|Issues Challenging Education|
What is being done about the potentially critical issue of teacher
attrition? This problem has become one of national concern. United
States Department of Education Secretary Richard Riley has called
for a nationwide satellite teleconference to
be held on April 17, 1997. The purpose of this conference is to
solicit input regarding the preparation, selection and retention
of teachers from citizens, policymakers and educators throughout
the nation. States and local communities are also taking it upon
themselves to address the problem; these efforts will be addressed
in more detail later in this paper (Winters, 4/1/97).
A note on teacher attrition
To comprehensively analyze the issue of teacher attrition, identifying
and interpreting the complexities and subtleties of the definition
becomes important. According to Boe, Bobbit and Cook (1993), teacher
attrition is a component of teacher turnover (i.e., changes in
teacher status from year to year). Teacher turnover may include
teachers exiting the profession, but may also include teachers
who change fields (i.e., special education to general education)
or schools. The rates of attrition often depend on this definition.
In this paper we explore attrition by looking at teachers exiting
the teaching profession.
Previous research on teacher attrition
Since the 1970's and early 1980's, research shows teacher attrition
to be a problem. Charters (1970), Mark and Anderson (1978), and
Murnane (1981) recorded that 25% of all people with teaching certificates
never begin teaching or leave teaching within a few years. Murnane
noted that in the early l970's there was .33 probability that
a first year teacher would leave, where as in the late 1960's
the study predicted the leave rate at a .16 probability in the
first three years. Mark and Anderson (1985) noted in their study
of teacher survival rates in St. Louis that proportions of entering
cohorts of teachers decrease over time. According to Heyns report
of the follow up of the National Longitudinal Study of 1972, 25.2%
completed teacher training programs but never entered teaching
in elementary or secondary schools (Heyns, 1988).
Recent research on teacher attrition
According to the 1987-1988 Schools and Staffing Survey and 1988-1989
Teacher Follow-up Survey, the attrition rate for the teaching
profession was 5.6% in the public schools and 12.7% in private
schools. The rate at which public school teachers left general
education changed insignificantly depending on the field of study
(Bobbitt, Faupel, & Burns, 1991). According to the data from
the same surveys, however, more teachers in special education
exited the teaching profession than general education teachers:
7.9% of special education and 5.8% of general education teachers
left (Boe et al., 1993). Data collected from 1990-1991 Schools
and Staffing Survey and the 1992 Teacher Follow-up Survey estimated
that 6.3% of teachers in special education and 5.6% of teachers
in general education in public schools left the profession nationally
(Boe, Cook, Bobbitt, & Weber, 1995). Data according to these
surveys also note that the rates of attrition are similar to the
late 1980's: 5.1% of teachers left the public schools and 12.3%
of teachers left private schools (US Department of Education, 8/95). In
North Carolina, according to the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer (Simmons,
6/5/96), more than a third of the state's teachers leave teaching
by the end of their fifth year.
Significance of the problem
Why is teacher attrition such a critical issue? While some of
the teacher shortage results from fewer college students entering
the field, teacher attrition is the largest single factor determining
demand for additional teachers in the United States (Condition of Education, 1995).
According to the 1990-91 Schools and Staffing survey, the source
of jobs from attrition in special education is 49.2%, and the
source of jobs from attrition in general education is 75.8%, whereas
transfers (teachers moving to different teaching jobs) do not
affect the total annual demand for teachers, and expansion of
the teaching force only accounts for 19.5% of available teaching
jobs. In other words, teacher attrition is a considerable factor
affecting the amount of hiring which takes place in schools (Boe
et al., 1995).
Many forces drive the issue of teacher attrition. In the following
section, we will discuss six of those forces in greater detail.
Some teachers leave the profession because they are dissatisfied
with their salaries. According the 1987-88 Teacher Follow-up Survey,
4.5% of public school teachers stated salary as a main reason
for leaving the profession. In the private schools, 9.1% of private
school teachers stated salary as a main reason for leaving the
profession (Bobbitt et al., 1991). Theobald (1990) notes from
his study that salaries are positively related to decisions to
continue teaching in the same district. Even previous research
suggests that salary provides a reason for teachers to change
careers. According to Bloland's and Selby's (1980) review of the
literature, salary appears to be an important factor in the career
change of male educators, but not female educators.
Teachers leave for higher paying jobs in other professions. Although
teachers' salaries have improved in recent years, they remain
low compared to those of other similarly-educated workers. Overall,
US teachers earn much less than other workers with the same amount
of education and experience. In 1991, beginning teachers' salaries
of $19,100 ranked above those of service workers, but below those
of every other occupation held by recent college graduates, including
clerical workers, technicians, and laborers. It was substantially
below the $30,000 or more paid to beginning computer programmers,
engineers, and health professionals(Fineman-Nemser, 1996).
An interesting note related to attrition is that discrepancies
in teacher salary across districts and states can also account
for teacher shortages. There are large inequalities across districts
in teachers' salaries and teaching conditions. As a consequence,
teacher shortages are common-especially in fields like math and
science (although this contradicts the results at the national
level stated above) where competing occupations offer more attractive
opportunities, and in cities and other low-wealth districts where
salaries and working conditions are not competitive. Teachers'
salaries also vary greatly among states. For example, salaries
in 1990-91 ranged from $20,354 in South Dakota to $43,326 in Connecticut.
Even within a single labor market, there is often a margin of
difference in teachers' salaries based on the wealth and spending
choices of the various districts. Typically, teachers in affluent
suburban districts earn more than those in central cities or more
rural communities within the same area. These variations contribute
to a surplus of qualified teachers in some locations and a shortage
in others. These variations also influence teacher retention,
especially new teachers. Those who are better paid tend to stay
in teaching longer than those with lower salaries (Fineman-Nemser, 1996).
Level of education
In Bloland and Selby's review of earlier literature on teacher
attrition (1980), educational attainment relates littlewith teacher
mobility. Their conclusions agrees partially with the more recent
research of Marso and Pigge (1995). In respect to the relationship
between level of education and attrition, whether a teacher attended
a two-year county teachers college or received a bachelor's degree
is unrelated to contintuing teaching. However, teachers who completed
graduate work or obtained a master's degree continued teacher
longer than other teachers. One interpretation of this finding
suggests that "professional" level of training in education
produces a greater commitment to teaching resulting in a larger
proportion continuing to work. Another interpretation is that
these teachers left school more recently so that the attrition
observed in the other educational categories had simply not yet
had time to occur.
Marital status is related more strongly to attrition from teaching
than is any other variable on which data are available. Ninety
percent of the unmarried teachers, but only 45.8% of the married
teachers, were still working. Husband's occupation appears to
have no association with the percentage of married teachers still
working. This finding is somewhat surprising, because it is expected
that women married to men in minor white-collar and blue-collar
occupations work to provide supplementary income more often than
those married to men in professional and higher status business
occupations. One possibility is that not enough time had elapsed
for this socioeconomic difference to emerge. In other words, women
married to men in higher status business occupations may work
temporarily while their husbands were recuperate from the financial
strain of graduate or professional school or establishing a clientele
or business (Marso & Pigge, 1995).
Other research and theories support this finding. Bloland and
Selby (1980) note that the earlier research indicates that the
preference of the spouse leaving or staying the teaching profession
is one of the most important factors for staying in the field
of education. Kirby and Grissmer (1993) theorize that the decision
to accept and keep a teaching job depends on life cycle factors
(existing family status and change in family status).
According to Kirby and Grissmer (1993), the human capital approach
offers some reasons for teacher attrition. In this model, the
individual weighs costs and benefits. Teacher attrition tends
to be higher during the early part of a teaching career because
the teacher accumulates less specific capital (knowledge specific
to occupation and that which is non-transferable). Teacher attrition
tends to diminish later in the career because more specific capital
exists. Theobald (1990) found similar data: decisions to continue
teaching in the same district positively relate to experience.
First year teachers are 2.5 times more likely to leave the profession
than their more experienced counterparts. An additional 15 % of
beginning teachers will leave after their second year and still
another 10% will leave after the third year. The turnover rate
of new teachers does not settle at the overall rate of 6% until
the fifth or sixth year. Of all beginning teachers who enter the
profession, 40-50% will leave during the first seven years of
their career, and in excess of two-thirds of those will do so
in the first four years of teaching (Huling-Austin, 1986).
Many new teachers find that they are unprepared
for the reality of the classroom. Henry (1986) found that beginning
teachers leave the teaching field is the inability to cope with
teaching problems. Discipline, difficulties with parents, and
lack of sufficient or appropriate teaching materials are among
the problems experienced by beginning teachers. In addition, beginners
are often given the most difficult teaching assignments. Once
they leave the university setting, novice teachers often receive
little or no support and find that their teacher education programs
ill-prepared them for the realities of teaching. In fact, Page,
Page, and Million (1983) have identified a relationship between
beginning teachers' self-assessment of the quality of their preparation
programs and their plans to stay in teaching. University graduates
who are satisfied with their teacher preparation programs are
more likely to stay in teaching.
One reason so many new teachers leave is that teaching, as a profession,
has been slow to develop a systematic way to induct beginners
gradually into the complexities of a job that demands hundreds
of management decisions every day. Terms like intern and
trainee are used in other professions to identify a beginner
who has received training in the profession and who earns a stipend
by participation in limited experiences under expert supervision.
In the teaching profession, these terms are often used differently.
Interns and trainees have full teaching responsibilities, without
prior professional training; they must also attend classes in
their spare time and often have limited expert supervision (Shulman
& Colbert, 1989). If we want to retain new teachers, particularly
those teaching in inner-city schools, we must introduce them to
the profession humanely, in ways that engender self-esteem, competence,
collegiality, and professional stature.
Another possible factor involved in the higher
attrition rate for beginning teachers is the initial level of
commitment to the teaching profession. Some prospective teachers
enter the profession with a positive attraction for teaching and
plan to make it a long-term career. Others enter the profession
with the intent of staying only a few years and plan to quit working
altogether, or to use the skills gained from their education to
pursue interests in other fields (Yee, 1990).
Special education teachers
According to the National Association of State
Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) teacher attrition in special
education is one of the most troublesome issues facing public
schools (NASDSE, 1990). Special education teachers leave the profession
at higher rates than general education teachers. In fact, only
bilingual education has a greater personnel shortage than special
education. The number of school-age children needing special education
services continues to increase (US Department of Education, 1990)
while the number of graduates receiving bachelor's degrees in
special education is declining (NASDSE, 1990).
Among specific groups of special educators,
attrition rates are particularly high for teachers of students
with emotional and behavioral disorders. After studying career
intentions of 96 teachers of students with emotional and behavioral
disorders, George et al.(1995) reported that 36.5% of the sample
planned to leave the field within the next year, and an additional
10.4% were unsure about their future career plans.
Anticipated teacher shortages
Recurring shortages of teachers have characterized the US labor
market most of the twentieth century, with the exception of a
brief period of declining student enrollments during the late
1970s and the early 80s. Currently, shortages are most pronounced
in areas like bilingual education, special education, physics,
chemistry, mathematics, and computer science, cities, and in growing
regions of the country, such as the West and the South.
This has been a persistent problem. In 1991, nearly 10% of all
teachers and one fourth of new teachers lacked a license in their
field; however, the proportions were more than twice that in central
cities. In New York City, for example, 2,600 of the 4,500 teachers
in 1992 were unlicensed. In fact, over 50,000 non-certified individuals
enter teaching annually in the United States (Darling-Hammond,
1990). Today, there are still many non-certified teachers who
have little or no formal preparation in child development, learning
styles or teaching methods.
In 1985, Hidalgo predicted that teacher shortages would continue
through the year 2000 and would in fact worsen due to high retirement
rates, enforced curriculum requirements, shifting urban demographics,
expanded career opportunities for women and minorities, and increasingly
rigorous teacher credentials. So far these predictions have proven
accurate, and the turn of the century will find us still dealing
with this problem.
Shortages are particularly common in urban areas. According to
a report released last year by Recruiting New Teachers, Inc. and
the Council of the Great City Schools in Washington, DC, the lack
of qualified teachers in inner-city schools has forced more than
two-thirds of these districts to hire uncertified personnel. The
most severe urban teacher shortages are in the areas of special
education, science, math and bilingual education (Urban Educator, 1996).
According to Haberman (1987), the average career of an urban teacher
is between three and five years and in every five year period,
approximately one-half of the urban teaching force leaves the
profession. As a result, there is a teacher shortage in the nation's
120 largest urban school districts. The lack of specific teacher
education programs tailored especially for urban teachers have
contributed to this high rate of urban teaching attrition.
Researchers in their justification for their studies have asserted
a variety of reasons for the importance of the impact of teacher
attrition on education. One implication noted is the cost to districts
attributed to teacher attrition. Adams and Deal (1993) note that
districts investing in potential teachers informally or formally
through recruiting, training, and mentoring incur a loss when
a teacher leaves the district. Theobald (1990) suggests a similar
implication: that teacher turnover burdens school districts with
added recruiting and hiring costs. Concern over student and school
performance also pushes this issue forward. High rates of teacher
turnover are disruptive to program continuity and planning (Theobald,
1990). High levels of teacher turnover create significant decreases
in student performance(Bempah, et al., 1994 ). Higher rates of
teacher attrition also may indicate underlying problems and disrupt
the effectiveness of schools (Ingersoll & Rossi, 1995). For
example, according to the Washington Post, schools in the Washington
DC area are having difficulty finding substitute teachers to fill
in for teacher absences. In fact, in one nearby Virginia school
district, classes have had to be combined and older students have
been called on to supervise the younger students (Wee, 1/27/97).
Most reforms currently focus on supporting and developing skills
in beginning teachers. Orange County, California has developed
a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program designed to
provide organized support and assistance to first year teachers,
helping them develop skills critical for success in the profession
(UCI Dept. of Education, 1994).
Each participating teacher is paired with an experienced Support
Provider. All participants receive release time for collaboration,
instructional materials, a monetary stipend, and the opportunity
for academic credit from a local university. A school district
in Brainerd, Minnesota, in conjunction with Bemidji State University,
has developed The Beginning Teacher Support System. The Brainerd
Daily Dispatch reports that the BTSS is a three year model aimed
at improving the performance and effectiveness of beginning teachers
First year teachers are provided with an experienced mentor. The
beginning teachers are also given monthly inservice training,
seminars, and in-class performance assessments. Teachers remain
in the program for three years, and are assisted in developing
an individualized plan to set goals for their next ten years in
has aimed a $3 million initiative at improving beginning teacher
preparation in three inner cities in order to reduce attrition
rates. The program provides three cities, New York, Jacksonville
and San Francisco, with grants of $400,000 each designed to bring
together local universities, school systems and teacher unions
in developing new beginning teacher programs. AT&T hopes that
the program will result in an increase in well-prepared beginning
teachers and reduced teacher attrition rates.
Use of communication technology
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Education
has developed The Lighthouse Project, aimed at providing additional
support for beginning teachers (Stancill, 2/12/97).
The program gives beginning teachers laptop computers and free
access to the Internet. The goal is to provide new teachers with
professional support through on-line access to teaching support
groups, master teachers from other schools, and members of the
university education faculty.
In another initiative, aimed at reaching all North Carolina teachers,
Governor Jim Hunt has promised to raise state teacher pay to the
national average by the year 2000 (Fine, 2/17/97).
The plan would provide greater pay increases to teachers with
earned master's degrees, national board certified teachers, and
Improved recruitment of teachers
Entry into the profession and retention are basic to placing good
teachers in America's classrooms. Nationally, nearly 1,300 institutions
of higher education and a number of alternative programs commit
substantial resources to the preparation of teachers. Today nearly
40% of the resources devoted to teacher preparation are used on
individuals who never enter teaching and an additional 30% are
used on individuals who teach fewer than five years. If these
scarce resources were applied to the preparation of good candidates
who enter the profession and remain in teaching more than a few
years, we could expect a significant improvement in the quality
of teacher preparation (Andrew & Schwab, 1995).
Since the 1980s, the attraction to teaching has improved somewhat,
with salary increases closing some of the gap between teaching
and other occupations, and returning teachers to the wage level
they had received before a decade of decline in real salaries.
This has helped propel increases in teacher supply and quality.
In contrast to the 1980s, current teacher education students have
better academic records than most other college students. With
current rates of increase in supply, we might optimistically expect
the number of newly prepared teachers to soon reach 150,000 annually
for the more than 200,000 openings to be filled. Future trends
will be determined by currently unmade policy choices that affect
the desirability of teaching. Obviously, teaching vacancies are,
and will continue to be, filled from other sources. Both attracting
and retaining qualified teachers at higher rates will be essential
to school quality.
Alternative certification programs
To address the problem of a shrinking pool of education graduates,
many teacher education programs have begun to recruit new teachers
by developing an alternative route to teacher certification. By
its very nature, an alternative teacher certification program
will attract a different population of participants than traditional
programs (Smith, Nystrand, Ruch, Gideonse & Carlson, 1985).
Most candidates in an alternative programs are older than those
in a traditional program and by and large most already have earned
college degrees. In some alternative programs, participants will
have been selected as being more "academically talented"
than their counterparts in traditional programs. These various
differences may present both advantages and disadvantages.
On the positive side, older candidates tend to bring with them
more life experiences and greater maturity which will benefit
them as teachers. Also, persons who have already earned their
college degrees are more likely to be more focused on learning
to teach than their undergraduate counterparts who often must
"fit in" their education course requirements along with
the many other requirements necessary to complete their degrees
On the negative side, there is reason to speculate that teachers
entering the profession through alternative routes may leave in
even greater numbers than their regularly certified counterparts.
These reasons include less preparation for dealing with demands
and realities of the public schools, less formal training in teaching
prior to entering the classroom and a greater likelihood of being
placed in teaching situations that are more difficult. There is
also evidence to indicate that those teachers who are the most
academically talented leave in the greatest numbers (Schlechty
& Vance, 1983). Therefore, certification programs catering
to the more academically able may have additional reason for concern
about retention rates.
If the ultimate goal of alternative certification programs is
to supply the public schools with additional qualified teachers,
it will not be enough to simply look at the numbers of persons
entering the profession through such programs. If large numbers
of teachers bail out in their first years of teaching, the impact
of alternative certification programs will be seriously diminished.
The retention of alternatively certified teachers in the profession
will be a key factor in determining the ultimate success of the
original goal- to supply the nation's schools with additional
teachers (Huling-Austin, 1986).
These are examples of current efforts to address the issue of
teacher attrition. But is extra support enough? Teachers' working
conditions are still less than ideal. Teaching during actual school
hours consists mostly of instructing classrooms of students. Other
teaching duties such as planning, grading papers, working with
colleagues, conferencing with parent and/or students and working
with curriculum and assessment are usually not part of the regular
working day and must be attended to outside of school hours. No
other nation requires teachers to teach more hours per week than
the United States (National Commission on Teaching and
America's Future, 1996). Until working conditions improve,
the United States is likely to continue to face a teacher attrition
New programs and improved training of teachers
Since there is a connection between teachers' feelings of efficacy
and teacher burnout and attrition, teacher education programs
and staff development must make changes to help insure that the
teachers they are training will be successful in the classroom.
Currently, approaches to licensure and accreditation are being
reconsidered, and a new National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards is beginning to offer recognition to highly accomplished
teachers who can teach all learners. Policy makers and educators
increasingly recognize that there is a correlation between the
capacities teachers need to be effective in the 21st century and
major restructuring of the systems by which states and school
districts license, hire, induct, support, and provide for continual
learning of teachers. The recently enacted federal Goals 2000:
Educate America Act links new standards for students to much expanded
professional development for teachers. States and districts are
beginning to rethink how teachers' work is structured in schools,
so that they have more time to collaborate with other teachers,
research interests, and reflect on teaching practice and student
achievement. The philosophy is that more knowledgeable and professionally
developed teachers are able to better serve their students.
A teacher education program that illustrates this philosophy and
has shown promise in graduating new teachers who will be less
likely to leave the profession is the Alliance Project's Clinical
Continuum at the University of Florida. It is designed to provide
freshmen and sophomores with opportunities to experience the culture
of teaching and schools early in their program, to observe and
document the sometimes conflicting roles teachers assume, and
to begin the transition from the role of student to that of teacher.
These early field experiences focus on four themes: 1) multiple
and diverse field placements in a variety of settings and levels;
2) observation and analysis of teaching and the schools using
appropriate observational tools; 3) the use of targeted instructional
activities and materials to guide the examination of teaching
form the perspective of personal beliefs, values, and attitudes;
4) the initiation of a professional portfolio (Marquardt, 1994).
Another approach to lessen teacher attrition through better teacher
preparation is to lengthen the time it takes to complete teacher
preparation programs. Graduates of extended teacher education
programs enter at significantly higher rates and show higher rates
of retention than do graduates of four-year programs (Andrew &
Schwab, 1995). Regardless of individual program variation, students
choosing an extended teacher education program that requires at
least a year of post-baccalaureate study are more committed to
teaching than some of their four-year program counterparts. It
is also logical to conclude that because of the extended internship
and generally higher academic standards, graduates are better
prepared to succeed as beginning teachers. Self-reported feelings
of greater confidence as a teacher and a more positive attitude
toward teacher education programs by extended program graduates
support the conclusion that graduates of those programs are better
prepared, or at least have more confidence in their preparation.
These factors likely contribute to higher retention rates.
To reduce the attrition rate of teachers placed in urban settings,
two changes must occur. First, teachers must be better prepared
for the challenges faced in urban classrooms. Secondly, urban
schools must be transformed into learning communities where ongoing
inquiry, learning, and assessment routinely occurs, where intellectual
activity is valued and rewarded, where "best practices"
are modeled and refined, and where educators are encouraged and
supported in their efforts to transform teaching and learning
processes. Both are long term propositions (Marquardt, 1994).
These efforts to improve teaching and teacher preparation have
thus far been isolated and piecemeal, and have not yet been developed
as a plan linked to other school reform efforts and integrated
across the various stages of the teaching career-from initial
recruitment and preparation to induction and ongoing professional
development to the demonstration of sharing of highly accomplished
practice among expert teachers. Development of such a coherent
plan should take into account the current status of teaching and
teacher development and the possibilities for fundamentally different
approaches and outcomes. It must also consider the issues of how
to recruit and retain an adequate supply of well-prepared teachers.
Such a plan should seek to restructure and reculture both teacher
preparation programs and the public schools (Marquardt, 1994).
Support for new teachers
In the first years of teaching, only the strongest and most determined
survive, and all too often these are not the most creative and
talented teachers. Some of the most talented find teaching "frustrating,
unrewarding, and intolerably difficult" (Colbert & Wolff,
1992). Beginning teachers in difficult schools often feel like
The assistance and support provided to candidates during their
induction years critically contribute and directly influence on
the short term retention of new teachers (Huling-Austin, 1986).
Several teacher preparation programs have formed collaborations
with local school districts. One such program used cooperative
team planning as a method of systematic support for its new teachers
(Colbert & Wolff, 1992) In this model, professors assist in
the building of cooperative teams of new teachers who offer each
other technical and emotional support.
Texas A & M -Corpus Christi began an Induction Year Program
designed to provide support and instruction to first-year teachers
while starting them toward master's level professional development.
The nine hour program focuses on practical strategies for teaching
success such as classroom management, communication skills, and
discipline. Also, faculty members regularly visit the classes
of program participants to observe and provide constructive evaluation
of the teachers performance.
Research on beginning teachers conducted at the Research and Development Center for Teacher Education at The University of Texas at Austin has resulted in a number of findings which have implications for mentoring programs for new teachers:
1) teaching assignment highly influence first year teacher success;
2) the assignment of an appropriate on-site support teacher acts
as the most powerful and cost-effective intervention in a beginning
teacher program.; 3) beginning teacher programs should flexible
to accommodate the needs of participants; and 4) a beginning teacher
program addresses and resolves the needs of program participants,
as well as arouse positive concerns (Huling-Austin, 1986).
It is important to train administrators and experienced teachers
in classroom observation and peer coaching strategies (Colbert
& Wolff, 1992). The design and implementation of this training
should be a collaborative effort between school districts and
university schools of education. A potential pitfall is a lack
of support at the school level. Frequently, schools with the largest
number of beginning teachers have the fewest number of experienced
teachers. Too often these experienced teachers are burdened with
so many responsibilities they are unwilling or unable to take
on the additional workload necessary to support and assist beginning
teachers. This problem can be addressed by insuring that beginning
teachers attend university classes and in-service workshops regularly
and are encouraged to work together to provide emotional and professional
support to each other if support form experienced teachers is
Creative and flexible scheduling is necessary to provide released
time to peer coaches and beginners. This will provide opportunities
for them to build trusting relationships that can contribute to
increased career satisfaction and retention of beginning teachers.
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