Small Local Group Uncovers Widespread Opposition to Confirmation of DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary

What a frustrating time in education; but, what an exciting time to be able to join with so many voices all saying the same thing! Ohio BATs thank Tom Schmida and the Cleveland Heights Coalition for Public Education, for including Ohio BATs in the ability to sign on to this letter!


On Tuesday, January 3, as everybody crawled out from under holiday cooking, gifting and celebrating, leaders of our local Heights Coalition for Public Education met to consider mounting some kind of local response to the existential threat of a Betsy DeVos-led U.S. Department of Education. President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy Devos alarms us because her only connection with public schools has been a lifelong commitment to using her billionaire philanthropy to privatize education. We’ve all personally sent letters or signed petitions to protest Trump’s nomination of Devos to be our next education secretary, and we looked for a way to expand our advocacy to include our broader community.

We crafted a sign-on letter for organizations and assigned different people to reach out to leaders they knew to see of their organizations would consider signing on. On Wednesday, we learned there was some time pressure: DeVos’s hearing before the Senate…

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Solidarity with LEA


Ohio BATs stands in solidarity with the Louisville Education Association (LEA). We understand that a strike vote is a very difficult decision for any group of educators to make. We fully support LEA’s strong stand against proposed language that is harmful to not just our noble profession, but to our innocent students as well. We kindly ask that our members consider sending letters of support and donations to the Louisville Education Association.

Louisville Education Association

c/o Angela Emmons, LEA Treasurer

P.O. Box 194

Louisville , Ohio 44641

Email: louisvilleea.oh@gmail.com


Ohio BATs – Election 2016


Ohio BATs will not be endorsing candidates in statewide races during this election cycle. We feel that an Ohio BAT endorsement is an honor to be earned for any candidate who openly defends public education. As such, more time is needed to decide on procedures for procuring such an endorsement.

The Ohio BAT Administrators will decide upon procedures to present for feedback within the larger Ohio BAT group. We believe that our future endorsements should come from the majority of the votes within our closed group.

We will not, as a community, representative of a broad core grassroots movement (Ohio BATs), suggest in this election cycle that others vote for a particular candidate. Obviously, individual BATs are welcome and encouraged to share their views and information, as they relate to education, about a candidate.

Education, Ohio, Public Schools, Schools, Uncategorized

The Phantom of Phalen Learning Academies: Part 2, Working the Middle-Man-Game like Pros

The Phantom of Phalen Learning Academies: Part 2, Working the Middle-Man-Game like Pros


***Note: Links are bold and faintly underscored***

When chain-style charters come into a new area, such as the Phalen Leadership Academy (or Learning—I have seen it written both ways) who are trying to wheedle their way into Cincinnati, they bring along all of their transient and temporary employee plans.

It is not a new ‘think-tank’ like the reformers like to taut, but rather a crew that has been trained to puppet the reform talk. This is why I wrote such a harsh statement in the first piece of this 3-part series, insisting that they (these businesses) are “cult-like”. It might seem like a million different battles with thousands of different names, but in reality it is all one greedy game, and the foundational pieces are all the same. The selling points are part of the training programs in a brain-washing manner.

June 13th, was a crucial meeting
for the Cincinnati Board of Education to “explore” the possibilities of opening an expansion charter(s) from the cluster of the PLAs in Indianapolis. The vote should not have even gone forth because the charter(s) are too new. PLA was in operation for only one year prior (2015-2016). This ‘newness’ detail does not surprise me. Tom Vander Ark, who is the original visionary of all of these privatization and personalization takeovers, was considered an education expert after he happed into a position as a suburban school superintendent. Only one school, in only one area (Federal Way, Washington), for only one single time slot of five years with no prior education-related experience or degree and Bill Gates deemed newbie Tom Vander Ark worthy of having enough knowledge to completely redo all education premises in the United States. Billions upon billions of dollars and two decades later, and Tom Vander Ark (having left Gates’ Foundation to make the millions on his own),  is still turning tricks and selling his bullshit in all forms and forums. Oh, and he is still using Gates’ and others’ money pots. Phalen charters are a sickening example of all of this.

These type of charters are notorious for rough starts while they move and jostle their own people all around. Transient environments are the last thing these community members seek. Stability is a rare commodity that children and their families from socio-financially disadvantaged areas need. But they will not reap that as a benefit from PLAs. One month (July 2015) before Phalen Leadership Academy was to open in Indiana, their reform pick (to the tune of a $100,000 MindTrust fellowship grant), was suddenly and without explanation, out of the picture. ““Yes, Marlon [Llewellyn] has done a great job during his fellowship year but will not be leading us forward as the school leader next year,” Phalen said in an email Thursday. Phalen has not responded to requests for further clarification as to why Llewellyn was removed. Llewellyn did not respond to a request for comment.” This was not a one-time fluke. Such are the broad patterns of such dysfunctional happenings with charter business startups.

“Findings: Our analyses show that charter schools had a higher principal turnover rate than traditional schools and very different principal transition patterns.” (Yongmei Ni, Min Sun, and Andrea Rorrer, Principal Turnover: Upheaval and Uncertainty in Charter Schools? Educational Administration Quarterly August 2015 51: 409-437, first published on June 26, 2014)
A Hechinger Report article stated “…nearly 30 percent of principals who lead troubled schools quit every year. By Year 3, more than half of all principals leave their jobs.”  Add this in with the fact that turnover rate is much higher in charters and one spells ‘disaster’.

The article went on to say that “ Looking broadly at the effect of principal turnover on student learning, a researcher from Mount Holyoke College studied 12 years of data from North Carolina public schools. They found that when principals leave, student achievement generally declines for two years.” So these commonplace leadership attrition rates are a huge realistic risk for Cincinnati. It is a dangerous dance of one fancy faux step forward and several irreparable steps backwards.

Principals are not the only temporary hires of MindTrust. Teachers are pulled from TFA (Teach For America) and TNTP (The New Teacher Project). For more background see this article; the author, Doug Martin, has been fighting MindTrust’s ways and writing about such in Indiana for a long time.  A study out of Vanderbilt University lays teacher turnover out in a comprehensive manner: “Using multi-nomial logistic regression, we found the odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school are 132% greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. The odds of a charter school teacher moving schools are 76% greater. Our analysis confirms that much of the explanation of this “turnover gap” lies in differences in the types of teachers that charter schools and traditional public schools hire.” (Italic emphasis mine)

This “type of teacher” is one who has had no previous classroom experience, with extremely abbreviated training times, and whom are promised yet other roles in reform if they meet the contingency of teaching in one of these startup urban situations. Ads are perpetually run. When we, the Badass Teachers Association, lobbied in DC in 2015, we were startled at how very many Representatives’ and Senators’ Education Aides were directly from TFA. Dr. Mitchell Robinson writes: “Teach for America uses its teaching program as a direct line into legislative assistant positions through the Capital Hill Fellows Program.” This is no coincidence on TFA & reformers’ parts. It is intentional through and through. For these fellowship teachers, entrance wages are ridiculously low, the newness pressures are exasperatingly high, and the non-union positions are precariously unprotected. The reward is that they can move on. Teaching is temporary. Never mind the tire tracks on the children’s backs.

Is this the environment that best serves America’s most vulnerable students?

Now, as a final consideration about the atrocious attrition rates associated with opening new charters, please consider the language in THIS CONTRACT. It is the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF PROPOSED INNOVATION NETWORK SCHOOL AGREEMENT BETWEEN PHALEN LEADERSHIP ACADEMY-INDIANA, INC. AND IPS [Indiana Public Schools] FOR OPERATION OF GEORGE FISHER AS INNOVATION NETWORK SCHOOL. This one sentence leapt out at me:

“In addition, given the importance of having staff experienced in implementing the Project: RESTORE model, if staff turnover exceeds 75 percent in any year, IPS may terminate the agreement.”

Am I the only one totally perturbed and disturbed by that number?? So, in actuality it is A-OKAY……for just shy of three-quarters of the entire school staff from top down and middle to middle, to turnover, creating chaos and churn. Never mind the time and energy resources to replace. Don’t worry about the training aspects, TFA and TNTP can carry that all off in five weeks. Don’t fret about the folks being from the community itself; they will be complete passers-by, stopping in for a brief stay and then headed out to the next time and place. Game board pieces with their marching orders.


Education, Ohio, Schools, Uncategorized

Colorless, Cold Kindergarten


This was/is a “catalyst” KINDERGARTEN classroom in Mentor, Ohio (pic from 2014). This picture truly gives me the chills. It is void of anything vibrant, enticing, or living. It is so deathly dismal grey. It is so opposite of how my 4-5s classroom looks— gratefully! The above appears to me like children have been implanted into some unnatural, doldrum business office setting. It looks like kinders sitting in on some corporate board (bored) meeting.

This is Tom Vander Ark’s ‘branchild.’ He ultimately sees classrooms just like this,  with minimal amounts of teachers who would be translated into “facilitators.” Their jobs would be to guide the children towards online programs which would suit children’s individualized learning plans. The teachers are to become robotic sales clerks essentially for all of the products Vander Ark has for sale related to online learning. Information in turn would be documented at each and every keystroke, into the students’ “digital portfolio backpacks.”

I defy this “disruptive innovation,” though I do think the ‘disruptive’ part of the name is very apropos. Children, and their love for learning has been my life since I was a 13 years old, when I began teaching cooking and craft classes for our local YWCA. I am a half a century (plus two) years old and have taught hundreds of children of all ages, in a variety of settings over four decades. The learning  pictured above (and discussed in this accompanying article) is, to say the least, lackluster. To me it is outright nightmarish, and sends shivers down my spine when I think of this being spread everywhere. It is all being packaged and sold with all of these alluring word pictures that paint it as though it is education ultimate utopia. But, I know literally hundreds of teachers who would agree with me in a heartbeat, that this is cold and lifeless; not at all conducive to how the whole child learns and develops. It is a sterile environment that strips away and stifles multi-faceted, dynamic, dimensional learning.

I could fill this blog with citation after reference after article link with research, but I do not think all of that is necessary. I think the opinions I am about to share are obvious and observable anywhere really, with any age group. But for the sake of this blog we will stay with the early learners.

The greatest contrast I can offer from just the other day, in my own PreK class, was that my 4s and 5s were able to play MahJonng on my tablet. We have had the real game in the class since the beginning of the year. I bought it at a garage sale years ago for $4. (I believe the tiles might be real ivory.) The kids mastered the smooth fingering and sliding of the tablet in seconds really. Their bodies grow very still while they play the online game (I think their minds do also.)  After two days, they grew bored of it all, even with 16 set ups for the play, 8 designs of tiles, and choices of background music. The actual game itself, has been a hit in my classroom for months. Some children enjoy just building with the tiles. Some actually set up the game which in and of itself is intellectually challenging, and many more than one or two can play simultaneously. Some children love the sounds those tiles make when they are poured out or clacked together (which is why I do believe they are possibly ivory because they do not sound at all like plastic). Some children made a weighing game and compared them with other toys. Some like running their fingers on the engravings and one little gal traced them on paper. Some do a domino line with them. Some count them. Some match them in a memory game. They play and play and play with those MahJonng tiles in a very engaged educational manner.

I could go on for hours truly about all of the reasons I am so against all of this “technology” being impelled into our young children’s lives. But, for all of the specific examples I could give, it all seems to boil down to this main notion: I have never seen a child not be able to work a computer once such was made available. Their age or prior experience did not seem to matter. But, I have seen far, far too many children (unto teens and even young adults) who could not do some of the most simple of  tasks. Tasks that play into every day life on many levels. Like, using scissors for one example.

The ‘press and play’ results that come about via video games, in front of computer screens or on any hand-held devices, remind me of the pop-up boxes we put in front of crawling babies. The tot presses the blue button and the duck pops up; the green button produces a dog. The baby closes the 4 lids and then can do the same thing all over again. That to me is how much thinking is required to use computers. You press this and this happens. You click on this and this appears. Close the laptop and open it and you can do the same thing all over again. It is all very one-dimensional.

For the project pictured above, they choose a teacher and a class and stick them into a one-way mirrored glass classroom (interrogation room look, or what?) and give them a bunch of “free” technology. Everyone is invited to watch how ‘innovating’ they are. Then the teacher is given $10,000 to spend in his/her classroom on equipment.

As a PreK teacher in NE Ohio, I make $9 an hour, so just a bit more annually than the ‘barbed-hook-sales-pitch’ the “Catalyst”program offers. I would give my eye teeth without Novocaine for  folks to view what all “innovation” occurred in my classroom yesterday and then reward me ten thousand dollars for classroom equipment and I assure you it would not be on software.

We have been for two weeks doing a unit theme on “shoes.” Our house center was converted into a Shoe Shop with 4 of the actual clunky metal foot measuring rulers. We had a variety of stickers, signs and price tags from actual shoe stores. Our little drawer-opening cash register took toy debit/credit cards, that made beeping noises when scanned. Shoes of all types and sizes were “for sale.” There were name badges which had super strong magnets in order for the children to be able to clip them onto their shirts. The children on their own rearranged it all so that doll strollers could be pushed in. They also came up with some kind of PA system to announce sales, created this elaborate price scanning system, and invented a phone system.

Our sensory table (since I could not really think of one that matched our shoe theme) held salt, and sprinklings of other herbs and spices. I had super cleaned out my spice cupboard and gave them all of those different size empty containers (unwashed, so they were still very aromatic). They spent hours on end, fitting the different lids on and off, and cooking a ton of recipes they were making up.  The table for the entire two weeks ALWAYS had three children around it, interacting, sharing, weighing, pouring, sorting, sifting, categorizing, smelling, discussing, dividing, stacking, matching, measuring, feeling, and THINKING. Seriously, I should have videoed all of the ways they played when it first was opened to them.

Just yesterday alone, the supplies in the art center that were used by the children were staplers, liquid glue, glue sticks, 3 kinds of tape, hole punchers, scissors (all kinds of scissors actually), playdough, rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic knives, quilling strips and tools, wax sticks (Benderoos), 7 kinds (textures) of paper, tempera paints, watercolor paints, finger paints, crayons, markers, pencils, chalk, stamps and ink pads, easel, 4 kinds of paintbrushes, Q-tips, popsicle sticks, rulers, straws, paperclips, and several other miscellaneous items I am sure I am forgetting to list. Talk about innovation—the things they thought to make and do were so creative, useful, fun, big, little, colorful, symmetric, asymmetric, spontaneous, planned, and surprising. Individual, and collaborative efforts occurred.

Out of our window, we watched birds and squirrels with their spring antics. We were quiet and still for the longest of time, schnuggling and just watching.  They plunked logs into puddles during one of our THREE recess times outside. The childlings of their own volition, made some kind of splash/balancing board and in some innocent competition, measured whose arc of mud went the highest or the widest, easily creating 5 foot mud rainbows, dependent on how they landed on the board when they jumped. A block tower inside was built taller than I am (5’4″) and that was, of course, without them being able to stand on chairs. How did they get the last ones on top? I’ll never tell their cooperative trade secrets. Perhaps one could search for the answers online using a flat, smooth surface.

Truly, who thinks GREY is a kindergarten color anyways? That is likely last on my list.



50 Days Worth of Blogs About ‘Tornadic’ Tom Vander Ark: Day 14

Day 14

Tom Vander Ark must think he is some kind of Greek God. The destruction he causes is in his mind somehow is his right or duty to mankind; never mind the abject effects on men (women and children), communities, cities or whole entire states.

He cleverly disguises his demolition of public education in geek talk – “Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a veneer of sophistication to bread-and-butter speeches about education…” (economist.com)  He storms on completely oblivious to the damage from the death blows he deals daily.

I really think that the way he skirts mentally around the mass exodus of teachers (irreparable complete brain drain on education), the repeated reported mass failures and closures of charters, and the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of organizations and parents forming the largest ever groups of civil disobedience in education history, is by convincing himself that it is all for the good and the betterment of country. I am not lying when I say I think he has some major personality disorder(s) and psychological hang-ups. He lives in some self-formed world of denial of the real repercussions reeling all around him, and in some twisted sick manner actually takes all of the negative outcome of his efforts as that he is being successful at “disruptive innovation” which is one of his all time favorite overused phrases. The whole twenty years that he has skinned education alive he has never once stopped to express remorse or regret for the lives he has ruined.

“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.” (wikipedia.com)
I am sorry to tell you teachers, but you all are an “earlier technology” in Tom’s plans.

“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” (claytonchristensen.com) Tom worships this fellow!

Here TVA quotes Christensen’s nonprofit think tank Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Cofounder Michael Horn : “These struggles aren’t unique to education. Businesses struggle consistently with the innovator’s dilemma—the ability to prioritize disruptive innovations that would cannibalize their existing business,” (gettingsmart.com) Michael Horn is another one that Tom worships.

“Expanding on the notion of “disruptive,” Horn said that schools’ standard practices and measures would need to change to incorporate blended learning. Seat-time requirements for students, geographic boundaries limiting the sources of online subject matter, teacher certification, and funding are some of the conventions and practices that would be disrupted.” (crpe.org)

In this 4 year old article, http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2011/12/18/small-and-nimble-also-key/ Tom Braggart Ark talks about his small business companies will trump larger companies’ abilities to be a disruptive force in the education market.  “First, big companies are “less comfortable with disruptive innovation.” It’s likely to be the case that the big players will focus on incremental innovations and that the really disruptive stuff will come from the edges. And, second, the Economist suggests that progress tends to come from growth companies regardless of whether they are big or start small. No question that we’ll see more innovation from Edmodo than HMH.” (Edmodo is supposedly a non-profit company in underneath Tom Vander Ark’s 48 companies housed all business-like in a row under his Learn Capital,LLC.)

“Students currently enjoy powerful technology that continuously assesses skill and interest and customizes content delivery. Unfortunately it occurs after school when they play games. Clayton Christensen and colleagues describe how disruptive technologies will personalize and, as a result, revolutionize learning. Every education leader should read this book, set aside their next staff meeting to discuss it, and figure out how than can be part of the improvement wave to come.”

50 Days Worth of Blogs About ‘Tornadic’ Tom Vander Ark: Day 12

day 12

I absolutely canNOT believe I am about to tell this most humiliating story of my entire life very publicly.
But these are desperate times and they call for desperate measures. If it causes 1 or 2 more people to read about our situation then it will be worth the embarrassment. It was the most desperate thing I have ever done in my life.

Bear with me while I set the backdrop. It was fourth of July. I had miraculously been able to pull three days off from work (where I normally worked mandatory 10 and 12 hour shifts 7 days a week, in a non-union factory.) My husband had passed away a few years earlier so I was a single mom to five children. As the children and I set about to enjoy my dad and sister’s cottage in Geneva-on-the-Lake, I was doing a bit of laundry. As I came out from having put some more quarters in the dryer, I noticed a car in the parking lot with the motor running. I failed to make eye contact with the driver, so I intentionally  walked way around in a big square of a path of the car. Still in some kind of what seemed like a fit of anger…she revved her car to spin out of the parking lot, and literally slammed right into me. I thought for certain my hip was broke and my pelvis shattered for the level of pain. And I felt I would slide from the hood and she would run me over completely for she still was not paying a bit of attention.  I screamed a blood-curdling scream, and only then did she notice me, and panicked and hit the accelerator, (I had grabbed the edge up by the windshield wipers). I screamed again—pain and fear forcing it to a pitch from horror films, and she slammed on the brakes. I was thrown however high in the air, evidently doing some kind of back aerial, and landed in the pea gravel some seventeen feet from the car as was evidently later measured.  I remember bits and snags from that point, as I was mostly unconscious. The pain in my head, neck, shoulder, back and hips was unbearable, and I would faint again.I remember the ambulance going over some railroad tracks and losing consciousness again from pain. I do not remember screaming that time, but my sister who was in the ambulance, still tears up if she talks about it.

I by some sheer miracle, broke no bones. But, I had a double concussion, whiplash, a shredded rotator cuff, a sprained back, deep contusions in multiple places, and my hip bones and pelvis bones were severely bruised. For four days my sister patiently dug pea gravel out of my scalp and bloody road rash skin EVERYWHERE with tweezers and a nail scrub brush.

I was on the highest level of pain killers one can be on at home, and was on heavy duty muscle relaxers. The pain in my hip only seemed to increase hourly so that by day 6 I called the doctor and he said my hip was injured by the car hitting me and then by me landing as I did, to give it time. But, urinating a root beer colored-bloodstream let me know I had yet another kidney stone. I laid that evening and truly prayed to die in order to be out of the insane pain. I was not and have never been suicidal, I just wanted out of the pain. I forget which child, but one of them touched my face and I saw sheer fear, and they asked “Mommy, you are not going to die, are you?” “No”, I lied, changing my prayer to ‘Oh God please do not let me die from this.’ Not able to work for 8 weeks. No money coming in. No workman’s comp. No medical insurance. The newest car we had ever owned, used but with a car payment and full coverage insurance, sat in the drive, and I knew I was going to lose the car. And likely my job.

Sadly, once again, the children put themselves to bed. Afterwards, I literally on all fours, crawled to the computer. I typed in “homeopathic remedies” for kidney stones. Up popped this man’s site where he claimed he himself had battled kidney stones and had found a sure-fire way to chemically dissolve them at home. He had this whole on and on chemical formula reasoning for why it all would work. To my desperate drugged mind, I saw a way not to die. He only needed $34 and the cure recipe could be mine, I checked the bank account. $39. I sent payment, and fell into some kind of grogged stupor, hanging on to dear life feeling like wet toilet paper was the strength of whatever was holding me. The next morning, sure enough, the formula was in my email. It required you to drink two full cups of pureed cooked asparagus heated to a very exact temperature and then drink 2 liters of Pepsi also at a very exact temperature. We literally counted ALL the change in the car and the house and the kids walked to the grocery store to purchase the items. I assured the kids that mommy was going to be better in just a matter of hours. Needless of course to say, I was wrong to tell them that. Deadly wrong.

I was the most gullible dumbshit person in the whole entire world in that instance. I remember very little of the next two weeks.The kids talk of me throwing up green and fainting. I know there was an ambulance ride again (I am told) and a lithotripsy surgery for the stone the size of the tip of my index finger that lodged at the top of my ureter when I was hit by the car. I remember telling the children not to tell what I had drank or done, for I felt so stupid. Somehow I wrote to the man and he returned my money, but I really do not remember how. It all is a blunderous blur. Desperation drives deadly decisions.

These cities, that are forcibly being taken over and turned over to CEOs and charters (or community schools), they all are in a desperate state. The parents are desperate. The students are desperate. Desperation in the impoverished areas is a way of life. It is not a lack of intelligence (I am truly much smarter than to have normally ever succumbed to such a blatant scam.) BUT, in my utter despair, I velcroed right to the hype and false hope in the commercialized packaged offer. The worry of my children and for my children, had me completely overwrought. The chemistry formulas looked legit. I even looked some of them up. . Surely this con artist knew one in the sucker seat would do that, and so they mixed one big lie cocktail by swirling a whole bunch of cockamaimy bullshit with a concoction of little truths.

TOM VANDER ARK does this very exact thing almost to a T. He plays on the desperate emotions overriding the intellect. He tells you some statistics and some drummed up data. He tells you things you already know. He makes you think you have been thinking of this novice idea of his all along. He talks just a bit over your head to sound ever so ummm SMART (one of his favorite words and every time I read him typing Getting Smart, SmartBlog, SmartCities and SmartStates, etc., the Get Smart theme song plays in my mind. I think he watched far too much of that show when he was young!).

My city, Youngstown, Ohio is desperate. Milwaukee is desperate. Chicago is desperate. Philadelphia is desperate. Broward County is desperate. Detroit is desperate. LA is desperate. Newark is desperate. New Orleans, was and is  devastatingly desperate. And in all of those cities you will find Tom Vander Ark plundering and pandering in even more of an unethical manner than did that man who sold me some trickster shit, when all I could think about was my love for my children.

Tom Vander Ark is a walking/talking billboard for his own wares, be they his services as a consultant, his “gadgetrytech” products, or PD classes at $7500 each for his supposedly free online resources.

He is despicably a predator in every sense of the word.

He operates numerous Tom PODs.

Stick with me through this blog series, and I will show you more solid proof of what I typed tonight.