Ruling class hagiography... Harvard touts Duncan without mentioning he never taught a day in his life and his firing of 'bad teachers' — almost all of them black — make him the 'Mr. Jim Crow' of the 21st Century

Harvard University has published on its website a hagiographic article about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasizing Duncan's personality and basketball skills — and ignoring the fact that Duncan rivals former Birmingham Alabama Police Chief Bull Connor in having fired more African American teachers and principals than any schools chief in Chicago history (and most in the history of the USA) under Duncan's "Renaissance 2010" and other fraudulent "turnaround" programs.

Six months after Arne Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education, Chicago teachers, organized by CORE, picketed a breakfast hosted by a corporate group called Advance Illinois, which featured Arne Duncan as the main speaker. By then, Duncan was U.S. Secretary of Education and had declared war against public schools serving the nation's urban poor. Duncan was simply exporting to the entire USA the policies he had gotten away with in Chicago under "Renaissance 2010." Renaissance 2010, a corporate school reform program, claimed that "failing" schools (as measured by test scores) had to be closed and their teachers and principals fired. Ignoring the research that showed the link between the massive poverty and segregation in Chicago, Duncan closed African American schools, and fired African American teachers and principals, in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 (the last of the purges took place based on a list Duncan created just before Barack Obama appointed him U.S. Secretary of Education. Substance photo taken June 19, 2009 at the Regency Hyatt Hotel in Chicago, where Arne Duncan was telling Advance Illinois and the city's corporate leaders the outlines of what would become the Race To The Top attack on public education. While the Duncan hagiography continues Harvard's tradition of being in the forefront of corporate school reform, it's worth reprinting here so that readers can get a sense of how such fairy tale narratives are constructed and how they become the dominant narrative not because of their truthfulness, but because of their melodrama.

But before the Harvard propaganda, readers should know that the most distinguishing thing about Arne Duncan’s career as “Chief Executive Officer” of Chicago’s public schools was the fact that during his term, between April 2002 and January 2009 (when he became Barack Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan achieved the distinction of firing more African American teachers than had ever been fired before in Chicago. In fact, Duncan’s purges (always based on the claim that “low” scores on standardized tests meant the teacher and the school were a failure) rivals, in size and impact, the destruction of a generation of African American teachers and other educators during the final days of the “separate but equal” schools of the South in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

A number of Chicago researchers (including Substance) have exposed this nasty side of Duncan, but Harvard and other propagandists for corporate school reform consistently ignore both the practice of “turnaround” (and other destructive programs under “Renaissance 2010”) and its impacts, long and short term. Over the coming year, Substance will continue to detail how Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education deserves to be recognized as the Mr. Jim Crow of American education in the 21st Century. Arne Duncan’s Jim Crow purges of Chicago’s African American teachers is now national policy, under Race to the Top.

Commencement 2011 / 1986 Reunion Issue, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, By JULIE R. BARZILAY, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER, Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Harvard was up by three or four points, but its lead against the Princeton men’s basketball team was dwindling fast, recalls former guard Keith W. Webster ’87.

Webster’s teammate, current Secretary of Education Arne S. Duncan ’86, suddenly caught the ball as it nearly soared out of bounds near the half-court line. The 6’5” Chicago native held the ball for only a split-second before releasing it towards the distant hoop.

Throughout the early 2000s, Chicago held show trials against "failing" public schools. Most of them (from 2002 through 2009) were held when Arne Duncan was "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools. Year after year, the scene was the same as in the photo above: More than 80 percent of those facing the attack were African American children, parents, teachers, and principals. The photograph above, taken on February 10, 2010 at the hearing on the closing of Chicago's Bradwell Elementary School (after Duncan left the "Renaissance 2010" policies in the hands of his successor, ex-cop and City Hall crony Ron Huberman). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“When he shot it, I didn’t even watch the ball, I just kept staring at him like ‘What are you doing?’” Webster says. “It was the most absurd shot in the world.”

With an elegant swish, it was also a game-changing three-pointer, leading Harvard to victory that night.

Close friends and eventual co-captains Duncan and Webster were heading back over the Charles River an hour later, loaded down with winter gear and athletic bags, when Webster turned to Duncan and asked, “By the way, what the hell was that shot?”

Webster says that he’ll never forget Duncan’s answer.

“I knew if I made it, it would break their backs,” Webster recalls Duncan saying. According to Webster, Duncan’s insight and confidence in that game were illustrative of his driven, perceptive nature.

“He was one of the smartest players that ever played,” Webster says. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

Between Duncan’s Sociology studies, a “Big Brother” mentoring role, and an indefatigable drive to improve on the court, Duncan impressed peers and teammates alike with his tireless work ethic and devotion to making those around him successful. These same qualities, friends say, have guided Duncan since his 2009 appointment to President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

“He loves education, he loves helping the community and society,” Webster explains. “I knew that whatever he was going to do, he would cast a wide web and have a large influence on as many people as he could touch.”


Duncan arrived at Harvard in 1982 and went straight to basketball tryouts.

“When Arne came to Harvard, he wasn’t a great player, he was a good player—but he had a tremendous work ethic,” recalls Frank McLaughlin, one of Duncan’s former coaches.

After a year on junior varsity, in which Duncan worked out at the gym early in the morning, ran drills late into the night, and often practiced between classes, Duncan made varsity in his sophomore year.

“I think the way he was wired, his DNA, said that in order to be successful you had to put the time in,” Webster says.

Both McLaughlin and Peter Roby, another former Harvard coach, remember Duncan as a dedicated, unselfish player who always put the team first—and almost never missed a free throw.

Roby says Duncan transitioned from a quiet force to a more vocal leader over his undergraduate years, noting that he could break the tension in the locker room with witty one-liners, and that he loved to listen to music.

“I think the interesting thing is that Arne liked hip-hop music, which nowadays is much more mainstream,” Webster says, with a laugh.


Webster and Duncan became fast friends, and could often be found trekking across the river to practice—whether or not the team was scheduled to work out that day.

Sometimes a third individual would join Duncan and Webster on these walks: Duncan’s “Little Brother,” a mentee he worked with through a Phillips Brooks House Association program.

“That was a big part of his life,” Webster recalls, noting that whether in high school, college, or playing professional basketball in Australia—which Duncan did from 1987 to 1991—the future Secretary always worked with youth in a mentorship role.

Indeed, before ascending to the national arena, he worked with students in Chicago charter schools like the Ariel Community Academy.

“The students adored him not only because they were fully aware and appreciated his concerns about improving their education, but also because he made them feel special and important as individuals,” writes Kennedy School professor William J. Wilson—who knew Duncan in the 1990s—in an email to the Crimson.

His approach to working with young people resonates with the description of Duncan’s values provided by his Resident Dean in Leverett House, Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who is now the Dean of Freshmen.

“[Duncan] was a real moral force—everybody seemed to know him, and he created a real presence,” says Dingman. “He cared a lot about trying to make a more even playing field and sticking up for underrepresented groups.”


Two years before CPS officials destroyed Bradwell Elementary School, Fulton Elementary School in Chicago's Englewood community (one of the poorest in the USA) was targeted by Arne Duncan for "turnaround" because of "academic failure." The "failure" was measured by scores on standardized tests, which always show that poor children score lower than their wealthier age peers. In their praise of Arne Duncan, the wealthy at Harvard University ignore such facts, and the racism of Duncan's purges during his years ago Chicago's schools CEO. Above, Roosevelt Watkins testifies in opposition to the firing of the teachers at Fulton on February 11, 2008. As usual, the majority of teachers and others who lost their jobs when Duncan destroyed these schools were black, as the photo above shows. Duncan's corporate and university cheerleaders consistently ignored the realities of poverty to push the corporate school reform line. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Growing up as an eager scholar-athlete in Chicago’s Hyde Park, Duncan was introduced to the world of education by both his father, a professor at the University of Chicago, and his mother, who ran an after-school program at which Duncan tutored.

Sociology professor Orlando Patterson notes that in Duncan’s day, the department experienced an ideological shift away from the “prevailing wisdom” that class background was the decisive factor in a student’s educational performance.

“Arne Duncan has strongly emphasized that schools make a big difference regardless of the background of the students,” Patterson says. “I think that we, already [in the 80s], in our department were ... emphasizing that schools and neighborhoods can’t be separated and that the two were very interrelated.”

For his senior thesis, Duncan took a year off to research the aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass in Chicago.

“It was an excellent study that revealed a sophisticated understanding of the structural and cultural factors embodied in urban inequality and that have profound implications for individual life chances,” says Wilson of the thesis.


In 2001, Duncan became Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools, and went on to close failing schools and advocate for performance pay for teachers.

“He’s a realist, and he knows how to get things done,” Webster says of Duncan. “He’s just a problem-solver, and he’s got this very unique skill set to be able to talk to different people and come up with a common solution.”

After assuming office as the Secretary of Education in 2009, Duncan spearheaded the Race to the Top initiative, incentivizing reform in K-12 schools.

Roby says Duncan is “challenging people to think differently about the model of education in this country.” For example, because more mothers work full-time today, Duncan advocates increasing the number of hours in the school day and the number of months in the school year in order to keep children engaged.

Duncan continues get his competitive juices flowing in pickup games at the White House—though with some new teammates, such as President Obama, with whom he played basketball on Election Day.

“I think by the time he’s done he’ll have really moved the needle,” Webster says. “Similar to basketball, he’s spending time at what he loves, and I bet you he doesn’t consider it work.”

—Staff writer Julie R. Barzilay can be reached at


June 1, 2011 at 7:04 AM

By: Frank James Johnson

Problems re Duncan's senior thesis

It is my understanding that Harvard seniors are normally expected to complete their thesis without taking time off from school. So we should ask why he asked and Harvard granted permission to take a year off for writing his senior thesis. Did his father's position as professor of psychology at the University of Chicago have something to do with that? Did Dunce Duncan or his dad believe that he was incapable of meeting the standards to which Harvard seniors were traditionally held? Etc.

June 2, 2011 at 3:20 AM

By: John Kugler

Bloody days increase in Chicago


Bloody days increase in Chicago’s general high schools

Despite intense efforts by public relations staff at the Chicago Board of Education and the some of the editors at Chicago’s daily newspapers, increasing gang violence in Chicago’s general high schools couldn’t be completely ignored during the opening months of the 2006-2007 school year.

But even the most attentive public citizen would have had difficulty figuring out what was true from the conflicting reports provided by public schools officials, the Chicago Police Department,and the major media. By November 2006, the main story line, repeated by the school board's public relations staff and repeated as news from the front page of the Chicago Tribune,was that things were better as far as violence went in the city’s public schools.

"Student arrests drop" proclaimed a page one Tribune headline on November 14. The lengthy story left the impression that an alleged reduction in violence at Steinmetz High School (3030N. Mobile) was real and was the result of new programs which focused on social work rather than arrests of students— even those who had committed violent crimes in the school.

Less than two months earlier, on September 27, 2006, the Chicago Board of Education approved a Board Report that showed something which many thought demonstrated the opposite.

A great deal of security information was buried in a routine motion(Board Report 06-0927-PR24) approving the continuation of payments of millions of dollars for Chicago Police Department services inside and around the public schools. The September 27 Board Report included the following statement: "During the period from January 1,2006 — June 30, 2006, there were 5,508 physical arrests in and around schools made, 27,899 student school absentees found, and 20 guns recovered."

Ignoring the "20 guns recovered"during one six month period,Chicago school officials and the Tribune reported less than two months later that things were better inside and around Chicago's schools. What had happened? The Duncan administration holds schools and teachers to a very strict"standard," and has closed more schools than at any time in history for "failure" and "under performance" always as measured solely by scores on multiple-choice standardized tests. Yet in many matters regarding administrative performance in Chicago, there is no standard at all. Administrators are allowed to practice a selectivity of standards and data that amounts to cherry picking both data and the criteria used to evaluate them. The result is always to show the school system’s central administration— and Mayor Richard M. Daley — in the best possible light.

In 2005, a reduction in the number of guns confiscated in and around Chicago schools was the criterion for proclaiming that the school system was improving in school security. It had been the Tribune, in a January 2, 2005, article, that utilized gun confiscations as a measure of how safe the schools were becoming.

"Schools report good gun news —just 1 student found with one this year" the January 2, 2005, Tribune headline read.

The 2005 article claimed that gun confiscations had decreased significantly from a high in 1994 and into the 2000's. The January 2005 report implied that the number of guns confiscated in the public schools was a very good measure of the safety in the schools. The article listed the school at which the one gun had been discovered inside the building: Phillips High School. The article also noted that guns were found near two other high schools (Chicago Agricultural and Hancock) and that a fourth gun had been confiscated from a security guard.

At its September 27, 2006,monthly meeting, the Chicago Board of Education was told that 20 guns had been confiscated during the six month period between January 1, 2006 and June 30, 2006. There was no discussion of the report during the Board meeting. Nor did the other media report that gun confiscations in Chicago’s public schools had increased by either 500 percent or 2000 percent in a little over one year (Substance reported the issue in an October editorial).

On December 1, 2006, the CPS communications department issue a press release reminding reporters that on December 4, CEO Arne Duncan would be delivering his annual "State of the Schools" address to the City Club of Chicago at a luncheon at Maggiono’s Restaurant on Grand Ave. in Chicago.

According to the press release announcing the event, Duncan’s speech was to "tell a City Club audience that improving public education is"Chicago’s greatest civic achievement." The press release, which arrived as Substance was on deadline [a complete report on the event will be published in the January Substance], also stated:"Duncan will highlight a series of accomplishments since Mayor Daley took over the school in 1995..."

One of those achievements, according to Duncan, has been "Reducing violence in the schools."

At the time Mayor Daley was given control over Chicago’s public schools in July 1995, Arne Duncan was playing professional basketball in Australia. His information regarding the accomplishments he reports for the schools since Daley took over is based on materials provided to him by others— not on information he acquired himself while working in the schools (which he never did).

Despite the fact that Duncan has been CEO of the massive school system since July 2001, he has never developed a method of reporting "school violence"that would enable him to make a claim that the Daley administration has reduced violence in the schools. The current situation is an example of the problem analysts confront when trying to match the claims of the Board of Education's publicists and their speech writers with the realities in the schools. Duncan reports the data that makes the administration's claims look good, but there has been no standard for reporting and analyzing trends and problems, despite the fact that massive amounts of information are available from disparate sources.

Contrary to the reports in the Tribune and claims made to the City Club by Arne Duncan, there is little or no evidence that violence has decreased in Chicago’s schools during the past decade, and a growing body of evidence that violence —especially gang violence— has increased dramatically since Duncan became CEO and Daley’s "Renaissance2010" policy was put into place. But since the increase in violence has been in a small percentage of the schools, the overall trends have been misleading.

The reason why public confusion is possible, as the accompanying suspension data show, is that the Duncan administration has systematically concentrated the most dangerous high school students in a smaller and smaller number of schools — generally the city’s"general" high schools which are required to take any student who resides within a certain area.

Beginning in 2002, a series of changes allowed the Duncan administration to effectively sabotage the general high schools. Although the destruction of Lucy Flower Vocational High School (which became "small schools")began before Arne Duncan was appointed CEO and Michael Scott Board President in July 2001, the pattern was set by the fate of Flower.

In 2002, the approval of a plan to convert DuSable High School (at 49th and Wabash) into "small schools" combined with the conversion of King High School into a "College Prep" high school forced students into Phillips, Tilden and Kenwood high schools. All three experienced additional problems, but the most dramatic were at Phillips, where rival gangs clashed in the school’s hallways despite the fact that the Board of Education’s Office of School Security and Safety was located in the Phillips building.

By 2004, the pattern was being repeated at other schools. When told of the problems at Phillips, Board President Michael Scott visited Phillips and himself witnessed the problems. Instead of working with the Chicago Teachers Union and others to solve the growing security problems that were created by his policies, however, Scott adopted a policy of scapegoating the general high schools, closing them amidst a media barrage about "dangerous conditions"and academic "failure."

Prior to 2004,the closing of the general high schools (and the shifting of students into adjacent schools) was accomplished through the vehicle of"conversion" to small schools. In 2004,the script was changed dramatically. I know because I was there. By April 2004,the Chicago Teachers Union, under the leadership of Deborah Lynch, who was then president, had established a Bureau of School Security and Safety. The job of the bureau was to deal directly with the problems of the city’s violent schools. Working on the model established in New York City, the CTU leadership decided that the first activities would be directed at those schools which had the greatest amount of violence,usually gang related.

As director of school security and safety, I helped organize a conference in April 2004 involving nearly 100 schools and representatives from the major agencies that deal with youth crime and violence. These included the Chicago Police Department, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, CPS,and several schools. The conference was considered a success, due in a large part to the cooperation of all the agencies,which knew that the problems in the minority of Chicago schools that had them were severe and required immediate attention.

Two of those schools — Calumet and Austin high schools — were cooperating fully with both the union and all of the other agencies. At Calumet High School, the school had identified the most violent student offenders and had run a check on home addresses, among other things. One result of that project, which we had planned to replicate, was that Calumet was able to learn that two of its most violent students were actually residents of a nearby suburb,not Chicago residents at all. The school’s problems lessened dramatically once those students were removed from the school.

Similar projects were taking place at Austin High School, and I was regularly visiting two dozen other schools that faced serious violence, in-Continued from Page Five including a number of elementary schools.

With the cooperation of the schools’ administrations, teachers, and parents, we arranged for people from Austin and Calumet to describe their problems to Michael Scott and others from the administration. We believed,wrongly it turned out, that we had begun working on a cooperative plan to confront school crime and violence in those places where it was most severe. Calumet High School CTU Delegate Tim Galloway (since retired) joined us at a meeting in the Board’s offices. At the meeting were Michael Scott and representatives of various departments.

Less than two months later, I first heard, from teachers at Austin and Calumet, that we had been "betrayed"by Duncan and Scott. Instead of working on a comprehensive plan to deal with the violence in those schools,Duncan was going to proposed the closing of the schools because of the violence that we had helped identify!

In June 2004, two events took place which sealed the fate of Austin and Calumet high schools and projected the future for the city’s general high schools. First,Mayor Daley announced his "Renaissance 2010" plan. It was based on a right wing report drafted by Eden Martin and published by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. According to Martin, a radical conservative who opposes urban public schools as "failures" and supports "choice" and"free market" alternatives, charter schools and other schools have to be publicly funded to break the cycle of failure in urban schools.

In 2004, Eden Martin’s radical right wing attack on public schools became Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's "Renaissance 2010" plan. Under the plan, which was unveiled by Daley in a lengthy speech to the Civic Committee, Chicago was to create "100 new schools" by 2010.

Following Daley’s lead,Duncan and Scott quickly reacted. Although Calumet and Austin were not"failing" academically at the time (they were in the middle of the general high schools, as measured by standardized test scores over a reasonable number of years), Duncan declared that the schools were dangerous and would stop accepting 9th graders in September 2004.

At intense public hearings in June 2004, students, teachers, parents and others from both Calumet and Austin opposed the closings. Notably, LSC members from the schools that were slated to receive the 9th graders who would be forced out of Calumet and Austin also protested, noting that gang problems were likely to result if the changes went through.

I helped organize the responses to the proposal at the hearings that were held, but such hearings are actually kangaroo courts, since they are convened to affirm the conclusions already reached by the CEO. [In June 2004, Deborah Lynch lost her bid for a second term as CTU President. Upon taking office in August 2004, Marilyn Stewart, Lynch’s successor, fired me and had her staff discard the materials that had been assembled by the bureau of school security and safety at the CTU. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that Stewart realized that she had a major problem in the schools and appointed a "coordinator"of school security and safety].

By late 2004, it was clear that the problem was widespread across the south side and the west side. Austin and Calumet were closed to 9th graders in September 2004, and heck (or worse) broke loose in the schools that received those of the students who were able to attend other schools. (CPS never admits that when such changes are made, a large percentage of the students simply disappear, which is what happened in this case).

Within a year after the closing of Austin and Calumet to 9th graders,teachers, parents, and students from more than a dozen schools were appearing monthly at the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education reporting the increase in gang problems and violence at schools as far away from the sending schools as Clemente and Wells high schools (on the north side) and Harlan and Hyde Park high schools (on the south side).

Under pressure from the mayor to create the "100new schools" announced with "Renaissance 2010," instead of admitting that the closing of 9thgrade at Austin and Calumet had spilled major problems into the general high schools across the city, Duncan and Scott continued closing the general high schools. In January 2005, under the pretext of saving children from "academic failure", Duncan announced he was going to close Englewood High School to 9th graders. Despite warnings that the problems seen at the schools that had received the "spillover" from Austin and Calumet would be worsened when Englewood was closed, Duncan persisted, delivering the by then cliché talking points about how he had a responsibility to "make the tough decisions"and save the children from another"round of failure." When teachers and community leaders challenged the characterization of their schools,while others warned of what would happen when the schools were closed, Duncan simply forged ahead. At every step, he lined up community leaders and others who gave support to his programs(often rewarded for it).

Englewood was closed to 9thgraders in September 2005, and things got worse in the receiving schools.

By 2006, the program was moving ahead despite all evidence of the danger it was posing. Even a dramatic series of charges by the Chicago Teachers Union (published in stories that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times) focusing on the impact of the closings on Hyde Park and Wells high schools did little good. In January 2006, Duncan announced that he was closing Collins High School, at 1313 S. Sacramento on the west side by ending the acceptance of 9th graders into the school. The impact of the Collins closing is now being felt at schools across the west side. Just as Collins had been destabilized by the closing of Austin and the creation of charter schools which skimmed many of the better students, now the schools adjacent to Collins were facing the same pinch.

By the time the Board provided Substance with its suspension data for the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years, the patterns that first became clear in the first years of the Duncan administration were obvious for anyone familiar with the city.

While all of the high schools generally had a few problems, the greatest problems were concentrated in fewer than 20 general high schools. Where these problems have escalated during

the past four years, the specific causes of the escalation can be easily identified as the disruptive impact of the Board of Education’s "Renaissance 2010" policies.

Not only does "Renaissance2010" close (and later, give away to charter schools) existing public schools, but it also creates a new group of elites schools which reject the most deprived and often dangerous students. As a result,those students are being concentrated more and more intensely in the city’s remaining general high schools.

Since 2004, the Board of Education has been allowed by the public and most of the media, as well as by powerful political and community leaders, to get away with what amounts to a program that undermines, sabotages and destabilizes the city’s general high schools, while allowing more middle class families to put their children in the city’s magnet high schools or the growing number of "College Prep" high schools.

The resulting dangers in the general high schools cannot be characterized as an "unintended consequence"of the policies of the Daley and Duncan administrations. On the contrary, they are the result of these policies, and have been predicted by LSC members, by teachers, by this reporter, and most recently by the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, which as an institution was already on the record in opposition to the closing of 9th grades in the general high schools as early as 2004, although it took the current leadership of the union until March 2006 to confront the problem publicly (again) on behalf of the union.

While there are a few random examples of high schools in Chicago where gang violence and other problems are spinning out of control independently of the central planning that has sabotaged the general high schools in the interests of "Renaissance 2010", these are exceptions. (One notable one is Lincoln Park High School, where the escalating problems with security seem to stem from the unique problems created by the school’s administration and its arbitrary policies and personnel practices; at this point in history, Lincoln Park is more dangerous than it should be. Schools where politics interfere with an even-handed administration of discipline are in for trouble...).

It is likely that the forces driving "Renaissance 2010" will cause Arne Duncan to announce another high school targeted for closing in the next three months. If that school turns out to be Clemente, which has faced some of the most extreme problems, no one will be surprised. If it turns out to be any of the other 20 general high schools which have borne the brunt of Duncan’s policies, there should be a major outcry across the city.

February 12, 2013 at 11:40 PM

By: John Kingsbury

Flower Career Academy sabotage

For the record: Arnie Duncan was getting coffee for Paul Vallas at the meeting with the FLower Career Academy LSC downtown when they were shutting the school down for "low enrollment." (They had not let us enroll students for 3 years).

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