"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

What You Probably Didn't Learn in School about Libertarianism Presented in a Nifty New Website.

Can it be argued true education teaching critical thinking and political theories may not be occurring in many schools today? We've written about how the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's standards are to teach students they live in a "constitutional democracy", not a republic. We'll be writing more about that in the next few days and the response from DESE (it doesn't see the distinction between a democracy and a republic) but in the meantime, we wanted to tell you about a new site dedicated to libertarianism.

It is a project from the Cato Institute and a resource for those students (in school and out) who want to know more about libertarianism . From Cato's website:

I’m pleased to announce the immediate launch of Libertarianism.org, a new project from the Cato Institute.

Libertarianism is more than a set of policies about education, health care, defense, and trade. Libertarianism is more than a set of policies about education, health care, defense, and trade. Behind those, providing their foundation, are ideas and history, the writings and actions of great men and women who have argued and fought for liberty. The mission of Libertarianism.org is to express and discuss those ideas directly.

There’s a great deal to explore on the site. You can watch never-before-seen videos of talks by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Joan Kennedy Taylor, and read the first in a new series of weekly columns from George H. Smith.

I’ve written an introductory blog post with highlights–but I encourage you to just click over and look around.

And over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we’ll be adding much more to Libertarianism.org, including new videos, books, and essays. If you’d like to stay up to date, we’re on Facebook and Twitter.

So welcome to Libertarianism.org. I hope you’ll stick around for a while, come back often, and join us in exploring the theory and history of liberty.

This site could be a valuable resource for students. I doubt they are learning much of what is on this site. If our state social standards writers don't understand we aren't structured as a constitutional democracy, rather, we are structured as a republic, I doubt students would have much instruction on libertarianism:

Libertarianism got a major boost in scholarly respect in 1974 with the publication of Anarchy, State, and Utopia by the Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick. With wit and fine-toothed logic, Nozick laid out a case for rights that concluded that

a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, [and] fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right. (emphasis added)

That doesn't sound much like the United States today, does it? All students of political theory (in school and out) should check it out from time to time and learn about an ever increasing political movement in the country. Perhaps you should forward the site to any politician in your state who voted for Obamacare which violates persons' rights and forces them to participate in a program they do not wish to participate or need. Maybe he/she could be educated in libertarian thought as well.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2011 ESEA Bill Hearing Scheduled for November 8th

The latest ESEA bill is going to have a Senate hearing at 10:00 a.m. November 8th in DC.(see details here)

Home Schooling groups, including the Home School Legal Defense Association, are closely watching the development of this legislation, as they have previous federal legislation on education. Their biggest concern is that such legislation will ultimately lead to de facto national standards for education that will apply to anyone providing education, including home schoolers.

"HSLDA said that as an organization it remained neutral on the 2001 NCLB update, “because it included strongly written protections for homeschoolers, and prohibitions on federal funding for national teacher certification, national standards, national testing, and national databases.”
“HSLDA’s federal relations staff have read this 868-page bill, and we believe that while it does not directly impact homeschool freedom, the bill will 1) increase the federal role in education at the expense of state, local and parental control, and 2) will greatly increase the pressure on states to align their curriculum and standards, resulting in de facto national education standards,” said the report compiled by Melanie P. Palazzo, the organization’s congressional action program director, and William A. Estrada of the organization’s federal relations office."

Senator Mike Enzi (R) WY,  ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health Ed Labor & Pensions, had this to say in his October 19th statement to the Committee.

On the central issues of accountability, standards, assessments, teachers and principals, parental involvement, and the role of the federal government, we have fought hard to reach this agreement, though neither of us would say it is perfect.  From where I sit, far more could have been done to allow states and locals to take the lead in the nine areas Senator Alexander and I identified as issues needing fixing.  I also acknowledge, Mr. Chairman that you would have gone further in the opposite direction to reach these goals.  But, with nearly every successful piece of bipartisan legislation, we need to find those areas with which we agree and go forward trying to find solutions where resolution is not as obvious.  Finding bipartisan solutions is essential to passing legislation.

On substance, there is no doubt a rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is necessary.  Over the past decade I have heard countless times that NCLB's rigid federal accountability system handcuffs states, micromanaging how school administrators and teachers approach instruction, leaving very little room for innovation and creative approaches in the classroom.  Although the fundamental tenet of NCLB - a good education for every student - was a good one that is retained in this proposal, the approach to reaching that goal was built upon the flawed belief that Washington can solve every problem in education if we only pass just one more law, one more regulation, one more program, and throw more taxpayer dollars at our classrooms.

On the contrary, I believe we can approach this issue by giving states and school districts the resources needed to support instruction and by providing transparency of results to parents so that they know whether their child is receiving a quality education.  This bill rejects the notion that states and schools cannot be trusted to ensure that every child receives the education they need and that Washington has to continually interfere so that their students can succeed...

The bill eliminates dozens of programs that no longer serve a purpose or are duplicative of other programs, even in agencies other than the Department of Education.  We have also streamlined many additional programs into consolidated, flexible spending authorities.  The proposal also increases the flexibility states and school districts have to transfer funds across programs to make sure that they are being used to address identified student needs...

The bill does away with Adequate Yearly Progress and Annual Measurable Objectives and instead expects all students to be making progress toward achieving college and career readiness. 
This last statement is a bit misleading.  The bill does not "do away with" AYP, but instead creates tiers of AYP.  What it does do away with is the notion of pass/fail that schools face under NCLB and the draconian response required to a failed rating under that system.  Another positive is that it returns the decision process, of what to do with schools that are struggling with AYP, to local control.  The bill specifically states, "(iii) NO FEDERAL INFLUENCE- The Secretary shall not prioritize, incentivize, or require the use of, any particular method of school turnaround or school improvement strategy."  There is still much reporting to the Secretary of Ed, though the office is not allowed to act upon data obtained through that reporting.  Calls into question why local personnel must spend time providing this reporting, but bi-partisan compromise typically leads to such erroneous requirements.

The bill also contains language pertaining to a student's rights to transfer to another public school if the student did not meet the proficiency level for language or math on the state assessment. This provision would not apply if states have specific legislation prohibiting it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Higher Taxes for More Education Spending Voted Down in Colorado. Voters Must have Seen the Dismal Chart of Education Spending & Test Scores.

The LA Times reported Colorado voters on Tuesday (November 1) voted down a tax increase for schools 65%-35%. That's certainly a lopsided election result. What were the tax increases for? From the article:

Supporters intended for the extra money to plug holes in the state’s K-12 and college education budgets, which have endured hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts. Opponents said the state’s economy was too fragile to withstand higher taxes, which would have expired after 2016, and that throwing money at education wouldn’t necessarily improve its quality.

Here's the link from Cato showing the chart of educational flat lined test results even with 190% increase in federal spending over four decades.

Perhaps Colorado voters are weary of higher taxes for education with no improvement in test results. Are the voters becoming wiser in understanding throwing money at education is not the answer to the problems in education? Are they starting to think educational problems might be due to out of control costs, federal control/mandates and cultural issues? xxxxxxxx

Be sure to read the readers' comments. Here are some that are spot on.

Jim Lee · Top Commenter · University of California, San Diego
There is no correlation between education funding and education outcomes. In fact, if there is any correlation at all it is negative. The highest per-capita spending on K-12 education is Washington DC. Washington DC schools are also the lowest performing schools in the nation. Consequently, the idea that more money will translate into higher academic performance cannot be supported. The public eduction system in the US is broken beyond repair. There is a way to increase academic performance but raising taxes to give more money to incompetent public school administrators is going to do nothing to raise academic performance. There is no causal relationship between the two. The Colorado voters were very wise not to throw their money away. It would have made them poorer and it won't help the students one bit.

Jacki Legg Wells · Palisade, Colorado
Here is an idea I always pitch to my fireman, police, and teacher family and friends. When I think of a reason to pay taxes it is these people we want and need. So then why do we pay 15- 20% taxes to the federal goverment wait for certain strings to be pulled, laws, grants, national disasters, polictical lobbying for the money to get clear back to Colorado for education, national disasters, roads and bridges? We should pay 3% to the feds and 15-20% to the state of Colorado. That way I can see how my money is spent. There would be less politics with my tax money! People turn your thinking around!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Has no one in education read any Isaac Asimov?

The invention of the computer has supposedly heralded a new dawn of civilization.  It has triggered an information explosion that has transformed society. But anyone who has read about Clarke’s HAL (the Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) in Space Odyssey,  Sky Net in Terminator, or Asimov's VIKI in I Robot knows the danger of turning over human control to machines.  Though thousands of times faster, with the ability to consider millions more data points than the human brain, computers still have some basic limitations. They only do as they are told (programmed) and their exercise of pure reason does not jibe with human reasoning.  This is why SciFi story lines based on computer reliance typically end so poorly for humans.  So why are we touting the benefits of turning over the evaluation of our children’s education to computers?

Various software programs (Project Essay Grade [PEG],  Intelligent Essay Assessor [IEA], E-rater,) that utilize algorithms to grade student writing samples, are being pushed as the solution to the growing demands on teachers’ time to grade the increasing number of assessments required by NCLB, ESEA, CCS and other local assessments.  This software could only be developed once “good writing” was analyzed and broken down into component parts.  This was done by Jane Schaffer who gave us the alphabet soup of the Schaffer Writing Method.  Those who have children in school now should be familiar with her “chunk paragraph” and its use of the TS, CD, CM, CM, and CS. This is essentially paint by numbers for writing.

The theory goes that if you have a student who has no idea how to write an expository essay, you give them this framework to fill in and they will end up with something literate.  They will have a Topic Sentence (TS),  Concrete Details (CD), Commentary (CM) and a Concluding Sentence (CS).  This much is true.  Will you have something that makes sense or is compelling? This is not guaranteed by the Schaffer method.  The finished work could be full of dangling participles, noun-verb disagreement, or erroneous conclusions.  Most humans reading the paragraph would recognize these errors. However, if you sprinkle in the right amount of key words, concepts and have the correct sentence order, you can fool a computer.

When the University of California at Davis tried out such technology a couple years back, lecturer Andy Jones decided to try to trick e-Rater.  Prompted to write on workplace injuries, Jones instead input a letter of recommendation, substituting "risk of personal injury" for the student's name.

"My thinking was, 'This is ridiculous, I'm sure it will get a zero,'" he said.  He got a five out of six.

A second time around, Jones scattered "chimpanzee" throughout the essay, guessing unusual words would yield him a higher score.  He got a six.

A University of MO sociology professor, Ed Brent, developed his own grading software, loading it with keywords and term relationships that the software would scan for.  Once this information was learned by the students, they used it to better their scores.

In Brent's class, sophomore Brady Didion submitted drafts of his papers numerous times to ensure his final version included everything the computer wanted.  "What you're learning, really, is how to cheat the program," he said.

Giving the teacher what they want is the current goal of all students, so this student’s approach is neither unreasonable, nor unethical.  He is learning something, just maybe not what he, or his parents, thought they were paying for.

As we rely more and more on computers, success in the future may be defined by one’s ability to fool the computer - a hacker’s nirvana.   The experience in Atlanta, where 150 teachers were found to be changing students answers on standardized bubble tests in order to improve their scores, shows that this is a lesson humans can learn quickly and well.  The Atlanta school district relied on computer scanners to determine how well the students were doing.  It took almost a decade, and a few humans, to notice that anything was amiss with the scores.  We are currently generating so much data, that computers can handle, but few humans are reading.   What is being missed in this data and how much more will be missed in the future as we increase the amount of data exponentially?

The Atlanta school district incident resulted in many people losing their jobs. But in all the stories about the cheating, no one ever mentioned what would be done for the victims, the students who didn’t actually perform that well on those tests yet were promoted anyway.  Their education was a casualty of standardized testing and computer analysis.  

We have yet to achieve Asimov’s first law of robotics; "a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Since a robot is really a computer with the power of locomotion, maybe Asimov should be required reading for all school bureaucrats so they can make sure their computers at least follow the first law.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OWS and Public Education Teachers Protesting. What Lessons Are Teachers Teaching Students?

We present two opposing articles on teachers joining OWS and their participation resulting in the closing of banks and schools. Both state teachers are teaching students lessons. After that agreement, the writers diverge in whether they believe teachers taking time from class to teach these lessons are helpful to students, the teaching profession, and the use of taxpayer money to teach these lessons.

From Seattle Education:

Occupy Seattle Teach-In at Chase Bank and Seattle Central Community College Welcoming Occupy Seattle for the Long Haul

Jesse Hagopian, a founder of Seattle Equality Educators and a teacher in the Seattle Public School system, introduces the Teach-In in front of Chase Bank in Seattle that was held on October 29th.

There is a lot to learn from these teachers.

The following video shows Occupy Seattle completing a march to its’ new home at Seattle Central Community College and being welcomed by faculty members on Oct 29, 2011.

See OS Welcome to SCCC.

Here is an opposing view on teachers joining the protest from Education Action Group:

School will be cancelled in Oakland because the teachers don't like U.S. tax policy!
By Steve Gunn
EAG Communications
OAKLAND, Calif. - Apparently we've reached a new low in public education.
School children, parents and taxpayers can only count on classes being taught if the teachers don't have some political cause to march for that day.
It was sickening enough last winter, when the teachers in dozens of districts in Wisconsin left their students hanging while they fled to Madison for several days of public whining. The students had nothing to do with the legislature's decision to tighten the terms of collective bargaining. Neither did their parents or the taxpayers at large.
But the students had to pay the price.
Now we have Oakland, California, where a group of radical teachers plan to shut down three schools that we know of Wednesday (and quite possibly more) because they want the day off to join a general national strike called for by the Occupy people.
If you recall, the Occupy people are largely motivated by their belief that the wealthiest one percent of Americans should pay more taxes. That means at least some students of Oakland will miss a day of school because their teachers don't like U.S. tax policy!
"Evening all," read an email from Steve Neat, communications chairman of the Oakland Education Association. "I've been talking to Caitlin Esch from KQED radio and she's enquiring [sic] which schools are honoring the one-day general strike Nov. 2 as an entire staff. At this point I am aware of Bridges Academy and Maxwell Park. I know Oakland High is working on it. Any others that we know of?"
We hope the teachers of Oakland spell better than Mr. Neat. We're sure he meant to spell 'inquiring' rather than 'enquiring'.
This statement came from a flier distributed to the parents of students who attend Oakland's Bridges Academy: "We, the teachers at Bridges, are joining the Occupy Oakland protest on Wednesday, Nov. 2. We will not be in our classrooms that day, all day. We are the 99%!!"
Apparently some teachers will use personal days, which means their schools will have to hire substitute teachers. Substitutes cost districts extra money, and are only supposed to work when teachers legitimately need time off.
One school apparently has a shortage of subs, so its having a lottery to determine which teachers will be allowed to leave and protest.
What about the taxpayers who have already coughed up hard-earned money for classes to take place on Wednesday? Shouldn't they they have a say in this, or at least get a refund? And what type of precedent is this setting?
Will the teachers be allowed to walk out later if they're upset about foreign policy, interstate commerce regulations or the price of license plates in California? What if, to the teachers' great horror, the Republican nominee for president is elected in 2012? Should they have the right to take a month off from work?
Public school students have an absolute right to an education uninterrupted by adult political concerns, whether those concerns are related to collective bargaining or government policies that the teachers find objectionable.
Any teacher who is willing to sacrifice five minutes of student instruction time over any political issue does not deserve to call himself or herself an educator.
If political issues are more important to these people than their students, they should go find a job in the political world and make room for new teachers who actually want to teach.
Teaching is a public service, and public service comes with a degree of self-restraint and sacrifice.
In this case, the obvious sacrifice would be to save political activities until after school, so the students get the instruction that taxpayers have funded.
The law in every state should allow local school boards to immediately fire any teacher who fails to show up for work for any type of political cause, including collective bargaining issues.
The students of America should never be second priority to politics.
Unions will only have it their way
The Oakland Education Association has released a position paper, outlining its reasons for endorsing the Occupy general strike.
Their main point is that "On Wednesday, Oct. 26 the OUSD School Board voted to shutter five schools in Oakland. Unless we build a movement to demand that the top one percent pay their fair share, more school closures will follow."
When school districts raise taxes, it affects far more than the top one percent. The teachers fail to understand that many taxpayers are either unemployed or underemployed at the moment, and many of them make a lot less than school employees.
Meanwhile, the school employees keep swamping their local districts with unsustainable labor costs that were created through irresponsible collective bargaining.
A typical public school in America spends about 75 percent of its overall budget on labor.
When it comes time to cut costs, you would think the local labor unions (particularly the teachers) would be willing to make a few temporary sacrifices to keep younger teachers on the job and student programs intact.
But in hundreds of districts across the nation, teachers unions have refused to sacrifice anything for the common good.
Many unions continue to insist on automatic, annual step raises (regardless of performance), free or low-cost health insurance, free or low-cost pensions, seniority bonuses, retirement bonuses, extra pay for having a few extra kids in their classrooms, full salaries and benefits for union presidents who don't teach, and reimbursement for unused sick days.
Meanwhile their school boards are forced to lay off dozens of low-seniority teachers and cancel the tennis, cross country and debate programs for students.
And it gets sicker than that. Instead of leaving their political viewpoints in the street, pro-Occupy teachers are insisting on indoctrinating their young, impressionable students with their political beliefs.
"In the union stronghold of California, teachers have begun to take the fight into the classroom with a lesson plan titled 'Who are the 99 percent? Ways to teach about Occupy Wall Street,' " one report said.
Way to go, teachers. Don't give the kids a balanced look at the Occupy movement and present all sides of the debate. That would be too fair and downright educational. Instead you're going to present your point of view as the correct point of view, and allow students to leave your classroom believing your words are gospel.
How would the unions react if a public school teacher gave daily lessons about Dick Cheney's plan for America, and how he was right about every issue? Do you think labor leaders would object to that?
Parents send their children to school to learn the fundamentals - not to be indoctrinated into any political movement.
Lawmakers in states around the nation must put their foot down and make one thing clear: If politics are going to be allowed in the classroom, they must be presented in a balanced, educational way that allows students to view issues from all perspectives and make up their own minds.
And under no circumstances should teachers be allowed to miss school to participate in any sort of political demonstration. If they do, they should automatically sacrifice their right to teach in any public school ever again.
Welcome to the state of public education today. Is this a conflict between "this is what democracy looks like" vs living in a republic? Will this time taken to protest help our kids become STEM ready, an urgent need according to Arne Duncan?

What do you think?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hey OWS protestors: Investigate This! A Halloween Trick on Illinois Taxpayers that is Anything But a Treat.

This story comes from Illinois but could it be happening in your state? It's a great gig if you can get it but Illinois taxpayers are being "treated" to paying teacher union officials potentially millions of dollars in pension for one day of work...as substitute teachers. It seems more of a "trick" than a "treat" for those taxpayers paying lobbyists from the teacher pension system.

Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street protesters might want to turn their attention away from Wall Street for a bit and focus on union shenanigans made possible by Illinois lawmakers.

From Matt Larsen at The Foundry:

No such thing as a free lunch? Not if you’re a union lobbyist in Illinois.

As the Chicago Tribune reported: Two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience were allowed to count their years as union employees toward a state teacher pension once they served a single day of subbing in 2007…. Steven Preckwinkle, the political director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and fellow union lobbyist David Piccioli…took advantage of a small window opened by lawmakers…. [which allowed the two men] to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom.

The Tribune reports that based on his salary, Preckwinkle “could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.” Furthermore, “over the course of their lifetimes, both men stand to receive more than a million dollars each from a state pension fund that has less than half of the assets it needs to cover promises made to tens of thousands of public school teachers.”

While a story like Preckwinkle and Piccioli’s may be rare, it represents the self-interest of unions that far too often stands in the way of the needs of teachers and students.

A September Education Week article reported that teachers are joining a growing number of non-union professional associations. Dissatisfied with unions’ failures to listen to their voices on policy matters, teachers see these organizations as a place where their opinions can be heard.

Evan Stone, co-founder of the New York-based Educators for Excellence, a non-union teacher advocacy group, related his experience working with New York City’s United Federation of Teachers: “We didn’t feel that on the issues where we disagreed [with the union] there was room for debate, or discussion, or dialogue.”

In 28 states, teachers must either join a union or pay union dues. Yet funding frequently fails to represent teachers’ interests. For example, in the 2008 national elections, the National Education Association (NEA) made 91 percent of its political contributions to Democrats, but a survey conducted just three years earlier showed that 50 percent of NEA members said they were “conservative” or “tend conservative.”

Furthermore, teachers’ union fees frequently go to support causes that have little or nothing to do with educating children. Among the non-education issues on the NEA’s legislative agenda for 2009 were support for “family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom; development and implementation of a long-range national energy policy,” and even “legislation to preserve and expand Native Hawaiian land ownership.”

Beyond failing to represent educators’ viewpoints, unions also stand in the way of much-needed reforms, such as tenure reform, merit pay for teachers, school choice, charter schools, homeschooling, and virtual learning.

Illinois cannot afford to pad the pocketbooks of two union lobbyists who played the system for personal gain. And U.S. schools cannot afford to cater to union demands at the expense of students and teachers. At a time when schools are in great need of reform, it is especially critical that education institutions are able to focus on supporting quality educators and promoting the academic success of children.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sunday Education Weekly Reader: 10.30.11

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader for 10.30.11. Today we have stories about:
  • what is really necessary in education for student success
  • the common core crowd gets caught again in the illegal nationalization of curriculum
  • a video that should be required viewing for all students about economics
  • the art of political correctness in choosing a Halloween costume
  • a young woman's scary fascination with cats


Here is an article from the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in Rochester NY about the importance of mentors and one on one tutoring which helps students stay in school and on course. Maybe the answer isn't a "one size fits all" program as outlined in common core standards after all.


Richard Epstein discusses the income inequality myth on PBS and should be required viewing for students. From HotAir:

“Income inequality” has always existed. It exists in every economic system ever invented. Does anyone doubt that income inequality exists in communist China, or existed in the Soviet Union? If you don’t want to argue from the extremes, take a look at western Europe, which has relied on massively redistributive policies for decades. The difference between these systems and the American experience is that membership in an economic class has never been static, but is changeable depending on one’s innovation and effort. That goes to the heart of American exceptionalism, and American success — or at least it did before we tried turning ourselves into a version of Europe’s sclerotic nanny states.


The pro-common core crowd doesn't try to run from the "nationalized" standard tag these days. Here's an article from The Hoover Institution entitled "New Law Nationalizes Science Education Standards". Note the irony of the title of this piece and this tag (New law nationalizes science education standards | Advancing a Free Society) from Education News.

How is nationalizing education standards advancing a society that's "free"? What an oxymoron. The more nationalization and centralization that occurs in America, the less free society becomes.


Choosing a Halloween costume this year can be difficult in case you don't want to offend anyone in any culture. Read this article about a campaign from Ohio State University students so you don't step on anyone's toes or feelings before you decide on your costume.


Happy Halloween! For a scary video on cats (in honor of Halloween), check out this Autotune video about a young woman and her fascination of cats she talks about on a dating website.

Educational quote for the week:

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

-Frederic Bastiat

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