 39 years reveals both continuity and change in how I taught.

 

____________________________________________

*I would begin the nearly two-hour seminar by making the next session’s assignment. Every student had a syllabus with the goals, course requirements, week-by-week readings accompanying each time we meet. The “project” refers to pairs of students researching a particular organization (e.g., school, business, non-profit) that they believed was “good.” After they completed the research, they would present their project to the rest of the seminar. Thus, the reference to a schedule for presentations. Students and I constructed the criteria evaluating each presentation.

Either students or I would make announcements by university events, upcoming talks on schools that were relevant to the course. I use the numbers in the lesson plan to elaborate and explain what I did.

1.The central question for each lesson I would have written on the whiteboard before the seminar began.

2. The students and I had gone over the literature on growing “good” elementary schools in the previous session with many examples of schools seen as exemplary. This was a review and opportunity for some students to raise questions and work through any confusion they had over what was discussed. After review and questions, I would ask the question of group about what generalizations they could make about growing “good” elementary schools.

3.Small group work requiring discussion and decisions about generalizations that could be made with supporting evidence drawn from readings they had done.

4.Small groups (I would have students count off to form groups with ever-changing participants) would report their generalizations to rest of seminar and after I would segue into a whole group discussion of what small groups had concluded. The listed questions guided the seminar discussion. In questioning, I would call on students who raised their hands and, from time to time, cold-call on students who had not volunteered.

5. Segue to growing “good” high schools. Here I gave a 10-minute explanation of the differences between elementary and secondary schools. Students know that they could interrupt these mini-lectures with questions. And they often did.

6. In this part of the lesson, I turn to the readings students had done on different kinds of high schools perceived as “good” by various researchers.

7. The Gates Foundation sponsored the growth of small high schools in the U.S. and we discuss readings about the strengths and limitations of these schools.

I end the lesson by returning to the central question and asking the group: how do you grow “good” high schools? The ensuing discussion tells me what students take away (or miss) from 110 minutes we were together that morning.

 

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Stability and Change in a Four Decade Career in Teaching (Part 2)

In 1963, I and my family moved to Washington, D.C. where I taught history at Cardozo High School and also trained returned Peace Corps volunteers to teach in urban settings. Called a “master teacher,” I taught two history classes while supervising interns who also taught two classes on their own. They would see me teach and I would observe their classes. While I still planned history lessons around materials I and others had created and designed the questions I would ask, I had also begun to incorporate into my repertoire techniques I had found successful at Glenville and expanded at Cardozo during the mid-1960s.  Student-led discussions, dividing the class into groups for varied tasks, creating instructional materials out of primary and secondary historical sources initially to supplement and later to replace the textbook became routine parts of my lessons. These approaches at the time could be loosely called the “new social studies,” a reform aimed at encouraging teachers to use inquiry, analysis of primary and secondary sources, and students doing research. The ex-Peace Corps interns used filmstrips, 16mm films, and the overhead projector for transparencies they had prepared for their classes. I began expanding my repertoire, learning from them, showing occasional films, making transparencies, and using the overhead projector.[i]

After directing the teacher-training project, I returned to teaching history five classes a day of history at Roosevelt High School also in the District of Columbia. In one of those five courses I organized the class so that students would spend at least one 50-minute period a week going from one teaching station to another that I had established for the lesson. Each of these stations, say a lesson on causes of the Civil War, would have a pair or trio of students answer questions as they moved from activity to activity (e.g., filmstrip to watch, photos to analyze, primary sources to parse, and cartoons to interpret) before moving on to another station.

The rest of the day and week, however, was spent on teacher-led discussions, mini-lectures, frequent use of overhead projector with hand-made transparencies, supervised study periods where students would work on assignments (often dittos of materials I created), small group meetings of students working on projects selected from a list I made, say, on World War I, and student presentations. By this time, I had a clear idea of using classroom furniture to advance what I wanted in student participation in whole group activities. They sat in a horseshoe arrangement of desks with the open end of the horseshoe facing my desk and the chalkboard.

Student movement in the class and easy exchanges between students and I during small-group work and whole-class discussions spoke of a more relaxed social organization in the classroom than what I had when I began to teach history in 1956.

Yet I was the one who still decided what was to be studied, planned lessons, determined what methods, materials, and activities were to be used during the period and when. I determined how time and classroom space was allocated. What had changed slowly over the many years of teaching was the gradual shift in giving students a small but growing role in choosing topics within the larger framework of content I was teaching, in deciding how to use their time within the classroom when they had tasks to perform, and in making some instructional decisions.

Where along the continuum between teacher- and student-centered instruction did I now fit? My dominant pattern in content and format of lessons remained teacher-centered but I had begun a fourteen- year journey in the mid-1950s moving steadily toward the middle of the continuum by the early 1970s. By that time, my beliefs about teaching, learning, and history had evolved over the years into a conviction that a mix of student- and teacher-centered activities would be the best way for me to teach students to think historically. I had learned that no single way of teaching worked best for all high school students; I needed a varied repertoire of techniques to reach the largest number of students. Also using the “new” technologies of those years had grown to the degree that I saw them helpful in attaining my content objectives yet these remained peripheral to the lessons I planned, the lesson activities I orchestrated, and my overall teaching. [ii]

In 1972, I decided to get a Ph.D. and journeyed with my family to graduate school of education at Stanford University. After completing the doctorate in 1974, the Arlington, Virginia School Board hired me as superintendent. I served for seven years.

In 1981, I left the superintendency and to teach and write for the next 20 years at Stanford University.

_______________________________________________

[i]Barbara Stern (ed.) The New Social Studies: People, Projects, and Perspectives (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2009).

[ii] Parts of this description of my teaching history in high schools come from journals I have kept for those years and a revised account that I wrote in How Teachers Taught, pp. 10-11. Also see The Managerial Imperative, pp. 85-110. For my views on the tensions between the kinds of history taught in K-12 schools, see: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/history-content-and-teaching-a-historic-struggle/

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Reinventing High School (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo)

“Stacy is an education reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. She writes primarily for the Monitor’s EqualEd section and also covers youth issues, civil rights, justice, and gender. Based in Nashua, N.H., she currently reserves two days a week to focus on her young son and daughter.”

This post originally appeared in the CSM

May 21, 2017 MANCHESTER, N.H.—Two-dozen high school students are gathered around a large work table as manufacturing teacher Dan Cassidy holds out boxes of metal bars and gears. The students choose among the parts to build model bicycles. “What else are we going to use today? Let me hear some vocab here,” he says. When a student shouts out “chains,” he nudges them until they recall another term for it: “linkage.”

This isn’t a manufacturing class. It’s actually a combined geometry and physical science class. While clusters of students work at stations assembling miniature two-wheelers, others rotate through a lesson on the computer and reason through a problem about parallel triangles the old-fashioned way – with paper and pencil. Mr. Cassidy and co-teacher Athanasia Robinson, whose specialty is math, circulate and check on everyone’s progress.

“I have a really hard time just sitting in a class and focusing on a teacher and writing notes,” says sophomore Hope Nichols as she and a purple-haired classmate bolt together a bike. “But here, everything is hands-on … or I can kind of teach myself, which I really prefer.”

Students rarely see textbooks here at the Manchester School of Technology High School (MST-HS), a low-slung utilitarian building a few miles from the river where high-tech businesses occupy former textile mills. In most classes, they don’t get standard letter grades. They don’t automatically move on to the next level at the end of the school year, but instead advance once they have mastered the material. Students buttress their classroom learning with real-world experiences – such as building a house or working as a chef – to help prepare for future careers.

Welcome to what, in some ways, may be a prototype of the high school of tomorrow. Here, vocational education meets cutting-edge academic innovation.

At the core of the school’s curriculum is a wide variety of career pathways students can choose from – ranging from nursing to policing. The four-year public institution itself is embedded within a career and technical education center that has long served juniors and seniors from other high schools who come to take work-related courses.

While the focus on career development here is stronger than at most high schools, MST-HS is symbolic of efforts across the United States to make education more relevant and engage students with new approaches.

In an age of struggling public schools and rising global competition, education officials are searching for ways to break out of the pervasive industrial-age school structures – think 45-minute class periods, rote lecture-style teaching, and age-based grade levels. Some schools now wrap learning around community projects. Others have students create portfolios and do internships. Still others incorporate students into decisionmaking for how the school or classroom will operate.

Some of the boldest experimentation is going on in New Hampshire. The state has become a leader in the “competency-based” education movement – in which success is less about “seat time” in a classroom or passing traditional tests and more about students showing they can apply skills and knowledge to complex challenges.

Nationally, “there is a lot of interest in delivering education in new, more-flexible ways that address students’ differing needs, differing learning styles, and the differing paces at which they acquire knowledge,” says Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington. “New Hampshire’s commitment to the competency model is … seen as a thoughtful and cutting-edge effort, though not one without its challenges.”

Initiatives are popping up across the state. One district, in Rochester, N.H., has become a pioneer in allowing even the youngest students to make choices about how they are learning. Rochester and eight other districts are also part of a first-in-the-nation pilot project in which achievement is measured by performance on tasks created by teams of teachers, rather than on standardized tests. MST-HS has become its own showcase of innovation, created with students like Hope in mind, students who might not flourish in a traditional high school but enjoy learning math and other skills with the help of sprockets and spokes.

New Hampshire’s quiet education revolution, if it proves successful, could inspire a dramatically different future for American schools.

Tessa Arrigo sits at a drafting board, her pink polished nails gently turning a compass to bisect an angle. She swivels on her stool to consult a computer for a self-paced series of 26 exercises in instrument drafting.

The sophomore is part of Design Communication, the “cool” career pathway that enticed her to try this school. She’s considering a future in biomedical engineering. The classroom – a sleek studio with state-of-the-art equipment and a creativity-inducing vibe – was designed by teacher and architect Stephen Koziatek. It has a lounge area for brainstorming and critiques, and shelves suspended from the ceiling to display models made with 3-D printers.

“It doesn’t feel like school,” Tessa says. “I hated coming to school in middle school…. But I actually enjoy coming to this school because it’s self-paced. I don’t feel stressed out too much because I have time to get things done.”

She opens her portfolio to a drawing of her mermaid chair. She has a beach-themed bedroom and recently dreamed up the scallop-backed seat for her industrial design project. First she had to research all the components that go into building a chair. Then she had to draw it from various angles and create an advertisement to sell it.

Mr. Koziatek (“Mr. K,” to the students) keeps up with what’s new in design so they’ll be well prepared, whether they go to work as a drafter, head to community college for a CAD (computer-aided design) certificate, or opt for a six-year master’s in architecture.

Each career program at MST-HS has an advisory board that includes professionals and partners from local businesses and colleges. They ensure the curriculum keeps up with changes in the field, and they set up internships for students and allow them to shadow professionals. Koziatek hears from students who have gone on to college that “they’re the ones that are, in some cases, showing the other kids how to do things.”

The high-tech and academically demanding nature of some of the career programs at MST-HS often surprises people in the community, who remember its roots as a vocational school in the 1980s. “They really have that stereotype … that it’s for kids that can’t make it academically, so here all they do is work with their hands,” Koziatek says.

Education policy makers understand that the world of work has changed, and that for long-term success, some college-level education is going to be required for most people to earn a living wage. Career-tech schools with strong academics show that “there are multiple pathways to it,” says Shaun Dougherty, a professor at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.

Many students are attracted to MST-HS’s motto: “As fast as you want, as slow as you need.”

The academic grading system at the school is 1 through 4, with students progressing along the scale from fall to summer, or until they reach Level 3, which means they’ve demonstrated competency in all the key elements of a course. Reaching Level 4 means they’ve gone above and beyond.

“At a normal school, you could skate by and get a C,” says junior Tyler Burke. “But here … instead of doing a paper just ’cause I had to do it, I have to be able to know it and give the teacher an example of it. Now I know stuff really well,” he says during manufacturing class, above the din of a student grinding metal.

During open houses, teachers tell prospective students they have to be self-motivated. “That’s part of the model: There’s a lot of freedom,” says English and humanities teacher Jillian Corey. But students also have to take ownership of their learning. “With first-year students, we spend a lot of time initiating them, breaking down old ways of thinking,” she says. Barely passing “does not exist here…. That blows their mind.”

Another challenge: Too many of the students take the mantra “as long as you need” too literally in completing their work. So school principal Karen Hannigan Machado says the staff has been working to build into courses more self-direction, perseverance, and planning – traits often included in lists of “21st-century skills” that employers seek.

Like many high schools in New Hampshire, this one is working toward having students move on to new classes or alternative learning opportunities as soon as they’ve mastered the coursework. It’s not an easy transformation, but it’s already happening in the side-by-side, self-paced math classrooms run by Amanda Egan and Callan Cardin. In the middle of a 100-minute block, a girl walks up to Ms. Cardin and hands in her final test for a geometry unit. The teacher immediately pulls out the materials to get the student started on the next section.

In Ms. Egan’s room, freshman Matthew Peterson works on his final unit for Algebra I, erasing mistakes as he talks through a graphing problem with a student teacher. “I’m just about done,” Matthew says, wearing a T-shirt plastered with images of cash, of the math course.

He expects to be ready to move to Geometry the following week, with two months still to go in the school year. “I’m already ahead, rather than having to slow down and wait,” he says. Matthew has some incentive: Finishing Geometry is a prerequisite for starting the popular Game Design program.

The day before, freshman John Thornton had fulfilled his promise to finish Algebra I before April vacation. “I walked right into the Geometry classroom and asked for a full unit and started doing it as soon as I got home,” he says. He finished six out of eight papers for the new unit that very night.

Not everyone is so self-motivated. To help students not fall too far behind, teachers often work with them to set goals, and Egan even offers small prizes for meeting them. The students say they don’t need rewards, but, Egan says, “it helps. They’re still kids.”

Out of 30 students in Egan’s Algebra I class, 29 are on track to either complete it this year or take “summer recovery” courses rather than having to come back in the fall. That’s a big improvement over last year, when she and Cardin first started the self-paced approach.

She also 10th-graders perform in line with the national norm for math, she says, but 11th-graders surpass it. She thinks that’s because they are able to apply the skills they built up in the first two years.

The self-paced approach addresses a problem many teachers around the nation face. Advanced students often feel stunted because they have to sit through the basic instruction that many of the others in class need. “But with the self-paced program, we cater to every type of student,” says Cardin. “I just love it.”

Teens gravitate to MST-HS for a variety of reasons. Some like the small setting. Some are self-proclaimed geeks or students who have been bullied in other schools and feel more comfortable here, Ms. Machado says.

Of the 325 full-time students, about 25 percent require accommodations because of disabilities or medical issues. The school, which started in 2012, hopes to expand, because it usually has a wait list of at least 50 students after all the seats are filled through a lottery. Another 437 students come part time from “feeder”

While competency-based education offers the potential for improving educational equity by tailoring learning to students’ individual needs, it also comes with risks. One is what happens if slower students never catch up. “If we’re not able to give [struggling students] effective support, and the others take off, then we are exacerbating achievement gaps, hurting the kids that this model is designed to help,” says Mr. Toch of FutureEd.

But Cardin says she has witnessed students who would be trapped in low-level classes in a traditional high school come here and surpass expectations. She points to one boy who took a year and a half to finish Algebra I, so he came into her Geometry class well into the school year. “Now he’s ahead of almost everyone else in the class,” she says, because he took advantage of custom-fit resources and instruction.

Not everyone is excelling academically, though. On the SAT exam, 21 percent of MST-HS 11th-graders scored proficient or above in math in 2015-16, compared with 28 percent in Manchester and 40 percent statewide. Scores for reading showed similar gaps, but such disparities often reflect demographic differences – and at this school, in particular, many students struggle with traditional testing. Yet the dropout rate here is very low – less than 3 percent.

Perhaps most unusual about the school is the inventive nature of the instruction. It requires flexibility and adventurousness on the part of both students and teachers.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when we have a successful lesson, it’s because we didn’t pull it out of a textbook,” says Ms. Robinson of the geometry and physical science class.

The mingling of academics with real-world problems can lead to unexpected moments of discovery. Kevin McDonnell, who teaches Green Technology, recalls when his students were concerned about too much algae in the big blue tubs where they keep fish for a project that combines hydroponics and aquaculture. In science, they had just learned about freshwater plankton and realized the organisms could eat the algae. Problem solved.

“That was amazing,” Mr. McDonnell says. “That’s what we’re hoping to go for, building-wide – their ability to make that connection….”

Sitting on couches in the Game Design classroom, four teenage boys rank the traits of characters they are creating, such as charisma and stamina, when Jonathan Richard declares: “This class taught me English!”

His friends agree, saying they recently watched an anime film that helped them understand story arc and other concepts their English teacher has offered up in different contexts. “It was deep,” Jonathan says.

In Game Design, “if they don’t know how to break down a story and write good concepts, then they’re in trouble,” says teacher Ryan Frasca.

Over in the Algebra I class, Egan sends two students, Nayshalee Rodriguez and Conor Flanagan, on a mission to check three ramps in the school to see if they are in compliance with the ADA (which they’ll learn later is the Americans with Disabilities Act). She suggests they borrow a tape measure from the manufacturing teacher, and then they’re on their own.

They struggle at first, not sure exactly how to measure the height and length of the ramp and translate that into the “rise over run” formula for slope. It’s the kind of exploration that Egan says will motivate real learning. When they come back with their first round of “crazy measurements,” she gives them just enough guidance that they feel confident to try again, and eventually they can show that the ramps do indeed comply.

When the four-year high school first opened, both teachers and students found the adjustment to competency-based grading awkward. Machado, as principal, was given a shoestring budget and only three months of planning time to open the school. But some of the early graduates now see the benefits of having to be self-starters, even if they didn’t then.

Trevor Harrington says he didn’t care about learning until his time at MST-HS. “Now, two semesters into college, I’m almost an entirely A student,” says the 2016 graduate who attends Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “And it’s because the teachers, although they were not always perfect … taught in a way that made us appreciate the education.”

Several of his fellow graduates agree. One of them used college credits earned senior year to jump-start her university education. Another says he can work in great restaurants to help pay for college, because of the culinary program he took – but exploring that in high school also saved him from investing more time and money in a career he decided he didn’t want after all.

Teachers, too, have thrived with the experimentation. “I’ve grown far more as a professional than I honestly feel that I would have in a traditional kind of school setting,” says Ms. Corey.

Despite all the innovation going on in schools across the country, most classrooms remain fairly traditional in their approach to learning. Perhaps as a result, only 38 percent of public school students in one national survey said most or all of their classes challenged them to their full potential. To bring deeper learning into classrooms on a large scale would require a “seismic shift” that could take generations, says Jal Mehta, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, in a report published by Jobs for the Future.

New Hampshire has a head start. High schools here have been shifting into competency-based education since 2005, and some districts have voluntarily transformed all their grade levels to the new approach.

Challenges remain. One is explaining the new way of grading to parents – and college admissions counselors. For those who go straight to a college program aligned with what they studied at MST-HS, that’s not usually a problem.

But generally there will be a transition period, Toch says, in which some colleges may be skeptical of competency-based transcripts. The traditional high school credit represents a standardized measure of time spent in the classroom, even though it may not equate to actual learning. It’s a currency colleges understand, he says. Mr. Harrington had to explain his grades to an admissions officer at SNHU.

“Thank God they had individualized comments” by teachers on the transcript, he says. But having seen his teachers learn as they go, he’s better able to adapt to new situations. “College is a lot like this school,” Harrington says. “Every year is different.”

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Is Your Edtech Product a Refrigerator or Washing Machine?(Julia Fisher)

Julia Fisher is Director of Education Research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. This post appeared in EdSurge on April 12, 2017.

Education innovators love to talk about adoption curves. It’s a fancy way of looking at a pretty basic concept: the rate at which a given tool, model or approach saturates a market.

Lately, I’ve been seeing these curves crop up a lot in the conversation about personalized learning. As more school systems attempt to customize learning environments and more education advocates and funders champion personalized models, people are increasingly anxious to know: At what rate might we can expect new ideas and tools to permeate the traditional school system?

But not all adoption curves are created equal. Depending on the features of the tools and their intended users, the arc of adoption might look vastly different. One of those distinctions hinges on the degree to which a new tool or model conforms to the traditional school structure.

To understand these differences we can look to historical data on how consumers absorbed all sorts of new gadgets that hit the market throughout the 20th century. My colleague at the Christensen Institute, Horace Dediu, has researched these patterns to try to explain such trends and interrogate anomalies. Last year, he highlighted a puzzling divergence in the data on the early adoption of home appliances. In the 1930s, two delightfully convenient innovations hit the market: the refrigerator and the washing machine.

Refrigerators quickly took hold, gaining over 90 percent adoption by the late 1950s. But households crept much more slowly up the washing machine adoption curve, only getting close to market saturation in the late 1990s. Dediu hypothesizes that this had little to do with housewives’ weighing the pros and cons of being clothed or fed. Instead, he argues, the disparate adoption rates reflect the relative conformability of each innovation to the midcentury home or apartment. Most households had electrical outlets that refrigerators could plug into directly, thus leaving iceboxes in the dust. But few homes had the pipes and drain lines required to install a washing machine.

In other words, homes at the time were never designed with washing machines in mind. As a result, to take advantage of the new technology households didn’t just have to shell out money; they had to hire a plumber to configure the pipes that would pump water into and drain water out of the new contraptions.

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The same might be said of the various technological innovations hitting the education market today. Most edtech companies enthusiastically claim to make teaching and learning more effective, efficient and convenient. But not all tools plug into the same interfaces, and not all schools and classrooms were built with these modern innovations in mind. Some tools are proving to be plug-compatible tools that can be inserted into traditional classrooms relatively seamlessly. For example, short cycle tutorial tools, like Khan Academy, fit tidily into many classrooms and can unobtrusively supplement traditional models on the margin. These tools tend to help classrooms achieve outcomes along traditional dimensions like boosting average test scores and providing help to learners who are struggling on a given topic.

On the other hand, other edtech products and models can’t simply plug into the traditional classroom structure or school schedule—the school instead has to fundamentally change or adapt its infrastructure in order to accommodate the tool. For example, models like Teach to One or Summit Learning’s Platform require far greater re-engineering of classrooms processes. Schools need a new set of proverbial pipes—potentially new infrastructure, new schedules, and even entirely new approaches to teaching—to adopt these innovations and to use them to their full potential.

It also bears noting that unlike the drainpipes, this reconfiguration of schools is extremely complex and often interdependent with local policies, culture, and geographic or financial limitations. It’s not surprising, then, that the past few years have seen a flourish of intermediaries, like Transcend and 2Rev, that are stepping in to work alongside schools to help them to fundamentally reengineer their pipes and plugs.

Sketching out these distinct adoption curves might feel bleak if you’re an entrepreneur building the proverbial washing machines of edtech, or a funder hoping for speedy adoption of next-generation models that disrupt traditional classrooms. But they should also lend us a healthy dose of hope and reality about what adoption looks like depending on how much reengineering customers will be expected to do in order to absorb a new tool. It should also help us to better align resources that philanthropists and policymakers are investing in moving people along edtech and personalized learning adoption curves.

Luckily, it’s becoming increasingly acknowledged that we need to pair investments in edtech tools with investments in professional development. But for the tools and models that least conform to traditional school structures, we’re also likely to need investments in fundamental reengineering—that is, not just developing teachers’ proficiency in using tools but rethinking processes like schedules, evaluations and staffing throughout an entire school building or district.

With that dose of reality we can start to predict adoption with greater precision. We can also predict when adoption might not take off. On the other hand, if we ignore the costs of conformability and hope that schools will just figure out how to use wholly new models within their existing paradigm, the promise of new innovations may fall short. It’s like trying to plug a washing machine’s hose into an electrical outlet. It doesn’t end well.

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How Technology Integration Has Altered Doctor/Patient Care in Hospitals (David Rosenthal, M.D. and Abraham Verghese, M.D.)

Over the past few years, I have compared physicians and teachers because even with so many differences in preparation and the nature of their work, they share two core principles. Both professionals belong to helping professions where their success, in part, is dependent upon the patient and the student. And success, however defined, depend upon each professional developing close relationships with their patients and students. The degree to which labor-saving devices have increased the efficiency of both physicans and teachers in carrying out their daily work, there are, nonetheless, tradeoffs that have become apparent as professionals practice in hospitals and schools.

The following article, “Meaning and Nature of Physicians’ Work,” appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, November 16, 2016. To see citations, click on footnote number in NEJM article.

….Typically in our field, internal medicine, residents arrive at the hospital at 7 a.m., get sign-outs from nighttime residents, and conduct “pre-rounds” to see patients they have inherited but don’t know well, before heading to morning report or attending rounds. Attending rounds often consist of “card-flipping” sessions held in a workroom, frequently interrupted by discharge planning and pages, calls, and texts from nurses and specialists. Finalizing discharges before noon can feel more important than getting to know new patients. Increasingly, the attending physician doesn’t see patients with the team, given the time constraints.

No longer are there paper charts at the bedside. The advent of the electronic era, while reducing the time required for tracking down laboratory or radiology results, has not substantially changed the time spent with patients: recent estimates indicate that medical students and residents often spend more than 40 to 50% of their day in front of a computer screen filling out documentation, reviewing charts, and placing orders. They spend much of the rest of their time on the phone coordinating care with specialists, pharmacists, nutritionists, primary care offices, family members, social workers, nurses, and care coordinators; very few meetings with these people occur face-to-face. Somewhat surprisingly, the time spent with patients has remained stable over the past six decades.1

The skills learned early by today’s medical students and house staff — because they are critical to getting the work done — are not those needed to perform a good physical exam or take a history, but rather the arts of efficient “chart biopsy,” order entry, documentation, and sign-out in the electronic age. When a medical team gets notice of a new admission, it seems instinctive and necessary to study the patient’s record before meeting him or her. This “flipped patient” approach2 has advantages, but it introduces a framing bias and dilutes independent assessment and confirmation of history or physical findings.

In short, the majority of what we define as “work” takes place away from the patient, in workrooms and on computers. Our attention is so frequently diverted from the lives, bodies, and souls of the people entrusted to our care that the doctor focused on the screen rather than the patient has become a cultural cliché. As technology has allowed us to care for patients at a distance from the bedside and the nursing staff, we’ve distanced ourselves from the personhood, the embodied identity, of patients, as well as from our colleagues, to do our work on the computer.

But what is the actual work of a physician? Medical students entering the wards for the first time recognize a dysjunction, seeing that physicians’ work has less to do with patients than they had imagined. The skills they learned in courses on physical diagnosis or communication are unlikely to improve. Despite all the rhetoric about “patient-centered care,” the patient is not at the center of things.

Meanwhile, drop-down menus, cut-and-paste text fields, and lists populated with a keystroke have created a medical record that (at least in documenting the physical exam) at best reads like fiction or meaningless repetition of facts and at worst amounts to misleading inaccuracies or fraud. Given the quantity of information and discrepancies within medical records, it’s often impossible to discern any signal in the mountains of noise. Yet our entire health care system — including its financing, accounting, research, and quality reporting — rests heavily on this digital representation of the patient, the iPatient, and provides incentives for its creation and maintenance.3 It would appear from our hospital quality reports that iPatients uniformly get wonderful care; the experiences of actual patients are a different question.

It’s clear that physicians are increasingly dissatisfied with their work, resentful of the time required to transcribe and translate information for the computer and the fact that, in that sense, the work never stops. Burnout is widespread in the workforce, and more than a quarter of residents have depression or depressive symptoms.4 In response, health care leaders have advocated amending the “Triple Aim” of enhancing patients’ experience, improving population health, and reducing costs to add a fourth goal: improving the work life of the people who deliver care.

A 2013 study commissioned by the American Medical Association highlights some of the factors associated with higher professional satisfaction. Perhaps not surprisingly, the investigators found that perceptions of higher quality of care, autonomy, leadership, collegiality, fairness, and respect were critical. The report highlighted persistent problems with the usability of electronic health records as a “unique and vexing challenge.”5

These findings underscore the importance of reflecting on what our work once was, what it now is, and what it should be. Regardless of whatever nobility inhered in the work of physicians in a bygone era, that work was done under conditions and quality standards that would now be unacceptable. We practice in a safer and more efficient system with measurable outcomes. Yet with the current rates of burnout, our expectations for finding meaning in our profession and careers seem largely unfulfilled.

We believe that if meaning is to be restored, the changes needed are complex and will have to be made nationally, beginning with a dialogue that includes the people on medicine’s front lines. Perhaps the greatest opportunity for improving our professional satisfaction in the short term lies in restoring our connections with one another. We could work on rebuilding our practices and physical spaces to promote the sorts of human connections that can sustain us — between physicians and patients, physicians and physicians, and physicians and nurses. We could get back to the bedside with patients, families, and nurses. We could get to know our colleagues from other specialties in shared lunchrooms or meeting spaces.

In addition, we believe that in the coming years, the U.S. medical community will have to rethink the human–computer interface and more thoughtfully merge the real patient with the iPatient. We have an opportunity to radically redesign electronic health record systems, initially created for fee-for-service billing, as our organizations shift toward bundled payments, capitation, and risk sharing. Perhaps virtual scribes and artificial intelligence will eventually reduce our documentation burden.

But technology cannot restore our professional satisfaction. Our profession will have to rebuild a sense of teamwork, community, and the ties that bind us together as human beings. We believe that will require spending more time with each other and with our patients, restoring some rituals that are meaningful to both us and the people we care for and eliminating those that are not.

Solutions will not be easy, since the problems are entangled in the high cost of health care, reimbursement for our work, and obstacles to health care reform. But we can start by recalling the original purpose of physicians’ work: to witness others’ suffering and provide comfort and care. That remains the privilege at the heart of the medical profession.

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Building More Affordable Housing Nearby (Mareesa Nicosia)

 

Mareesa Nicosia is a senior reporter at The 74. This post appeared December 4, 2016

This post offers another way to improve schooling for minority and poor children that acknowledges the strong links between neighborhood, housing, social services, and academic progress in schools. Patterned on a charter school in Atlanta, Kennedy Elementary School in Omaha needs not only additional funds (which they are receiving from donors) bu also a holistic (and generous) vision of what schools serving children of color require.

Class doesn’t start until 8 a.m. at Howard Kennedy Elementary School, but students line up an hour early every day, intent on getting in the doors in time for breakfast.

That’s how it’s been since school started in August, when Principal Tony Gunter poked his head out the front door around 7 a.m. and was startled to see a few dozen students standing on the steps, itching to get inside.

They’ve waited every morning since, Gunter told The 74 in a recent interview, until the doors open and staff welcomes them warmly inside, trading handshakes and high-fives as music courses through the halls.

Not long ago, though, there was little enthusiasm from students, their families — and staff, for that matter. The pre-K–5 school is located in North Omaha’s Highlander neighborhood, for decades one of the poorest, most segregated and most violent areas in the city of 440,000.

Roughly 97 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; about 22 percent are English-language learners, and 29 percent are refugees, higher than the district average in each case, according to 2015–16 data. While students have made gains on state test scores in recent years, the school had long been one of the worst-performing in Omaha, which serves about 52,000 students, and one of the lowest-ranked in Nebraska.

Enrollment has dwindled since the city tore down two thirds of deteriorating public-housing projects nearby. Its population of slightly more than 200 students is well below the building’s 600-student capacity, officials said.

But this year, Omaha Public Schools officials and their nonprofit partners are pushing the reset button — and drawing on the success of a charter school in Atlanta for inspiration.

Kennedy Elementary is at the center of an ambitious neighborhood-redevelopment project run by the 75 North Revitalization Corp., an Omaha nonprofit backed by Susan “Susie” Buffett, of the Sherwood Foundation, and her father, Warren Buffett. The organization and its donors are pouring about $10 million over the next five to 10 years into an initiative to transform the school, said Othello Meadows, 75 North’s executive director.

Gunter, the principal, said it’s the beginning of a long-term effort at Kennedy Elementary to raise standards for academic success and provide the resources students and staff need to meet those higher standards.

In the months since students returned, they’ve seemed to welcome the new level of rigor, Gunter said.

“[The kids] are just so hungry for knowledge. They are enjoying school, and it’s not like it’s easy,” he said. “We’re pushing them to really persevere through the things that they don’t know … or in areas of weakness in literature and math. When they say, ‘I don’t know it,’ or ‘I can’t do this,’ we’re really pushing them through to keep trying, and once they get it, we celebrate.”

At the same time, a $90 million construction project is underway to create hundreds of new mixed-income apartments and homes within walking distance of Kennedy Elementary. A community recreation center, dubbed “The Accelerator,” is also in the works. The idea is to surround the school with safe and affordable housing, recreational space and access to job training and health care for adults. A holistic approach to supporting families, with a high-performing school as the hub, is how the neglected Highlander community can begin to thrive, Meadows said.

“The best neighborhoods are the ones that kind of catapult you to success, [to] self-actualization,” Meadows said. “Whatever it is that somebody brings for themselves or wants to pursue, the neighborhood is actually an asset to pursuing that, and a lot of times that starts with a high-quality early-learning and preschool experience, followed by high-quality K-12 and college experience.”

The project is modeled on the work of Atlanta’s Purpose Built Schools, a national nonprofit network of neighborhood redevelopment projects with schools at their core. The organization opened its flagship K-5 Drew Charter School in Atlanta in 2000 (it recently added grades 9–12); since then, it has spawned similar efforts in cities like New Orleans, Houston, Charlotte and Birmingham. Most recently, it partnered with a group in Tulsa, Okla.

Students at Drew Charter School largely outperform their peers in Atlanta Public Schools and throughout Georgia, state data from 2013–15 show. That success hasn’t gone unnoticed — in fact, it led the Atlanta Public School district to seek out the organization’s help. Purpose Built Communities started managing several of the district’s lowest-performing schools this year.

In Omaha, changes at Kennedy Elementary began with a staffing overhaul this summer. Just 23 percent of certified staff were rehired for the 2016–17 year, a district spokesperson said.

Seven new positions have been created, including a social worker, a school psychologist, reading and math intervention specialists and a dean of literacy, according to a district spokeswoman. Another dean oversees science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) instruction, which is the focus of the new, project-based curriculum.

The 75 North funding primarily supports salaries for Kennedy teachers to work extended hours this year under a contract variance approved by the union. Classes started August 10, a week earlier than other elementary schools in the district, and the school day runs 45 minutes longer.

Ashley Hawthrone, one of the handful of employees who stayed at Kennedy Elementary amid the transition this year, said the new layer of support staff will intervene earlier when the most vulnerable students show signs of distress — and not just with academics.

Many students come to class having witnessed violence in their homes and their community, said Hawthrone. She’s spent the past six years teaching first grade and sixth grade and started a new role as school counselor this year.

“I think we’ve created a climate conducive for learning. We’re teaching to the whole child,” Hawthrone said. “We recognize that our students come with a lot of baggage, and we’re able to address those academic needs as well as those social and emotional needs.”

The district is working with outside partners to set up a health center at the school next year so students can get vision screenings and dental services.

Outside the school, plans call for construction of 300 rental and for-sale units, including multi-family apartment buildings, single-family homes and townhouses to be completed by 2020. The first 30 rental units are expected to be ready for occupancy in early 2017, Meadows said, with dozens more opening later in the year.

Meadows, who grew up in Omaha and was practicing law in Atlanta when he learned about Purpose Built Communities, said his community’s collective challenge in the coming months and years will be to remain focused on improving student achievement — and keep complacency at bay when the “honeymoon phase” at Kennedy inevitably fades.

“We really want to focus on trying to build up this well of resolve so that when those disappointments happen, when things don’t go exactly as planned, the attitude, the belief, the strength that is there right now remains,” he said in an interview in October.

The Omaha teachers union is a key player in the buy-in. The Omaha Education Association was initially “very reluctant and very nervous” about the prospect of the charter-school-inspired changes, said Chris Proulx, a physical education teacher who was union president from 2010 through the summer of 2016.

(Nebraska is one of the handful of states that has no charter law — the result of sustained resistance by teachers unions and state school board members — though some parent advocacy groups are now pushing lawmakers to support a bill in 2017. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has also indicated his support for charter schools.)

After Proulx visited the Drew Charter School in Atlanta last year and shared his observations with colleagues, the 2,600-member organization eventually signed off on a one-year contract variance to cover the longer work hours, Proulx said.

For now, donors are providing $1 million to $1.5 million annually to cover the added labor costs, Meadows said. If all goes as planned, the contributions will trickle off over time and the school district will be fully responsible for sustaining the changes, should they prove to be successful.

“Kennedy only has the flexibility that the district’s willing to give it,” Proulx said.

During the past three and a half years under Superintendent Mark Evans, the district has largely supported reform initiatives like the Kennedy school partnership: In 2015, the board approved the project in an 8–0 vote, the Omaha World Herald reported.

How the tone from the top may change next year remains to be seen. Evans announced he will retire at the end of this school year, and several newly elected board members will help to select a new superintendent in the spring.

Gunter, meanwhile, is navigating the sometimes tricky task of making sure Kennedy’s veteran educators and the new, young teachers hired this summer learn from one another and work as a team, in an environment where differences in race and socioeconomic status might easily spark friction.

Gunter worked at Omaha Public Schools for 16 years before leaving to work as a development executive for K-12 education at Apple. He returned to the community he calls home when the principal position at Kennedy became available and spent much of the 2015–16 school year observing how Drew Charter educators worked in Atlanta.

In creating a new school plan, he drew on his own experience growing up in North Omaha, he said, where many of his classmates had absentee parents, caught up in drugs, alcohol and violence, who didn’t bother to ensure that their children made it to school each day.

His own parents valued education and pushed him to excel in school, Gunter said, but “it wasn’t easy.”

“As a kid, every choice that I made every moment every day [could] determine the outcome of my future.”

The odds still aren’t great for Omaha’s black youth. Far fewer black male students in Nebraska graduate from high school (50 percent) than white males (86 percent), according to a 2015 report by the Schott Foundation.

But there’s optimism about the future, in Gunter’s view. And he makes that known every morning as he and his staff cultivate the high-energy atmosphere that students walk into as they head to the cafeteria for breakfast.

“We set the pace,” Gunter said. “We set the tone, and everyone that’s walked in this building [this school year] has told me that ‘Man, this place is different.’ There’s just a sense of excitement here, that people want to be here.”

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