About ILRYH's 47 Percent Charter Under-Utilization Number

About ILRYH's 47 Percent Charter Under-Utilization Number

IL Raise Your Hand has come out with a news release purporting to show that 47 percent of charters are under-enrolled and there were 11,000 unused charter school seats. Wow.  That's a big number.  No surprise that CTU started using the eye-grabbing statistic as soon as it came out. But wait a minute -- what do CPS and charter school folks say about the number, and how should the media treat ILRYH, anyway?

Over the last couple of years in particular, ILRYH has won a lot of credit and attention for finding fault with CPS statistics and coming up with alternative methods of calculating school capacity and utilization rates.  But poking holes in other folks' numbers is easier than coming up with your own figures and being able to defend them (I should know, it's what I do all day), and more and more ILRYH seems like it's veered from independent, dispassionate analysis towards full-throated advocacy.

Not that there's anything wrong with advocacy, but it's not the same as independent analysis.

So the ILRYH story goes out and CTU started using the 47 percent number almost immediately, treating it as fact:

"Ironically, the justification for today’s vote, according to Chicago Public School (CPS) leaders, is to “relieve overcrowding,” even though 47 percent of all existing charters are underutilized with more than 11,000 un-used seats.

Fine, no problem. Advocacy is good.

But then at least a couple of Chicago news outlets started using it, too.

In The News from Catalyst has this headline: 47% of charters underenrolled, data show, followed by a description of the press release that gives no indication that it's unverified and comes from a group that criticizes charters.

DNA Info included the number in its charter approvals story without any comment or caveat.

Ditto for Mark Anderson, who tossed the number into a recent NBC column.

Others may disagree, but in my eyes it would have been better if anyone who used the ILRYH number to have noted that it might be disputed and came from an advocacy group with a long history of criticizing charters.

Even better, someone might have asked CPS and INCS about the RYH numbers, and considered what they had to say before tossing the number around.

I did, and was told enough -- the numbers don't account for new charters growing into their buildings, and apparently don't include the majority of charter school students who go to schools that aren't housed in CPS buildings -- to raise some concerns that might warrant being tracked down or at least indicated in writing.

Yes, of course, the same is true for numbers coming out of pro-charter groups and from CPS and City Hall.  In all cases, media outlets should make clear where the numbers they're using are coming from, whether or not they're disputed, and what if any response is out there from the other side.  It's not that hard to do -- and it's the right thing, too.

In my perfect world, media outlets would also indicate where a story idea came from, where they found their sources, and other key facts.

Anyway, I've asked ILRYH what they think about the points CPS and INCS make, and will let you know what they say asap.



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  • This is a good idea. What's your rubric for any story about ed numbers, no matter the source or media provider? Checklist?

  • It appears these ILRYH numbers are not "apples 2 apples".

  • On page 36 of the approved FY14 CPS budget the charter/contract school enrollment was predicted to increase from about 53K to about 58K. [http://www.cps.edu/finance/fy14budget/pages/budget.aspx]

    This fall the charter/contract schools enrollment was reported at 57,169 and the regular school enrollment is listed at 343,376. [http://www.cps.edu/Schooldata/Pages/Schooldata.aspx 20th Day Membership]

    The total district enrollment was projected to be 405,519 students in school year 2013-2014. But the 20th day total CPS district enrollment was reported at 400,545 or a difference of about 5,000 less than the projection.

    Overall charter/contract enrollment has increased by 4,000 [52,926 to 57,169] and regular school enrollment has decreased by about 7,000 [350,535 to 343,376].

    The IL Raise Your Hand analysis is missing at the link provided in their web story. The Google fusion spreadsheet doesn't show how the 47% figure was determined. How many (%) regular schools had less than ideal enrollment, too?

    The RYH analysis wasn't really needed to make an argument against opening more charter schools. There are plenty of CPS schools with additional capacity. Last year CPS argued that more than 50 percent of schools were underutilized and that about 140 were more than half empty.

    The press should review the quality and substance of any groups’ analysis and comment on any strengths and/or shortcomings—biases.

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    In reply to district299reader:

    You can see all the information here.


    CPS is in a fiscal crunch, has scores of over-crowded schools, argued that 50 schools needed to be closed due to a district-wide decline in students, but now reverses and expands number a charter schools despite existing capacity (open seats) within the charter system and no plan to relieve over-crowding.

  • In reply to Ball Chr:

    When did school seats become fully fungible? An new under enrolled school on the south side does not provide relief for an overcrowded school on the Northwest side.
    If CPS is going to provide more rigorous school to all neighborhoods some of these schools will likely be underutilized for years. You may prefer that every available dollar is spent on your schools of choice, but many other people don't agree with that choice.
    Most chronically underutilized schools should eventually be closed, both charter and traditional.

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    In reply to Donn:

    You are correct that school seats are not fully fungible, but we are not arguing that they are. CPS is. They say parents need choices, but there is no strategy to target where more schools are necessary. The facilities master plan had no actual plan to relieve over-crowding or respond to long wait-lists.

    I agree with you that a true parental choice model would leave CPS with multiple under-used schools. But CPS argues the opposite: that there are too many seats for too few children. They cannot have it both ways.

  • In reply to Ball Chr:

    CPS takes money from successful level 1-2 schools to pay for non-producing and/or corrupt charters. Stealing these basic funds turns these once high performing schools into level 3-4; proving CPS' self-fulfilling prophecy and false-proof for charters.

  • In reply to Ball Chr:

    CPS certainly can "have it both ways". There are areas with steadily declining populations that had elementary schools every few blocks. They closed schools. There are areas with full schools like Prosser and who have many parents who prefer a rigorous school like Noble.

    Charter parents were short changed financially for years. Were you upset about that unfairness? SE and magnet schools, schools with on average considerably more affluence (and whiteness) than typical CPS schools have had more than there fair share for years.

    The parents who historically have received the least funding for their children's education get a few more dollars spent on them and all hell breaks loose.

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    In reply to Donn:

    If the argument is that CPS has areas with more seats than students and areas with more students than seats, then have them show me the analysis. It's not rocket science. They can produce maps by census tract or by their own data aggregated by street block to show where kids are staying in-neighborhood and where parents are looking out-of-neighborhood. Then we can have an informed debate over where we need charters and where we don't.

    CPS is fine with dolling out extra dollars to RGCs and SE HSs. I don't think that's fair. I'm speaking for myself here. But we should be clear -- expanding the number of schools when the schools budget is declining means robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  • In reply to Ball Chr:

    Why are charters the only "choice" that the board will give us. How about building additions to neighborhood schools so that it becomes a better, less crowded choice? How about SE and Magnet schools- far more students struggle to get into those schools than charters? How about building more alternative schools so violent and behaviorally detrimental students do not have to ruin the environment at otherwise quality neighborhood schools? These are the choices I want. Charters I and my neighbors are not interested in at all.

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    In reply to district299reader:

    You'd have to ask the board that. Well, you could try to ask the board that; they really don't like answer questions en banc.

    Sadly CPS has put forth no coherent strategy to address under-enrollment v. over-enrollment among non-charters (instead, influential squeaky wheels get greased with state funds [Lincoln E.] and everyone else gets the finger).

  • In reply to district299reader:

    I agree, The schools around Midway have been begging for additions for at least twenty years and all they've gotten was temporary, crappy four room mobile structures which were outgrown the day they were constructed. Some of the classroom son the southwest side have 38 students and the children with disabilities are being taught in/next to washrooms, stages, and hallways.

  • In reply to Donn:

    Donn the demographic projections for the community around Prosser is flat with no growth over the next decade. The growth in Chicago's Hispanic population has largely ground to a halt, as has emigration from Mexico and Central America. We are in fact seeing reverse migration back to Mexico.

    In many ways charter supporters and the upper income families around Lincoln School have a commonality, both groups believe CPS is too big to fail. That as long as CPS keeps the spigot turned on I will keep drinking. CPS failed twice before, once during the Great Depression, and again in 1979 when the School Finance Authority took control.

    CPS is a train wreck waiting to happen, the crisis will become apparent only after people realize that any pension proposal floated by Chicago will not be enough to stabilize the district. The Civic Federation has laid out the projections and has asked correctly that CPS create a multi-year plan to contain spending. Both the Board President and Tim Cawley rejected that arguing the fix was only to be found in so called pension reform.

    Being a conservative organization the Federation too wants to reduce teachers pension payments, a position I deeply dislike, but it's analysts are intelligent and they don't argue that cuts to retiree benefits will fix the structural deficit CPS faces. So Donn folks like you an Mr Broy who argue for choice in a vacuum will be screaming when CPS cuts charter tuition payments just like Huberman did. Only once crunch time comes the cuts will be deeper than what Mr Huberman did and nationally based charter operators will pull out of the Chicago market, leaving local operators like Noble who will have to dramatically increase class sizes, cut remedial programs, and college counseling. We are entering the ten year window when this collapse will take place.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    What about the economic impact of people working leaving the city because available high school choices are unacceptable? What about the philanthropy that Noble in particular attracts?
    Noble brings 20 million to Belmont students at no cost to the taxpayer. It's unlikely Illinois Tool Works even considered giving that money to Prosser.
    I doubt opening either another Noble or Concept school actually costs anything over time. From an educational efficiency standpoint these schools in particular are the best value for the taxpayer: Lots of student growth per dollar.
    Rod, I'm not sure why you believe Rahm will close the budget gap by cutting funding to charters. If he has to make large changes he will fund schools at a level that makes paying Veteran CTU teachers impossible and he will close many CTU schools.
    One reason he may be pushing ahead with the schools he wants is that he does see the "day of reckoning" ahead. There may be a time when it's impossible to open new schools. When the "music stops" he will need to chose the winners and losers from among operating schools.

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    In reply to Donn:

    CPS does not pay the social cost of departing parents; they pay the cost of maintaining a separate facility (the opening charter school) while also maintaining the existing facility (the neighborhood school) because they pay charters per-student at a higher rate than neighborhood schools to compensate them for some capital and operational costs.

    Such operational and maintenance costs was their justification for closing almost 50 ostensibly under-enrolled schools -- over time the reduced facilities costs and a few less staff positions would accrue but in the short term the transition has required even more debt (for iPads, moving costs, severance at closed schools and hiring at welcoming schools, equipment for welcoming schools, Safe Passage cost, etc.).

    If you have a model that shows how charter's pay for themselves, I think the charter proponents would appreciate it if you shared it with them and CPS. But it seems that you are including what economists call "positive externalities" and you can't budget with those because as the name indicates they are external to your revenue.

    Rod Estvan's analysis is on the money, as it were. FY14 personnel compensation *with* the expanded pension cost still accounts for a *lower* share of CPS' operating budget than it did in FYs 10, 11 & 12 because the cuts to CPS personnel were replaced by growth in contracting, which is how charter and contract school expenses are categorized. Those schools, as 501c3s, hire their teachers and staff, not CPS. So when further cuts are needed, it's contracts that will take the hit.

    CPS won't need to turn off the spigot; the pipes will be dry.

  • update: CPS and INCS say that ILRYH's numbers are wrong -- inflated because they include new charters ramping up grade by grade into their full size, and because they don't include "full" charters that aren't located in CPS buildings.

    ILRYH's response is, best i can summarize it, WTF? new schools are irrelevant and the overall point still stands.

    says christopher bell, who did the research:

    "We found that 50 of the 107 charter and contract schools had empty seats, not counting turn-arounds, alternative schools, or schools that CPS has marked as phase-outs.

    "Some are new schools that will add seats but that's irrelevant. We have shown that CPS has a great deal of capacity available with existing charters it has. They hope to fill those seats but they are seats that are available in the near future without approving extra charters in a system that is losing students (for now). We are not arguing about the efficiency of their use of space but how many charter seats that will be available doing nothing new.

    "Jeanne Marie Olson has done yeoman's work in collating CPS databases in Apples 2 Apples. Her data is CPS data. If CPS claims that there are errors, they are errors they created. I used the A2A data because Olson has the school status (open/new/closed/phaseout).

    "I don't know what CPS means by non-CPS charters. I checked our numbers with the ones that CPS put up here: http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Policies_and_guidelines/Pages/facilitystandards.aspx

    "I attached my calcs using those figures -- untouched by A2A. In this case, there are 57 charters and contracts with over 15,000 open seats. So if these "non-CPS charters" matter in some magical way, why has CPS included them in its space data?"

    now i'm going back to CPS and INCS and seeing what they say.

  • Hi Alexander - I agree RYH should include on our website an explanation of how we arrived at the numbers and we are working on a post for that, but we did have phone conversations with media who printed the story yesterday explaining how we got to those figures and we included a list of all the schools to the media with CPS ideal enrollment (from the CPS website), and actual enrollment for this year. (from their website).

    In addition, I find your comments really interesting since I am not sure I have ever seen you ask media to question CPS (before today) when they've trotted out numbers - whether it be about space utilization, the mayor claiming every student has 2 hours of art, the budget deficit, etc. etc. We see the media printing the CPS/city press releases without any analysis all of the time and I wish our volunteer parent group didn't have to spend so much time analyzing and seeking data that's not readily available to the public. I also find it bizarre that you didn't ask CPS what the real numbers are in this case.

    Also, we are an advocacy group. We've advocated for a number of things since we started - first tif surplus return in 2010, state funding, return of recess, funding for the longer day, etc. We have done some work around data analysis in the past year but the bulk of our work has been advocacy.

  • Press is looking for controversy, not facts. Alexander, I appreciate you asking the question and seeking answers from the cast of characters.

    I feel for the poor black women who are the real story that the press ignores. These women are struggling to keep their family together without a father figure in the mix and get the best education for their children. They try to get a charter as an alternative to their neighborhood school which is gang infested.

    The press bypasses the real people impacted in a positive way by charters and instead gives coverage to some white woman who has the luxury of not having to work and support a family alone. Instead Katten can spend her time figuring out her next ax to grind with Rahm and text with her buddy Karen Lewis.

    It is sad that 5 of the charter schools denied were alternative schools. Who cares about the kids who already dropped out or got pregnant. Not press worthy. They don't need choice. Sad.

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    Hello, this is Jeanne Marie Olson from CPSApples2Apples. Just a few things to clarify.

    The data comes from CPS or ISBE (sometimes ICNS, IFF, or other public documents). I don't create the data. I find it, pull it out of PDFs so it can be worked with, and examine it as I explain here on Reddit:


    Here is what it looks like when the data is being extracted. Yes, I actually enjoy doing this.


    Anyone is welcome to use the data.

    Something we did this time around because of a lack of time before the most recent CPS Board Meeting was to decide to only pull down the data once, and crowdsource corrections. If there are flaws in the data that stems from an item not being "matched up" correctly, or a question about CPS number, we will take that feedback, verify it, and make/track/note the corrections. That is why the data was labeled "unverified." In the past, with more time, we often pull down the same data more than once and then compare it to catch errors. We didn't have time to do that this iteration. But it doesn't mean that we "invented" the data...the 10th day, 20th day, classification of which schools are charters vs. not charters, and Ideal Capacity numbers that ILRYH used are all from CPS directly. You can find the original document here: http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/Policies_and_guidelines/Pages/facilitystandards.aspx

  • Hi district 299 reader/nameless poster - I actually do need to work. Where did you get that info? Do you have access to my family's finances and budget? I agree with you though that it would be nice if the press would get in contact with many more parents in all types of schools to find out what's happening.

    The facts are that charter schools have thousands of open seats per data that was downloaded from the cps website. 6,310 for charters open for 4 years or more and 10,905 for all charters/contracts. All we did was take ideal enrollment per CPS standards and subtract existing enrollment. CPS should just release this data so we don't have to dig it up. They should also share the number of students on wait lists for all types of schools so there's some transparency on this issue. There are many more on district schools (per data released last year from wbez) and I am not sure why you feel for "poor black women" searching for one type of school and not all schools in our system.

    Lastly, I work about 60 hours a week meeting and talking to parents in the district, etc. Do I know you? It is very odd that you seem so comfortable commenting on what I do with my time.

  • In reply to WendyKatten:

    Just curious. Do you send your children to your neighborhood school? Choice is fine for you but not others? Prosser would be fine for others but not you?

  • In reply to district299reader:

    My son goes to a different neighborhood school. I enrolled him in PreK at a school where his cousins attended, who have both graduated. It used to be a magnet cluster program and took some kids outside of the neighborhood boundary but I don't think they do anymore. I am fine with choice. There are 130 charters, 38 magnets, 31 gifted programs, a bunch of IB/STEM programs, and more at CPS. Expanding choice when the district claims to face a $914million deficit and spent all last year saying they had 511k seats for 403k students (we now have 400k) makes no sense. I don't understand how anyone with any common sense could support this. I don't support the expansion at Walter Payton either. It's ridiculous that the district would invest that kind of money in one school (that's not even overcrowded) to benefit 400 students when they just cut neighborhood high school budgets by 14%.

    Who said Prosser would be fine for others but not me? Again, do I know you?

  • In reply to WendyKatten:

    Thank you for confirming that choice is accepted for you and restricting choice in poor areas is acceptable to you.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Nice try. Do you think RYH is trying to stop people from applying to out-of-neighborhood schools? No, of course not. Choice exists and there are 11k open seats in charters and many other types of schools to apply to. How many schools would you like to add to the portfolio at CPS with a $914 million deficit and a supposed 100k empty seats?

    Done corresponding with someone who doesn't have the guts to post their name! I try to correspond with real people who take ownership of their words.

  • In reply to WendyKatten:

    Regarding RYH, how are its Board members or Corporate Officers elected and for that matter how does one become a member. Perhaps I'll come and vote at your next election.

  • In reply to WendyKatten:

    Classy Katten. When all else fails, shoot the messenger.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    I applaud Katten for stepping into the disinformation wars of charter movement with real research instead of simplistic (or even blatantly false) "Superman" narratives. CPS Parent and the other anonymous district299reader shills that are under the thumbs of for-profit companies and political operators have to often pushed "facts" on the success of charters that simply have no basis in truth.

    Unfortunately Russo as a paid shill for the Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Scholastic, et. al, is equally guilty in his pro-charter bias, but its clear to any informed reader that he's not even bothering to be a fake "journalist" here.

    FYI - Guidestar for ILRYH - http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/45-4377181/raise-your-hand-coalition-illinois-public-education.aspx

    Wm. Scott Marriott - A CPS Parent

  • In reply to marrs96:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I am a cps parent too. You are entitled to your opinion and I to mine. Not everyone drinks your cool aid.

  • Could this mean that not every charter school has a waiting list!

  • Thank you Ms Katten and Ms Olson-great job-we need to see the data. Ignore the negative poster-he/she is probably a charter school employee who views any union as the enemy. If he/she had to teach long term instead of dabbling in education, their skewed opinion of CPS teachers would change. Obviously, they are upset at the hard evidence produced by CPS' data so they resort to the race card and personal attacks-like a bully-ad hominen. I have worked with the children who leave the charters and it is a sad story for both the child and the parents.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    How many of these alleged "waiting list" candidates are duplicates, or kids who were accepted into an SE or magnet schools? How many applied to a charter as a last resort to avoid neighborhood schools CPS condemns as dumping grounds for gangbangers and kids with behavioral issues?

  • I found the RYH analysis to be interesting and I think it reflects the demographic reality of Chicago. The City of Chicago, lost 6.9 percent of its residents between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationwide population growth was 9.7 percent during that decade. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, from 2000 to 2010, the city's birthrate declined 12.6 percent.

    Even the increase of the Hispanic population of the City has largely ground to a halt. Several communities saw large decreases in populations of young children up to the age of 10: Oakland (down 32.5 percent), Hyde Park (down 24.2 percent) and Woodlawn (down 31.7 percent). Also, the demolition of high-rise housing projects on the South Side has changed the demographics of several communities. From 2000 to 2010, Fuller Park had a decrease of 40.3 percent in its population of kids, while Grand Boulevard's declined by 51.1 percent. The Douglas neighborhood, saw its population of children plummet by 65.4 percent.

    It we add to this picture the fact that CPS is in serious fiscal crisis maybe as CPS Board member Carlos Azcoitia stated the worst since 1979 when CPS was put into the receivership of the School Finance Authority (see http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2013/12/12/64645/creating-equity-and-excellence-all-schools) then the addition of any new schools either charter or traditional is highly problematic. If CPS is going to open charter schools, then at the same time and on the same schedule it needs to be closing traditional schools and using those sites for charter schools with spending as little as possible for rehab.

    Politically after the closing of 50 traditional schools that is impossible for CPS. So instead what takes place is attrition and the slow death of some traditional schools. But during this death agony millions are being spent to keep open schools the district can’t afford or fully utilize.

    I don’t want to see more traditional neighborhood schools closed and replaced by even high quality charter schools. My reasoning is very simple, charter schools being subject to less regulation are often more problematic for students with disabilities. In fact right now the Illinois Charter Commission has declared a number of charter schools under its jurisdiction to be exempt from all state special education laws it deems to exceed the Federal law IDEA.

    Given the declining fiscal condition of CPS it seems inevitable that the district will at some point cut the tuition paid to charters unless money falls from the sky. Based on the actual savings to the State of Illinois that so called pension reform is being projected to realize, Chicago’s chance to dramatically reduce its current expenditures for pensions is unlikely to free up cash for a good number of years based on any pension reform proposal that might pass the General Assembly. So crunch time is coming and CPS needs to prepare for it. Opening additional charter schools, adding wings to college preps, adding additions to elementary schools instead of modifying boundary lines where possible all need to stop and fast too.

    Rod Estvan

  • It seems Wendy and RYH is out in all corners of Chicago and listening to all types of parents and kids. I applaud.

  • some new numbers from catalyst raise questions about charter utilization but don't appear to come anywhere near the ILRYH figures

    New utiliz data show some nabe schools "withering away" and unclear picture re charters, reports @catalystchicago http://ht.ly/t7Ayr

  • FYI, the Catalyst story refers to schools that are on CPS' underutilized list. We were looking at number of empty seats by CPS ideal enrollment standards of 30 kids per room, which include schools on the efficient list which may be between 80-100% capacity and have open seats according to their space use standards.

  • In reply to WendyKatten:

    thanks, WK -- but why's catalyst's charter number so different from yours?

  • I downloaded the catalyst data and I am thinking about it too. I also read Andrew Broy's comments. I think there is an issue here that really is not being addressed so far and that is the actual charter proposals that were approved by CPS for buildings.

    For example based on the fact I worked at the old Calumet High and saw the "design" capacity of the building used in historic CPS reports. I can confidently say that the two charter schools as approved for the building would never based on projected enrollments fill the building. This may be because such a large, let us say industrial model of high school education, was inconsistent with the charter school's vision.

    But that raises yet another issue relating to economies of scale and units of education. There is a real question for example whether or not the average Noble Street campus is efficient and whether it could get basically the same outcomes if they were double the size which could in theory allow CPS to reduce tuition payments.

    I don't think the very large class sizes I experienced in the early to late 1960s were fun, or the class sizes my father experienced being a CPS student in the 1920s were a good time either. But the reality was in certain circumstances the district survived with students more densely educated, all be it with a larger drop out rate. As horrible as these cost efficiencies may be, they could become a reality without an infusion of funding to school districts throughout our state.

    These issues are being contemplated believe me, according to the Sun Times the Mayor actually discussed privately with the Speaker of the House and Senate President a multi year property tax increase going beyond the cap authorized by the Assembly to stabilize CPS and the City along with some type of pension deal (see http://www.suntimes.com/25258196-761/public-sector-unions-come-together-to-fight-pension-heist.html). The chickens are coming home to roost in terms of money for education and city services.

    Rod Estvan

  • @Alexander - Because Catalyst is looking at numbers from the underutilized list which include schools below 80% capacity by CPS' standards. We were looking at empty seats based on CPS ideal enrollment standards of 30 kids per room. Catalyst did not include schools that are on the efficient list that have empty seats by CPS' standards. There are many of those schools.

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