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NCLB: What Works vs. Whatever Works


As the No Child Left Behind Act is reauthorized this year, one of the most important battles waged will most likely fly below the radar, writes Michael J. Petrilli in this Education Week Commentary. Mr. Petrelli served as the U.S. Department of Education's associate assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement during President Bush's first term.

While accountability, adequate yearly progress, and funding will grab most of the headlines during reauthorization, Petrilli highlights the underlying competition between the "what works" and "whatever works" schools of thought that he believes will be critical in shaping NCLB's future. The "what works" camp, behind initiatives like Reading First and the "highly qualified teachers" mandate, will push for scientifically backed methods for improvement, butting heads with the "whatever works" philosophy that allows schools to be flexible as long as the end result is achieved.

Should NCLB reauthorization efforts stress proven remedies or site-specific flexibility? When it comes to NCLB, what matters more—the means or the end?


There is a really big question here. I find it difficult to get a clear picture of what the "proven remedies" are. NCLB has been in effect for about four years now and there is still a great deal of confusion as to what the law requires. "What works" is supposedly based on reliable scientific evidence. The Education Department likens this evidence gathering to a clinical trial, but clinical trials use targeted groups and control groups to measure the effects of treatments. A medical treatment does notbecome standard in a few short years. NCLB does not follow scientific procedure when measuring what works. If scores on standardized tests rise, the Department of Education claims that as proof that testing improves performance. The evidence, however suggests that test score improvements are the result of teaching to the tests and test preparation. There is no clear evidence of what causes the better performance.
There has been no particularly dramatic change in the percentage of students graduating on-time or a lessening of droppin out.
The law as it is written mandates the "dissaggregation" of scores by major racial groups and ethnicities, but offers no clear, scientifically accurate description of what constitutes a race or etnicity. The law seeks to measure a gap that has no clear points to measure.
All NCLB has done is generate a lot of paperwork and controversy. The states are caught up in a struggle to comply with vague standards.
NCLB is equivalent to placing a question mark or writing the word GUESS on a speed limit sign and threatening to punish those that guess wrong.

When NCLB first was enacted I sent for the GPO version and read it several times. I am under the only conclusion that not only is it an unfunded mandate that probably violates the 10th Amendment, but it is the worst pie in the sky, wishful thinking , piece of legislation I have ever seen. There is only one cure for NCLB, get it off the books. From not funding, not phasing in changes over time, unrealistic assessment goals, unrealistic policies for schools that don't meet "their" fantasy criteria to disregarding the years that teachers have been teaching having no respect for teachers and all in between that I don't have space to write about. This is not about education, it is about "The Little Tailor" syndrome of this Administration by persons who think decrees are reality.

When NCLB first was enacted I sent for the GPO version and read it several times. I am under the only conclusion that not only is it an unfunded mandate that probably violates the 10th Amendment, but it is the worst pie in the sky, wishful thinking , piece of legislation I have ever seen. There is only one cure for NCLB, get it off the books. From not funding, not phasing in changes over time, unrealistic assessment goals, unrealistic policies for schools that don't meet "their" fantasy criteria to disregarding the years that teachers have been teaching having no respect for teachers and all in between that I don't have space to write about. This is not about education, it is about "The Little Tailor" syndrome of this Administration by persons who think decrees are reality.

NCLB is ineffective and deeply flawed. It would not survive a serious and thoughtful evaluation. It should not be reauthorized.

Put teacher Bob Fragione in charge. He sees right through the bad math and pseudo science used to justify the old one size fits all "What works"camp.
But we live in a time of greater superstition than we associate with 12th century France. The "scientific studies", really no more than bad journalism and poll taking with footnotes,are the sacraments of our time.
Y2K, knock on wood, a laptop in every classroom with never a result and salt over your shoulder. Anything but careful rational analysis of what history tells us about what works.

Sure, there are a lot of things wrong with NCLB, as in improper funding, lack of support, etc. However, I observe people objecting to the essence of NCLB as much as the nuts and bolts. Some educators don't believe or do not want to educate every child. NCLB requires only minimum standards to be met and still there are those who object to implementing anything that might help students in the subgroups. One successful leader asked, and I paraphrase; How many examples of success would it take for a failing school to change its methods to those of the successful school? If it takes more than one, then something else is driving the decision-making.

I have taught in both types of schools. One would do what it would take to meet AYP, including making sure there were not enough students in subgroups to be included in the data, ie. special education placements were delayed and, in the high school, a larger drop out rate occurred among African American students.

In another school, a systematic approach to using research-driven strategies replaced traditional mind-sets about teaching and within a year a school with over 90% minority, nearly 90% poverty, over 60% speakers of other languages, met the minimal standards of NCLB. AND this school has met the requirements for four years even after higher percentages were required and a more robust curriculum was installed. We are now focusing on curriculum that is not "minimal" but extends the knowledge of our learners.

Improvement is the issue for me. If we, as a profession, cannot validate our own improvement in meeting needs of ALL STUDENTS, then we will be required to participate in programs like NCLB, initiated by politicians and decision makers far away from our campuses and classrooms.

We could work toward both ends, educating all students, and developing our own strategies, assessments and reporting methodologies. We just haven't done it yet.

It is interesting to note that NCLB constantly repeats the idea of "research based" curriculum and testing. However, whenever the "research" doesn't say what the backers of NCLB want the research is either ignored or labeled flawed.

This entire program was instituted with NO investigation or scientific research. It was designed by a group of politicians who had not a clue. It is like someone with no medical background telling the doctor how to treat you and then when your treatment fails telling the doctor that he failed.

The only way NCLB can be saved is to have the educational professionals redesign it so that the processes and goals are realistic for every child. The scientific method would work here if it is used. Theory-experiment-collect & evaluate data-use what works & redesign strategies for methods that don't work. Don't forget there must also be a control group;so obviously, everyone can't be doing the same thing at the same time or you have no way of knowing which variables effect the results.

That is the one thing that NCLB ignores: there are VARIABLES in any scientific methodology.

Regardless of "sides-taking" in this debate, one aspect of NCLB remains both a "gold standard" and a "club" over the head of administrators charged with staffing. This is the "highly qualified teachers" mandate. You'll have a difficult time trying to fast-talk your way around this mandate with parents and the general public. And staffing administrators can only pray for "extensions" in Federal enforcement deadlines or more dillution of the definition of "highly qualified". The problem is further exacerbated by current reports that the USA is only able to graduate 34% of the sci/math/technology majors needed to fill job openings in a given year. In 2006, only China exceeded the USA in the number of such job openings. One logical question that parents and the general public ask is, if such a large pool of important and nationally critical openings exists, what are the public schools doing to staff sci/math/tech classrooms with teachers qualified enough to inspire students to pursue the openings? Administrators dread such questions. Locally there is a middle school with a 20+ year tradition of outstanding student performance in regional and state science competition. As staff, who guided the tradition, each, with graduate degrees in science retired, they were replaced with NON-majors in the subject. The tradition of interscholastic performance in science ended, and administrators were left with trying to explain why the NON-major replacements lasted a year, and how they were ever mean't to meet the "highly qualified teacher" mandate.

The best anyone seemed able to do was to decry the passage of the NCLB Law in the first place and try to get some sympathy.

The proponents of the NCLB Act need to remember that behind every Number 2 pencil is a flesh and blood student. The NCLB Act sets the schools up to fail, and then blames them when they do. It is destructive to teachers, administrators, parents and students. Education must be planned and administered by educators. Chaos can never improve learning. NCLB has created chaos in our schools. Dedicated people a being destroyed by a law that was created in ignorance.

As a highly qualified teacher (22 years bilingual credential, master's in reading/language arts), I am on the verge of taking early retirement because I cannot stomach trying to teach in the current environment. I know others who have retired ahead of time and some wonderful new teachers who quit because we didn't become teachers to read a script, give tests that prove nothing, browbeat students and parents, and treat children as widgets on an assembly line. Leaving no child behind is a nice saying, but it isn't the reality of what is actually happening - more are being left behind and pushed out than ever before. Talk to college professors and you'll find that the quality of student they get isn't any better and now they've lost creativity and love of learning. Why are so few groups saying "the emperor has no clothes" - more money, more regulation, more tests; won't fix it!!!!!

As a career changer, I have seen and coped with much flux in trends in the human services and training and development professions. As I enter the profession of teaching, I see both hope and tragic flaws in the basic tenets of NCLB. After all that I have endured to become a certified (though not highly qualified teacher) in New York state, I can understand the Federal government's quibble with most state's basic qualifications for teachers:they are atrocious.
Yet so are the accompanying salaries. In many states a convenience store clerk is paid at a higher rate and has more chance for advancement than many beginning teachers. The idea of promoting highly qualified teachers seems imperative for our nation to keep its students on pace with all that is necessary to be a viable, employed adult and a critical thinker in our society.
In contrast, the idea of legislating the content of standardized tests while allowing states the latitude of setting their own curriculum seems unseemly. What does the government want? Last time I looked, it fell to the power of the states to legislate education and govern curriculum within their geographic boundaries. If the federal government would enjoin states to follow a national curriculum, the costs of the resulting lawsuits would most likely surpass the national education budget fourfold. Yet the idea of legislating what is tested, seems to suggest an erroneous sense of priority. To use a very tired adage, it is putting the cart before the horse, and the horse is far too conditioned to PUSH the cart.

In closing, the curriculum is what matters, not the standardization of how we test it. Students will demonstrate learning in a variety of creative ways; we need to have educated administrators and teachers who are then trained and trusted to devise examination methods that work for their own students. Standardization is way too limiting to students who do possess various learning styles and intelligences.

What other piece of legislation has pushed schools to get off the excuse train and begin thinking about significant ways to improve learning? I would love for the government to give us more money for the changes we hope to make but many of the changes do not need further funding. The main concern I have with NCLB is that it makes assumptions that all children are on the same playing field. There are vast differences in abilities that are affected by many things outside of the school's control. Yet, even given this, NCLB's greatest effect has been the discussions generated about how children learn. We are being called to throw out the bell shaped curve and stop taking for granted that some kids just will never be able to learn. Let's set standards of growth for each child instead of the imposition of targets for schools, districts and states. Let's not push our legislators to throw this legislation out, but let's examine the components that may do harm as we approach 2014.

Remember, this is the administration that hired an oil industry lobbyist with no scientific background to serve as the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and charged him to edit scientific submissions to downplay the scientific consensus on global warming and its effects. As Ms. Wilker correctly notes earlier in this string, "research based" curriculum to the administrators of this destructive mandate means only "high stakes test driven", despite a wall of research showing that such an approach is ineffective and harms children. The purpose of NCLB was to flog the public school system with the achievement gap, while refusing to supply the resources necessary to tackle the gap which is driven by poverty as opposed to driven by "the soft bigotry of low expectations" as Mr. Bush would have the public believe. Why underfund NCLB and poverty prevention programs? To open the door to their corporate crony friends and the privatization/starve the beast movement. This administration hears only what it wants to hear and dismisses/destoys anything opposed to its point of view--including legislation from Congress through the signing statement strategy. It treats science the same way science was treated in cold war communist Russia. This administration is dangerous and their signature education policy is harming children, teachers and entire communities.

The first thing I'd like to say is that I do not believe there are any "proven remedies" for teaching human beings of any age. There are just too many variables involved. Also, I was far from impressed by the quality of educational research that took place at one of our nation's leading graduate schools of education. In my opinion, all these studies should be taken with a huge grain of salt. For example, while it might be true that most English-speaking first graders will learn to read more quickly with a phonics-based program, this research doesn't necessarily apply to English-language learners or children who are very visual. My own son, now an engineer, was one of these students. He didn't learn to read with a phonics program, but caught on rather quickly when a teacher used a more holistic approach. My younger son, on the other hand, was "reading everything by Christmas" with a phonetic approach. That son, very verbal, is now an attorney.

So I would have to say that I would like to see trust placed on an informed teacher who will know how best to teach each child in her class. Helping districts to hire and retain highly competent teachers should be one of the main goals of No Child Left Behind. I think it's time to admit that we are not going to attract "the best and the brightest" into teaching with the mediocre salaries and lack of autonomy that now characterize public school teaching. Frank McCourt said it very well when he described teaching as "the downstairs maid of the professions." Not too many people aspire to be maids.

For me as a teacher, the biggest change I'd like to see is in testing. I strongly believe in accountability but it must be fair. I'd like my students to be tested appropriately in September and again in June so that their progress in my class can be assessed. I don't want my English learners to be given a test designed for native speakers and then labeled "far below basic." The test should show how many months of progress my students made.

As a teacher of forty years, I feel confident that No Child Left Behind is hurting the very children it aims to help. Let's hope our lawmakers have the wisdom to make critical changes before more damage is done.

I have been an educator for 26 years now and this is just one example of a systemic problem that never seems to go away. In the field of educa-tion, unlike other fields, there never seems to be room for more than strategy or camp. We always have to go to extremes; there is no middle ground. There is no open-mindedness that says "Maybe we're both right!" Education is such a vast, comprehensive and complicated field that you would think we would make room for any strategy that works. Instead, we are always forced to choose between academics and vocations, between phonics and reading comprehension, between what works and whatever works, etc. Why choose? Why not admit that all these solutions are part of the greater solution that will help our students achieve, learn and grow. Why not see the big picture for a change? After all, our students cannot afford to wait and we, as a nation, cannot afford it either.

This string contains comments from teachers with many years of classroom experience. Teachers with ten or more successful teaching years would seem to be worthy of the title of master teacher, certainly highly qualified. Standardized teaching tests, like the Praxis Series, give some insight into qualifications, but show very little about the ability to teach.
It seems odd to me that college professors are consudered qualified after recieving advanced degrees, regardless of the state , and in many cases, the country in which the degree is earned, while public school teachers must prove themselves worthy in every new state to which they apply.

We college professors have to go through the same program to become certified as anyone else with extensive knowledge about their fields that comes from years of working in the field. We bring to the classroom a passion for the subject that led us to study it so much.

It seems odd to me that after all this study to become knowledgeable in my field, the promised jobs have evaporated due to funding cuts in higher education, and in order to do what I love, which is teach, I must move into the public schools K-12 to make a living that will support my family above the poverty line. Funding for K-12 seems adequate, or at least the schools where I have been interviewing are not pinched like college departments are, and I am wondering why we are preparing so many students for higher education when we won't have quality higher education for them, since retiring professors are not being replaced but their classes are being taught by adjuncts, or temps with no benefits and lousy pay.

It would be nice if, instead of "we" and "them," public school teachers will accept our need to join them and look at us as a resource to bring in new ideas about what works, as you teach us what we need to know to do a good job with the younger students.

I have taught both at the University level and K-12 and have found that the job and pay situation for both depends greatly on one's ability to pack up and move to where the opportunity is.
Colleges and Universities, facing fiscal troubles, some even facing crises, have been cleaning house of late. Once sacred institutions like tenure are disappearing and health care has become a major budgetary item for all institutions. The cost of higher education is rising as the federal government urges the public schools to better prepare students for college.
My earlier comparison of college professors to K-12 teachers was not meant as a comparison of the rigor of the training. Both are well trained and professional groups with a passion for education. We are certainly not in it for the money! The difference is that a K-12 position requires a certficate issued by the particular state in which one teaches. These certificates are not easily tranfered to another state. Colleges and universities require an advanced degree that is recognized in all states, but the advanced degree does not guarantee certification in K-12.

There are some great observations about improving schools, and specifically improving instruction in Results Now (Schmoker). I think there are some very significant messages in this recent book. My interpretation of his messages are:

In the classroom: Set daily learning objectives based on common curriculum; assess progress toward those objectives during each day. Adverse home environment is not an excuse; just do it in class (especially the higher level literacy facilitated by read, write, discuss, reread, write, discuss).

Department: Teachers work regularly in teams to share, prepare, assess, and then adjust their teaching on the basis of formative assessment results. Develop a common curriculum based on state and district documents selecting only the most essential components.

School: School leaders guide the school as the teachers guide their classes: set objectives, assess progress, adjust and move forward. School leaders must be involved in the instruction taking place on their campus. Stamp out curricular chaos, establish truly professional learning communities, ensure that exemplary instruction is the goal in every classroom and that measured progress toward that goal is being made in every classroom.

District: Provide incentives (mandates) for continuously improving the quality of instruction and the level of student achievement. Do not focus solely on standardized tests. Like the obstacle in the road: if the driver focuses steadily on the obstacle, the most likely result is a collision with the object; one should visualize the way past the obstacle.

Redirect “reform” activities to become “improvement” activities. Don’t plan; Do! Don’t reinvent, adopt and adapt.

Focus: Student achievement through instructional excellence.

Factors: exceptional leadership, teaming, clear standards, accountability

Formal classroom assessment tools/questions/etc.

While we do not all agree about the benefits of NCLB, it is a start at some form of assessment. Rather than fighting back at any form of measurement, we would be much better advised to push forward, strive to meet the metrics currently in place, and actively work to improve these metrics. As Smolker observes, education is the one critical aspect of human activity where we don't know what is actually going on in the classroom.

What a shame. We can do so much better by simply redirecting our budgets and efforts - not increasing them.

If you haven't read "Results Now" I strongly recommend it.

Keep in mind that each state is responsible for implementing guidelines and results under NCLB. And each state is challenged to address unique and difficult questions that are peculiar to their systems of K-12. Before you jump into this discussion and through barbs at NCLB, ask how your state is handling the issue of "proven remedies or site-specific flexibility" with regard to the following:

What are the NCLB Key Performance Goals?

Goal 1: All students will attain “proficiency” in reading and mathematics by 2014.

Goal 2: All English learners will become proficient in reading/language arts and mathematics.

Goal 4: All students will learn in schools that are safe and drug free.

Goal 5: All students will graduate from high school.

What are the NCLB requirements for teachers?

Each local educational agency (LEA) must develop a plan to ensure that all teachers, assigned to teach core academic subjects, meet the NCLB requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. [Title I, Part A , Section 1119]

What are the timelines for compliance with the NCLB Teacher Requirements?

All teachers hired in Title I programs after the first day of the 2002-03 school year must meet requirements when hired.

All other teachers have until the end of the 2005-06 school year to meet the requirements.

What are the three requirements for NCLB teacher compliance?
Teachers of core academic subjects
must have:

1. A bachelor’s degree

2. A State credential or intern certificate or be currently enrolled in an approved CCTC intern program

3. Demonstrated core academic subject matter competence

What are the core academic subject areas defined in NCLB?

reading/language arts
foreign languages
geography [Title IX 9101 (11)]

There are days when I wonder if educators would recognize a proven remedy if they were isolated and locked in the same room with it. As a parent I am weary of conversations about what is offered or not, what is policy, practice or custom and getting nothing but blank stares or worse when I ask why this particular instructional choice makes sense.

1) It is hard to find anyone who will admit that a choice was made anywhere by any living person with regard to anything they are doing (although NCLB serves well to provide a scapegoat--especially in the form of the state officials who must present policy to them). "It's just our policy," or "The law says we have to."

2) There are no problems that schools will admit they are capable of solving--they are doing the best they can do with the money they have and the kids whose parents have already ruined them.

3) When opportunities for improvement are clearly documented--even when plans for addressing them are clearly required by law--the response to what the school will implement try for a better outcome (whether the problem is drop-outs, reading scores, graduation, truancy or suspension) is far too frequently something along the order of "we're going to work real hard on it." The correct answer to be submitted on documents is "use research based solution."

Now, I do realize there are exceptions to all of the above, and teachers and schools who have looked at their data and are responsibly and intelligently working through systematic changes to make improvements. And I say thank you to all of you. Come on over to my kid's school, please.


Standards, whether NCLB-mandated or otherwise, force teachers to have all students achieve an expected level of mastery rather than simply demonstrate progress. This means that teaching must be focused and directed to clearly stated goals, objectives and expected outcomes.

Many of the "highly qualified" teachers in a master's level program I have instructed for several years in reading and language arts are still not able to distinguish a lesson objective from an activity on a lesson plan. This doesn't mean they will fail to faciliate content mastery for eager learners. However, if they cannot clarify exactly what they are trying to achieve, they will likely fall far short of the expected outcomes.

Rather than teaching content for mastery of the test, teachers must first understand the underlying objectives in the standards-based test their students must master. Then, they need to understand the format of the testing questions and prepare students to respond to the various kinds of test questions as they are posed.

This suggests that teachers be trained to consider not only content mastery, but also the extension of that mastery to higher level thinking strategies of application, synthesis, and analysis- ideas we all learned in ed. foundation courses, but that we quickly put aside in our haste to have students simply plow through content. I address this issue in "Teach on Purpose".

I have no problem whatsoever with using proven methods to achieve goals in the classroom. I do have a problem finding proven methods. No Child Left Behind mandates standardized testing and the Education Department asserts that improving scores are proof that the law works. Any teacher of any subject, anywhere can write a test and teach his or her students to pass that test. Improving scores on tests prove only that students are getting better at taking tests or that students will eventually pass a test if they are given the test enough times. It is like saying that a candle flame will burn my finger if I put my finger into the flame and proving it by putting my finger into the flame.
Show me a method that works with all students and I will use it, but what do I do when that method doesn't work?

what exactly is wrong with our schools anyway? I asked this same question back in the early 80's after reading "A Nation at Risk" and wondering what schools that particular treatise was looking at. I am as frustrated as anyone else with clerks who read my change off a register display and the count it out for me as if this is some sort of accomplishment. It is amazing how many people, young and old cannot add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers without a calculator. I am one of those parents that corrects notes sent home from schools. I do not send them back, knowing that the mistakes are usually a matter of someone hurrying to meet a deadline. Even the best writers have proofreaders and editors.
The US public school system has been doing an admirable job. The US probably educates more of its' citizens than any other nation.
Are we perfect? No. Who is? What country is doing a better job?
Our schools are not leaving children behind. Some children choose to stay behind. Some students drop out and some simply refuse to learn. States can only mandate education for so long and schools can retain students only for a limited time.
One proponent of NCLB remarked that so many billions of federal dollars had been spent over a period of time with no marked improvemnet in education. I don't remember the person's name, but they went on to say that if a business had that kind of showing for increased expenditures, it would not last very long. The point being made was that putting more money into education was not having the effect of improving education. Taking a business model, I note that the price of oil has nearly quadrupled over the last forty years, nearly doubled over the last year in fact. That same oil does not make my car go any faster or work any better than when it cost mere pennies a gallon. I am no warmer in the winter than I was before. The product has gone way up in cost, but has not improved. What is the measure?
What makes an effective education?
What has NCLB done to improve education?
NCLB has created a new level of bureacracy that eats up funds that would be much more effectively spent on students and programs for students. NCLB calls for standards, but does not set any. NCLB calls for proficiency, but does not describe what proficiency is. The federal budget does not even fund the law and has not yet funded the law at the levels it proposed itself. When the law was first passed, I was one of the skeptics that thought it was designed to cause failure so the ED would have a reason to cut funding to public education. I have since come to view it as an attempt by lawmakers to appear as if they are doing something. Bush became the Education President and Senators and Represntatives became Education lawmakers. Education however, had more and more of its' funding diverted to paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork.
NCLB is an expensive fix for something that wasn't broken to begin with.

Sorry, Refugio, but all students will not graduate from high school. There are not enough teachers, schools or methods to bring about such a thing. There is no method for measuring such an accomplishment.
The best schools and teachers can do is the best they can do and that is what most, perhaps not all, but most teachers and schools are doing without NCLB.

At base is the issue of a curriculum that is drawn up by universities. Of what democratic good is a system that weeds out children according to whether they make the grade, literally, in high school, if the purpose is to fill a finite number of college and university slots? Whether we believe it to be true, or not, our educational system reflects a larger social system that perpetuates an underclass of people whose purpose in life is to say, "May I supersize that?" NCLB serves only to identify these groups. It can not be a panacea, for the reasons mentioned above.

Amen, Jill.
Of what use is measuring the so-called achievement gap, other than to identify those most likely to succeed at fiiling our fast food orders, washing our cars, or perhaps checking us out at the local Wall-Mart?

It's frightening to think we may have lost our common sense in education. How can we possibly expect all students to achieve at a predetermined level of mastery? Even a teacher of two weeks must notice the awe-inspiring differences in the abilities and aspirations of her students. Have we mistaken Lake Wobegon for a real place?

To my way of thinking, No Child Left Behind represents the Kafka-like quality of the present administration. I am condident that in the near future we will look back upon this legislation and laugh.

We will look back and laugh as we all did after the furor over "A Nation at Risk" subsided and we got over the wisecrack of then president, Ron Reagan that catsup should be considered a vegetable, in an effort to cut school luch costs. The sad part is that we will also waste billions of dollars on forms, exams, suits and countersuits, while we muddle through.
The original knee jerk reactions of the states and the schools have given way to a kind of acceptance. The tests are in place, though still not totally acceptable to the Education Departmment. Student scores are improving and will improve, though we will never reach the level mandated by NCLB.
Sadder still is that what works in my classroom does not work in all classrooms. I have success my way and other teachers have success their way. There is no magic way to teach. Americxan teachers are doing the best they can. We cannopt save all the children. We can only do what we can do. No law will make it better.
NCLB is and has been from the begining, a waste of taxpayers money. The "law" merely shuffles funds, already in short supply, from one area to another. It is totally ineffective at improving education. Hopefully, the politicoes will figure this out and stop the nonsense before it goes further. I can only hope.

Perhaps a little history is in order. I may not have all of the particulars in the best order, but I believe that the intent of Title I funding in schools was to equalize some of the shocking inequities in schools discovered during the 60s, the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights era.

Of course, the intent was to "supplement, not supplant," local funding--otherwise it would just maintain the status quo and the intent of equalizing educational opportunity would not be met. Not supplanting can be a slippery item to track--particularly over decades of evolution in funding streams.

Meanwhile, the shift in accountability for all funded organizations (such as social services, health care, mental health, etc) has moved from inputs such as how many were signed up, or how many hours of care, to outcomes--did the treatment/service accomplish anything. The measures for making a difference range from epidemiological (eg: eradication of polio) to neighborhood (eg: availability of affordable housing) to individual (eg: blood sugar level). Looking at US outcomes over time, the money spent on equalizing opportunity has not resulted in raising the bottom--and the gaps tend toward racial and income divisions. Shifting the accountability focus toward this goal is not only consistent with most similar funding, but is indicated by the results of several decades of funding.

Mr. Frangione makes a number of statements in support of the pre-NCLB status quo--that teachers and schools are generally doing the best that they can do, and that he will adopt new methods when someone brings him one that will work for everyone. OK--but how about in the meantime teachers and schools do their best by knowing whether the method they have selected works for more or fewer students and why? How about knowing how well it is working for their own students (all of them--no fair eliminating some on the basis of "they don't want to learn," unless you are committed to understanding and intervening in their lack of desire)? How about a little thought given to why a method isn't working for all the students--and what method might be better suited to the others?

BTW--I would be interested in what part of NCLB says that a method has to work for everyone to be legitimate.

I think No Child Left Behind has done a lot to put education in the spotlight and to bring accountability to the forefront. I definitely don't agree with all of it but think it is one of the best things that has happened in a while. As for doing "what works" and proven strategies, I believe this is one of the most difficult tasks for schools to undertake. There is no depository out there for this information and once again, does it not depend on which camp you belong to that determines what works and what doesn't? So what are schools to do?

Karen Footen comments:
"As for doing "what works" and proven strategies, I believe this is one of the most difficult tasks for schools to undertake. There is no depository out there for this information and once again, does it not depend on which camp you belong to that determines what works and what doesn't? So what are schools to do?"

While I would agree that research in education has fallen far short of what I would like to see--yes, there are "depositories," out there. The What Works Clearinghouse provides a high standard of meta-analysis of existing research related to methods. Positive Behavior Support has a good bit of research related to it. In the realm of Safe and Drug Free Schools, there are a number of tested and recommended strategies. In addition, many individual states are beginning to identify schools with track records of success particularly with minority and low income populations and to do case study or other research into the commonalities found among them.

I am not sure what you mean by "which camp you are in" determining what works. If you mean that biases and beliefs can influence research--yes it can, which is the importance of peer review, adherence to good standards of practice, etc. If you mean that what works is influenced by the specific needs of the student population, then again, yes it is. But these are things that can be researched and are knowable. Appropriate reading intervention is different for adolescents than third graders and may differ for non-native English speakers. This does not excuse throwing up our hands because nothing works for all students.

Teachers and parents want what is best for their students/children. We all want the best bang for our buck as well. We don't need $500 toliet seats or $1000 hammers. With this in mind, it is difficult to find an industry or agencu that hascome under the "accountability" that is required of public education under NCLB.
The law touts high standards, but sets not even one. The law mandates proficiency, but does not describe what proficiency is. The law while it does place a spotlight on education and accountability, does nothing whatsoever to improve education. The testing required by NCLB tells us very little about student achievement, except on the particular tests that are administered. The accent is on output, not input. There is no way to measure the causes of student achievement or failure.
NCLB is not a reform and does little, if anything to reform education. It is a very costly program that diverts funds that could be better used to aid education.

It's really sad. For anyone reading this thread, it's quite obvious that the problem isn't NCLB, but a system of people in education that refuse to look inward, change, improve, and move forward. That's why NCLB was created in the first place. If educators were leading, there would have been no need. The natural reaction to change unwelcomed is to fight the change fairly and unfairly as we see here. This is what we are reading here -- educators who don't want change. The way the system is run today, it is run to serve the interests of the education professionals. While they say otherwise, the kids are always tertiary concerns. Platitudes embracing benefits for the kids are typically contrived to support a bigger benefit for the professionals. Take money out of education and you will see better education. Not the money paid to the professionals delivering the education, but the big money system surrounding education: the book publishers, the computer makers, the software makers, the consultants, and others looking to generate big profits in the name of education.

What exactly does NCLB hold the states, the schools, and teachers accountable for? It is primarily for the Federal contribution to public education. This is approximately 5% of the total cpst of public education (From the Education Department website). Most of that funding is for Title I. Title I funding is an attempt to equalize the educational opportunities for all students regardless of family income. It is a boost for poor school districts. It is a welfare program that seeks to provide chiefly low or no cost breakfast and luncehs for "disavantaged" children. My children nrecieved no benefits from title I and there are many students that recieve no benefits from title I, but all students are tested and their scores reported for Title I accountability. That is like holding me responsible for Welfare payment that my neighbor receives.
The accountability is in the wrong direction. If schools are doing poorly on the title I funds they receive, perhaps they do not receive enough. The Federal government wants public scools to publish a report card, but the federal government is not subject to the same report card.
The department of Education is attempting to shift the blame for poor achievement onto the states and the schools. Title I has never been funded at the level appropriated. NCLB is an unfunded mandate that further strains the budgets of Title I schools.
States and schools, teachers and students are being held accountable for funding that they do not receive. If I promise you ten dollars, but only give you five, is it fair to hold you accountable for the whole ten?

As I said earlier in this strand, it seems to me there are educators who do not want to educate every child. Some of the responses above are good examples of just that. "Not all students will graduate from high school." "for those whose purpose in life is to say, 'do you want fries with that.'" Such comments are replications in a different tone of those made before integration of schools. Often these comments are called biases or prejudices. Obviously, this can't be the way to improve education.
As I stated earlier, I agree with Bill, if educators had wanted to educate every child, come up with our own accountability method to do such a thing, the feds wouldn't have had to come up with one of their own. When I say educators in this sense, I don't mean just teachers. I mean education policy makers, administrators, school boards and other politically linked educators.
Most teachers, in my experience, do want to have each of their children learn. Even those who are reluctant to adopt research based successful strategies, once they try them and see the success in children's eyes they are converted. I now work in a school that is organized for success, where teachers are expected to use successful strategies and add their own enhancements to them. Why wouldn't you try something that has been shown to work, unless....
you didn't want to. What's your reason for not trying? Look at your biases and prejudices. Look at your excuses and philosophical rhetoric. Then, stop and get started on doing something better for all your kids.

It is not a bias that leads me to say that all children will not graduate from high school. It is experience. Not all children go to school. Not all children go to high school. Many children drop out for many different reasons. Some benefit from alternative education, some do not. Despite the popular notion that all children are required to attend some sort of school, many do not. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Is this a prejudice issue? Not necessarily. Schools, I feel are doing the best they can to educate the students that do attend and to reach those that do not. The educational system is not in desperate need of reform. What is the proof of the "reform" offered by NCLB? When has standardized testing improved schools? What authority creates these tests and where is the research base that gives them legitimacy?

Bob Frangione asks:
What is the proof of the "reform" offered by NCLB? When has standardized testing improved schools? What authority creates these tests and where is the research base that gives them legitimacy?

The authority that creates the tests is the Title I program--which has provided funding to schools for a number of decades in order to equalize opportunity. States have the option of refusing the Title I dollars and thereby opting out of the NCLB accountability requirements. The tests are not the reform--the tests are the measure of the effectiveness of reform. The need for reform is based on such data as % of students who graduate (and the various socio-economic discrepancies) the numbers of students who require remediation in mathematics/writing, etc in order to benefit from college education; scores on NAEP that evidence regional, socio-economic and racial discrepancies and in particular the US poor comparison to other industrialized nations on TIMMS.

The research base to give legitimacy to the tests is at the state level--as this is where the tests are either selected or built. This is reviewed by the ED as a part of compliance with NCLB (and if you have followed recent news, not every state made a slam dunk on this one). There are other entities, such as Fordham, that have reviewed the states' systems of standards and testing.

Perhaps the single most intuitive support for the need for reform, Mr. Frangione, is the number of teachers like yourself who protest continually in the face of discrepancies that you are doing the best that you can. We believe you--the system must change so that your best is more effective.

It is amazing how we continue to build educational camps instead of bridges! I hope I live to see the day when policy makers, professors, organizational leaders, administrators, and teachers will advocate for BALANCE when it cones to what is best for kids and learning. Should NCLB efforts stress proven remedies or site-specific flexiblity? BOTH are equally important and it will take ALL of us to emphasize the need for a bridge that balances both sides; just as in the 'phonics' versus 'whole language' debate. Isn't it time that we take the best from both sides and create bridges that will last for future generations to come? Both sides of this issue are critical...now work together to create a strong bridge that will benefit kids and teachers. Keep your 'eye on the child' and seek first, to create balance . . .

Teaching is an art, a living, dynamic art. The reforms are being made every day, in classes, in schools and educationla institutions. Teachers are adjusting and fine tuning their profession every day, in schools all over the world. The experts are teaching. A major problem with NCLB is that it creates a new level of experts. These experts are anonymous (Can anyone in this thread identify any one person that writes the tests that we use to measure proficiency?). One of the allures of standardized testing is the apparent objectivity they offer. Teachers and schools are somehow suspect because they directly benefit, through pay and benefits, from education. Tests, on the other hand are apparently unbiased by any sort of benefit. Another problem with NCLB is the clinical tone adopted by the ED. NCLB suggests, through this tone that illiteracy is a kind of cureable disease or disability. This is the same type of lnguage adopted by the eugenicists that created the Stanford-Binet IQ tests. The purpose of those tests was the same as the purpose of today's standardized tests, to sort individuals and to identify those in need of treatment, usually referred to as remediation. Who are the experts and what is their purpose?

Michael Petrilli's article, What Works vs. Whatever Works (July 26, 2006)summarizes some important controversial issues introduced by the NCLB legislation and its impact on the education community and the education of diverse populations of students. What seems to be missing is attention to some monumental issues:

The major goal and accountability measure for determining adequate yearly progress and whether NCLB is a "solution or a failed experiment" is closing achievement gaps among identified subgroups. There is no scientific evidence, as defined by the US Department of Education (statistically significant differences between randomly assigned control and experimental groups), to demonstrate that an emphasis on standards/testing will lead to gaps closing.

The challenges school systems face to close achievement gaps among subgroups have been blurred by a failure of the policy and the education community to distinguish the differences between "what works" when the goal is to improve achievement and when the goal is to close achievement gaps. The complexity of the latter goal requires explicit attention to the nature of the differences in achievement among groups which can be broadly defined as differences in experiences and the specific attention to the implications for teaching and learning. Decisions of educators/leadership across the country suggest that there is little or no awareness of this critical distinction which leads to a search for a laundry list of strategies, millions spent on new materials, and satisfaction with entertaining staff development sessions.

The policy further illustrates a serious failure to distinguish the dynamics impacting individual and group differences by including special education as a subgroup. Group dynamics impacting overrepresentation of some subgroups in special education are clearly addressed and funded under IDEA and only contribute to lack of clarity in addressing group dynamics under NCLB.

Available data reveal that only 32 percent of teachers surveyed express having adequate knowledge and skills necessary to teach diverse populations of students (Parsad et al, 2001). This reality is ignored in NCLB's definition of qualified teacher which limits the requirement to certification in the content to be taught and narrowly limits accountability to teachers and schools...higher education and state departments/boards are not identified.
NCLB will only succeed if attention to key requirements necessary to develop the abilities of members of subgroups to become competitive, contributing citizens are centrally placed in the policy exchange in addition to the debates arguing federal or state authority, adequate funding and assessment(standards) rigor/validity. Policy outlining these necessary changes will require more explicit direction for people who are trying to bring about change.

Belinda Williams, Editor Closing the achievement gap: A vision for changing beliefs and
practices (ASCD,2003)

If we can mobilize enough tutors to go into the homes of city students, I think NCLB can have great success. I have yet to read much of anything about this grassroots movement, however, perhaps because it is small at present? For these kids, school-based tutoring after regular classroom hours will never have the impact of home-based tutoring, in my opinion. Parents need to be involved with their kids in their learning, and it won't happen without supplemental student learning taking place in the home, ideally both online and face to face. The parents haven't a clue without some help. They don't know why their kids are failing. They don't communicate effectively with the teachers of their kids, and they don't know why they can't communicate. (Teacher avoidance?) They don't know how much is expected of them to accomplish in the home with their kids. Somebody has to tell them. It might as well be a tutor.

Teachers are not in the business of education for the money. To suggest that we are is laughable, given the amount of money the average teacher earns. As a teacher, it is very important to me that each and every child in my classroom learns. Some children are luckier than others. They have a parent such as Margo who ensures that they have good attendance, completed homework, and excellent parent/teacher communication. Sadly, many students don't have this benefit. I do all that I can to help all students during the short school day.

I don't think that mandating a specific, "scientific" approach to teaching will meet the needs of all of my students. Teachers all over the country are continuously trying to improve their teaching through dialogue with other professionals and learning what practices are "best practices." Students are human, not widgets on an assembly line. Teachers need to have flexibility in their teaching methods in order to meet the variety of learning styles that students have. Standards and curriculum let us know what to teach, now let the teachers teach!

I am "highly qualified" according to my state. I do think that my BA in elementary education along with my continuing education credits should have been enough without all of the extra paperwork. Knowing HOW to teach is just as important as knowing the content, even for a high school math or science teacher. It doesn't matter how much you know your subject if you are clueless as to how to teach it to your student.

Individualized means customized work. The average student in America spends one hour on homework. He or she is not being challenged. I think that home-based learning can greatly aid the teacher (most of whom are certainly doing the best they can), especially since there are so many parents who won't or can't help ensure good attendance, homework completion, and parent/teacher communication. For tutoring to be effective, however, we need good parent/tutor/teacher communication, and more communication with parents needs to be initiated by the teachers. We have the online tools to do this, but we can't seem to overcome the fear factors, such as teacher fear of litigation from parents if they say the wrong thing. Distance learning works in higher education, and is bound to grow in pre-collegiate education. Even in the homes of the poor students I have tutored they have computers and are hooked into the Web, but it isn't being used, or not being used effectively. Do schools fear litigation if they encourage online use?

Angela says:
"Some children are luckier than others. They have a parent such as Margo who ensures that they have good attendance, completed homework, and excellent parent/teacher communication. Sadly, many students don't have this benefit."

Thanks for the recognition--but I can tell you that the recognition I get from my kids' schools varies. As the parent of my daughter (a gifted student) through elementary school I was regarded as a "good parent." When she began to have difficulties in middle and high school, the assessment shifted to hysterical and demanding.

My son has learning and emotional disabilities. Needless to say, I am generally blamed for this. His incomplete homework is seldom linked to his poor organizational skills, limited motivation from years of failure or lack of engagement in repetitive worksheets--it's a mother who doesn't care enough (unless its because he "just doesn't want to learn) or doesn't provide consequences or doesn't support the school in punishing him for the things he has limited ability to do.

I would say that communication with the schools has always been incredibly difficult--I am the parent who is always reminded that I am only "entitled" to 15 minutes of conference time--even when no one else is scheduled or waiting. I continually confront the expectation that parents are supposed to show up for IEP meetings and sign off on something meaningless and unmeasureable that fits into what the teacher usually does anyway.

Because so many in the district, from secretaries to bus drivers to teachers to principals are accustomed to meeting parental concerns with sound byte dismissals ("I have 30 other students to teach right now," "that's not in my contract," "unfortunately that's just our policy," "we've never received any other complaints," "why don't you join the PTA?" "we provide the education, your child just doesn't want to learn," "s/he will just have to learn that there are consequences," "unfortunately we can't be everywhere," "you will have to speak to X about that-it's not my area," "you don't know what we have to deal with every day.") I frequently have to climb the administrative ladder quite high in order to get a response to issues.

As someone with more time outside than in schools--and a bit of that time spent advocating for my children as well as other parents, I can tell you, it's not the lucky kids who get parents who are willing to be involved. The lucky kids are the ones who either get schools that don't put energy into blaming and driving parents away, or parents who refuse to go away.

Bush is a dangerous man, not just for Iraq and NCLB, although Montana has lost a larger % of servicemen than most states and NCLB has been very detrimental to our rural educational system. A bigger problem, under the guise of accountablilty, is the gathering of data - all kinds of student information, supposedly safe from privacy issues by using student identifiers. Next, we are supposed to track students beyond high school. The Feds have easy access to all of this data. It's a short hop to using this data as a way of tracking a particular individual or even data manipulation.
Think about it.
As far as the debate on proven remedies vs site-specific flexibility, I agree with the person who advocated using both. Why have to make a choice? Proven remedies, whether developed in-class by the teacher or "scientifically" proven are being used all the time by good teachers in classrooms across the country to match a particular learning style with successful teaching skills and stategies. Life isn't fair or perfect and most of us do the best we can with a given set of circumstances, while constantly striving to find better ways to reach and teach all students. NCLB has been a big expensive headache that puts a negative spin on public education. It was devised with input mainly from the corporate leaders for the business community. Improving public education is not the intent of this administration. Watch as others countries, particulary England and Japan get away from high-stress testing and rote learning and gear up for developing thinking skills, fostering joyous creativity and improving decision-making abilities in all students in hopes of creating a happier, more stable society.

These are both good comments. Margo/Mom is clearly a good parent, and it is unfortunate that her communication with the schools has always been "incredibly difficult." This proves my point about the dearth of communication between homes and schools. She's not alone. I've experienced the same thing raising three sons in one of the top 6 school districts in Connecticut. I had virtually no communication with teachers, except in the early grades when my RBTL (Right Brain Tactile Learner) was being put through the wringer and my wife and I had to go to the mat. (He's now in college successfully studying to be a scientist, having beaten the system with the help of his parents.) As John Taylor Gatto notes in his incredible writings (www.johntaylorgatto.com)parents as teachers have been disenfranchised. Supt. Christensen also makes a good point, verifying my point about litigation: schools are at a loss because if they gather data it may be released to prying eyes. Where is the incentive then for the schools to communicate? I also agree that we should use both proven remedies and site-specific flexibility. The latter, however, has not been fully explored, in my opinion. If NCLB has any positive effects, I'm sure it will be in spite of the current Bush administration. -- Other countries are already ahead of us, and I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to surpass the dumbing down of America.

As a parent of a child in Kindergarten and Second Grade in fall, I like the concept of NCLB, but I was shocked at how ill prepared many preschool teachers are in teaching the Kindergarten curriculum. Many are just as surprised at how advanced the Kindergarten and First Grade curriculum has become and as a nation we have created a stereotype that many parents may still believe: preschool teachers are “babysitters” and Kindergarten teachers will teacher your child. WRONG! If a parent has not been working at home with their kids before Kindergarten, they will be in for a shock. In the first month of Kindergarten, many children are tested on the alphabet and numbers out of sequence, counting to 100, coins, colors and shapes and if we don’t educated our parents before that first parent teacher conference, they come out thinking: while why didn’t anyone tell me that and within the first month, they are already feeling frustrated and behind. Our current educational system just failed that parent who may now feel like an idiot and may now check out of education.

Until our educational guru’s start at the core and empower parents and kids together to be involved in education and motivate parent’s that they are indeed their child’s first and best teacher, you will always be behind. I think that’s the reason more and more families are electing home schooling options at younger grades: they know what is best for their children but trying to get someone to explain the curriculum of each grade before they get to that grade is sometimes a tight lipped secret. So the inspired one's decide to take charge and take care of it themselves. And the rest of us wave the white flag and pray for the day when educator's and parent's become a team together in education. And until, educator’s at all levels put their political divisions aside and all start working together like a team of adults benefiting the parent and child, their customer’s, nothing will ever change. It’s hard as a taxpayer and parent; to want to give our schools more money when it only benefits the union, salaries and benefits of said teachers. Until education really makes educating parents and kids their top priority, schools will continue to be left behind by many families who elect to do it themselves. My kids are in a wonderful public school, but we bring a home school mentality to that public school and as a family we are very involved, much to the irritation of our school board and school administrators, who say they want parents involved but really don’t, especially if you question them. Until that changes, nothing will ever be resolved. So please, administrators and educator’s ask yourself: do you really want parents involved, when is the last time you listened to a parent, what are you doing to bridge the gap between parents and teachers, and who do you work for?

I am the parent of four children. The oldest three are college graduates currently in graduate or professional schools who did very well in the public school system without much intervention on my part.
This fall, my youngest daughter, will be beginning first grade. Her education track will not be left to the public school system without my input/direction/support. Why the change in attitude/awareness you might ask? Specifically, it is because my youngest has a major medical condition (trisomy 21) which demands flexibility in many areas.
For the last several years, I have read extensively and attended professional workshops on literacy development. The reason for this is simple. I want to ensure that I am a strong partner in the literacy development of my young daughter. My Mary has proven without a shadow of a doubt that she is an able learner. She has also shown however that she does not learn in a traditional auditory mode. Given visual and kinesthetic modalities she is soaring.
So, what does this have to do with the NCLB article? (Which, by the way, I found most interesting.) It is to state, that in my opinion, it is in the intertwining of the two camps that the most effective answer lies. Using the well documented factors involved in learning to read:phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension, all must be systematically addressed. It is in the specifics of these that the creative, innovative practices can come into play. I have found this "marriage" of the two sides to do wonders for us.

It fascinates me that we are always compelled to choose between only two options; in this case "what works" and "whatever works." We need to develop a method of assessing an option that allows for both: highly qualified teachers and high standardized test scores AND flexibility in the classroom to differentiate instruction or utilize a variety of scientifically proven teaching strategies without the stringency of constant data collection. Isn't that, after all, the purpose of assessment?

I am a recent convert from the corporate world -- an ex-Notes Engineer -- that the Chicago Public School system can only recognize as a "substitute." (I am currently working on certification, and will be finished within the year.) I am always quite intrigued with the 'highly-qualified' descriptor, because I just don't see it in the majority of staff I've seen.

Is this true all over the country?

There is a myriad of sound, valid, & replicated research available to school systems; however, anyone who has conducted research knows that the outcomes of the research are based on very specific & controlled variables, method, factors, psychometrics, etc... It is extremely unrealistic to expect schools or schools systems to (a) be aware of ALL of the variables controlled, methods used in the study, demographics, and characteristics of the population(s) used by the researchers on which their selected intervention program was based upon, (b) provide the very same conditions and methods used as those in the research study, & (c) have a student/staff population, school/system, and culture with the SAME EXACT population and conditions as the one upon which the research was based.
Although this is an area where there is room for improvement, most schools/systems do their VERY BEST to align the selection of research based interventions with the multiple needs and diverse student/staff population they serve. Yet the exact outcomes of research cannot be consistently replicated without the above (a-c) mentioned requirements. All of us know about the concept of "street level bureaucrats" and how there is a higher likelihood that learning communities will "tweak" mandates to "better fit" the needs of their population; therefore not following the same protocol as the original study(ies) and ending with different outcomes.
Rather than mandating one more thing (i.e. which interventions schools must use), NCLB should provide the support & FUNDS needed to assist schools/systems to better align research based teaching and learning methodology with their complex & unique student/staff population.

Fact: Colorado scores worse on its state assessment tests (to fulfill NCLB requirements) than does Alabama. Colorado hardly has any students who score in the advanced category, but Alabama has well over a quarter! Colorado has many students scoring in the unsatisfactory categorie and Alabama has hardly any!

However, Colorado scores above the national average on the NAEP tests and Alabama scores below. Does this make sense?

C. Jenson asks, "Colorado scores above the national average on the NAEP tests and Alabama scores below. Does this make sense?"

Not sure how rhetorical the question is, but, yes, it makes sense. That's why NAEP participation is one of the NCLB requirements--to provide some kind of across the board benchmark and prevent states from a "race to the bottom" in designing their tests to ensure high passage rates.

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