Tag: Daniel Losen

Max Eden’s Shoddy Anti-School Discipline Reform Punditry

Your editor usually doesn’t write immediate follow-ups on commentaries. But yesterday’s Dropout Nation takedown of use of faulty data by Manhattan Institute pundit Max Eden and other opponents of reforming school…

Your editor usually doesn’t write immediate follow-ups on commentaries. But yesterday’s Dropout Nation takedown of use of faulty data by Manhattan Institute pundit Max Eden and other opponents of reforming school discipline generated plenty of discussion both in social media and in e-mails. Thanks to those discussions, the flaws in the studies used by Eden and his counterparts, most-notably Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal, have been exposed.

As you would expect — and has become his wont — Eden dodged the report and questions raised by other reformers and education policy scholars. Save for arguing that Oakland Unified School District, whose ban on suspensions for disruptive behavior and other minor infractions was mentioned in his piece, supposedly fell behind academically because of that effort, Eden offered little defense of either his US News & World Report op-ed or his overall arguments.

But while Eden said little, what he did say revealed even more sloppiness in his arguments and thinking. Which given that he and other foes of school discipline reform are helping the Trump Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos justify their plans to ditch the federal government’s obligation to protect the civil rights of poor and minority children, is worrisome.

In the case of Oakland, Eden declared that research from Stanford University’s Sean Reardon showing that the district’s improvement in student achievement of 4.3 years over a five-year period trailed behind the overall state average made his “case” for his conclusion. The problem? For one, Reardon’s research, which focused solely on how districts improve academic progress for children from third grade to the end of middle school (as well as how poverty affects achievement), never looked at the impact of school discipline policy (or even overuse of suspensions) on achievement. Put simply, there’s no way that Eden can use Reardon’s data to reach or support his conclusions.

It gets worse. As it turns out, Eden probably didn’t mean to mention Reardon’s study, but Boston University grad student Dominic Zarecki’s study of Los Angeles Unified School District’s implementation of a ban on suspensions for minor infractions, the white paper at the heart of Eden’s US News op-ed. The study does mention that it did an analysis of Oakland Unified academic achievement after implementation of its school discipline reform effort to compare results with that of L.A. Unified. Zarecki does note that it found that Oakland Unified trailed the rest of the state in improving student achievement by the 2015-2016 school year, arguing that it proves his study’s declaration that suspension bans damage achievement.

But Zarecki also admits that “we cannot conduct a full difference-in-difference analysis for Oakland because we lack data to measure the change in academic growth”. Zarecki also concedes that Oakland would likely have “had a relatively low growth rate even without the suspension ban”, which, given its decades-long struggles on the education front, goes without saying. As Brian Stanley, executive director of the Oakland Education Fund, noted yesterday, the district “has had fairly low academic growth for a long time.” [Stanley, by the way, offers a rather insightful and data-driven account of Oakland’s school discipline reform efforts that opponents and supporters of school discipline reform should check out.]

This oversight could be considered if Zarecki provided his analysis of Oakland Unified (which is likely based on two years of school-level data instead of at least four years student-level data) in an appendix to the main study. He did not, which means there is no real way for to understand how Zarecki reached this particular conclusion.

It isn’t shocking that Dominic Zarecki’s shoddy research is being championed by Max Eden and other foes of school discipline reform. That’s just what they do.

Of course, this is one of the many flaws Dropout Nation and others have identified. Another is that Zarecki’s study focuses not on increases and decreases in actual achievement and out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, but on differences in differences, essentially looking at growth over the short time frames being measured. The problem with so-called difference-to-difference research design is that it can inflate what would otherwise be minor increases and decreases in standard deviations during the time periods measured. Especially when measuring two-year periods instead of four years and beyond (which would tell more about the success or failure of any implementation or program).

Put simply, Zarecki’s study, already flawed because of its focus on school level data, lack of granularity and other issues, likely yielded inflated results. Zarecki himself admits this when he notes that the two additional analyses he used to check his work didn’t yield similar conclusions.

Given that Zarecki’s study is really more of a class paper that hasn’t been peer reviewed and probably hasn’t been looked over by his doctoral advisor, you can somewhat excuse those flaws. [The fact that his career has been in education research, including time as research director for the California Charter Schools Association, makes this excuse rather weak.] But Eden, a longtime education policy wonk who spent time working for Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute before landing at Manhattan Institute (and who still co-writes pieces with Hess on occasion), can’t justify why he ran with this shoddy work. If your editor can sniff out the weaknesses in Zarecki’s study, then Eden can do so, too.

The fact that Eden ran with Zarecki’s study and conclusions despite all of its flaws isn’t shocking. As mentioned earlier in his wrong citation of Reardon’s study, Eden is sloppy, both in his research and his thinking. This becomes even more clear when you look at his claim to fame, a report released last yeara by Manhattan Institute on school climate throughout the city and the school discipline reform efforts undertaken by the New York City Department of Education under Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio.

In that report, Eden concludes that the school discipline reform efforts by Bloomberg, de Blasio and their respective chancellors have led to traditional district schools in the Big Apple becoming less safe for teachers and children. How? By comparing responses of teachers and children in the traditional district to peers in charters on the city’s annual school climate survey. As any researcher can immediately note, such surveys have little usefulness as objective evidence, because they are based on subjective opinions that can change based on who is working in classrooms, because survey designs can be flawed with leading questions yielding results favorable to the pollster, and because survey designs can change drastically from year to year. Eden himself admits this in the study when he notes that he could only measure results on five questions from the city’s school climate survey because the wording had been consistent over time.

What makes Eden’s results even less-reliable is the fact that he didn’t just simply measure the raw results from the surveys over the five-year period (2011-2012 to 2015-2016) being measured, which is the most-reliable way of analyzing what is already unreliable data. Instead, Eden cobbled together a “distribution-of-differences” analysis in which any change of 15 percentage points on each of the questions represented “a substantial shift” in attitudes on school safety, especially for each school in the district. How did he arrive at 15 percentage points instead of, say, 20 or 10 or even five? Eden doesn’t explain. This gamesmanship, along with the lack of explanation, makes Eden’s analysis even less reliable than it already is.

If Eden was being intellectually honest and simply compared the raw numbers themselves, he would have reached different conclusions. Between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016, the percentage of teachers citywide (including charter schools) agreeing or strongly agreeing that “my school maintains order and discipline” remained unchanged at 80 percent. Exclude charters results from the survey, and the percentage of teachers just within the New York City district agreeing or strongly agreeing that “my school maintains order and disciplined” increased from 77 percent to 78 percent over that period, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of the city’s survey data from that period. This happened even as the number of out-of-school suspensions meted out by principals  in district schools declined.

Even when using subjective data, Eden’s arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, a point made by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA during testimony at a December hearing held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at which Eden also testified. It doesn’t even stand up to the brief on overuse of suspensions in Big Apple schools released today by Center for American Progress, which uses objective data to look at the number of days children lose when they are kept out of school

Again, this isn’t a surprise. In a report on school safety released last October, Eden reached the conclusion that New York City’s charter schools were “safer” than traditional district counterparts not by comparing raw data from the Big Apple’s school climate survey or even using more-objective data such as incident reports over a period of several years. Instead, he cobbled together an index that gave scores to each of the questions on the survey, then crafted a secondary index in which charters that scored five or more percentage points higher on that first index over a traditional district school, would be rated higher. This approach to analysis is amateur hour at its worst.

The thing is that Eden’s shoddy work product could easily be ignored if not for the fact that he, along with Fordham’s Petrilli, is a leader in the effort to convince the Trump Administration and DeVos to reverse the Obama Administration-era Dear Colleague guidance pushing districts to end overuse of suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline against poor and minority children. The four-year-old guidance, a keystone of federal efforts to spur school discipline reform, has long been the bete noir of so-called conservative reformers everywhere.

Because Eden, along with Petrilli and even Riley’s Wall Street Journal, likely has the ear of DeVos’ appointees (including Kenneth Marcus, the former George W. Bush appointee who will likely end up overseeing the agency’s Office for Civil Rights), the shoddiness of his data and that of his allies matters even more now than ever. Bad policy backed by slipshod data equals damage to children, especially those from Black, Latino, and American Indian and Alaska Native households most-likely to be suspended, expelled and sent to juvenile justice systems (the school-to-prison pipeline) as a result of districts and other school operators overusing the most-punitive of school discipline.

Which is why shoddy polemicism by the likes of Eden and other opponents of school discipline reform deserve to be exposed and denigrated. School reformers know better than to use bad studies to champion worse policies.

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Max Eden (and other School Discipline Reform Foes) Use Bad Data

There are some amazing things about the internecine battle within the school reform movement over efforts to end overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline,…

There are some amazing things about the internecine battle within the school reform movement over efforts to end overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline, and the effort by so-called conservative reformers to overturn the U.S. Department of Education’s Obama-era guidance to districts on school discipline reform. One is the unwillingness of opponents of school discipline reform, especially Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, to actually engage the three decades of high-quality research that shows that far too many children, especially Black and American Indian kids, are suspended often. The other? That those very opponents attempt to use low-quality research that doesn’t actually prove their defense of such practices, often to ignore the volumes of evidence standing against them.

These two matters become especially clear this morning in an op-ed by Eden in US News & World Report that declares that reducing the overuse of suspensions — especially restrictions on using suspensions for minor infractions such as disruptive behavior that can be addressed through other means — is somehow causing “substantial academic damage” to children in classrooms. Primarily citing a study by Boston University graduate student Dominic Zarecki on Los Angeles Unified School District’s move five years ago to stop suspending children for acting out in class, Eden argues that “suspension bans hurt kids”, hinders the efforts of teachers to manage their classrooms and leads to lower student achievement.

Yet contrary to Eden’s assertions, the study itself doesn’t offer much in the way of hard conclusions. One reason? Because the study doesn’t use student-level academic data. As conceded by Zarecki (who, for some odd reason, goes unnamed by Eden in his op-ed), the study is based on school-level data which doesn’t follow an actual cohort of L.A. Unified students over a period of time. The other problem: That it doesn’t track impact over a period longer than two years. This is a problem especially given that the long-term effects of a reform or an effort can take years (including adjustments in implementation such as improved teacher training) to manifest. Since the study itself doesn’t actually look at student performance over time, or even accounts for matters such as student migration, it “lacks the data granularity” needed to look at how reducing suspensions impacts individual students or even particular groups, much less actually offer any conclusions worth considering. Even Zarecki concedes that based on additional analysis, L.A Unified’s ban “may have had no causal effect” on achievement.

Certainly a study using longitudinal student-level would be hard to do in part because of the efforts by California Gov. Jerry Brown to kibosh more-robust school data systems. But it wouldn’t be impossible. After all, the Los Angeles Times did exactly that in 2010 with its value-added analysis of teacher performance within the district, gaining access to the data after a Freedom of Information request to the school system. Researchers tend to have an easier time obtaining data, especially since they are willing to safeguard privacy and, in many cases, even withhold the name of the district itself (though there are often enough details to figure out which school operator was the subject). Zarecki, who also works for California-based charter school operator Fortune Schools, can easily get in touch with L.A. Unified’s data department if he chose to do so. There is no justifiable reason why the data couldn’t have been obtained for this study.

Put simply, this study is of low-quality. Especially when compared to the research on school discipline that has been conducted over the past decade alone. This includes the 2012 study conducted by a team led by Johns Hopkins University scholar Robert Balfanz that used eight years of student-level longitudinal data to determine that overuse of out-of-school suspensions in ninth grade were positively correlated with likelihood of dropping out of high school, as well as Balfanz’s renowned 2007 study on developing early warning systems with Lisa Herzog of the Philadelphia Education Fund (which also used eight years of student data, this time, from the City of Brotherly Love’s traditional district) to reach the same conclusions.

This lack of high-quality, along with the short time span being measured, is a problem shared by other studies promoted by other opponents of reforming school discipline. Take the study released last month by Petrilli’s Thomas B. Fordham Institute on Philadelphia’s school discipline reform efforts. Eden also cites the study in his piece. The study’s main conclusions — including the assertion that reducing suspensions for non-violent offenses have little effect on achievement — are also based on two years of school level data that doesn’t actually measure how the reforms impact student achievement. [It also doesn’t take into consideration how well individual schools implemented the reforms, a matter that is discussed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education in a similar study also released last month.] That the study uses school-level data instead of student-level data also means that the conclusions have little value.

Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, along with other opponents of school discipline reform, has a tendency to misuse and overstate data.

In fact, the only useful study the Petrilli-Eden crowd have at their disposal is one conducted last year by a University of Arkansas team led by Gary Ritter. The study, which is based on six years of student-level data, concludes that out-of-school suspensions on their own don’t have a negative impact on student achievement and may lead to “slight” improvement in standardized test performance. But even the Ritter study is little use to them. One reason: Because the study itself doesn’t look at the impact of any particular school discipline reform (the study merely looks at possible impact of suspensions on achievement), it isn’t useful in any argument against those efforts. Another is the fact that the study doesn’t actually measure impact of suspensions based on the number of days kids are kept out of school; in the case of Arkansas, a suspension of more than 10 days is considered an expulsion, which means that thousands of children and their student achievement data have likely been excluded from the study, a limitation conceded by Ritter and his team. [Others have expressed their own concerns about the study.]

Meanwhile Ritter and his team honestly concede that decades of research show that overuse of suspensions damages children when you look at graduation rates and other data. In fact, they concede that school leaders and policymakers can have justifiable reasons for reforming school discipline. Ritter himself publicly stated that his study doesn’t argue for halting school discipline reforms and shouldn’t be used as justification for ending the Obama Administration’s guidance, the bete noir of the anti-school discipline reform crowd.

Despite these caveats, opponents of school discipline reform have insisted on using the study to bolster their case. Eden, in particular, mentioned the Ritter study as a supporting example last month in his testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during one of its hearings. But this isn’t shocking. Eden also mentioned a 2014 study by Russell Skiba of Indiana University, the leading scholar on school discipline reform, to support his argument that racial bias wasn’t a factor in why Black, Latino, and American Indian children were suspended at far higher levels than White peers. Eden did this even though Skiba’s study actually focused on student misbehavior and concluded that minority children weren’t worse-behaved than White counterparts, and therefore, didn’t explain why those kids were suspended at higher rates than White children in the first place.

But again, Eden’s seemingly deliberate sloppiness in handling data and evidence, along with that of his allies, is not shocking at all. Eden was called out by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA during the Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing for making arguments not borne out by his own data. Meanwhile Fordham and Petrilli, who work alongside Eden on opposing school discipline reform efforts, has been called out several times by Dropout Nation and other researchers for other incidents of reaching conclusions unsupported by data. This includes misusing data from NWEA to claim in a 2011 op-ed that focusing on achievement gaps harmed high-achieving students (as well as a study published months earlier that attempted to do the same).

What does become clear is that Eden, Petrilli and company do all they can to dance around what decades of data has proven beyond dispute: That far too many kids are suspended and expelled from school. That those practices do little to improve student achievement, enhance school cultures, or make kids safer. That children from minority households are more likely to be suspended, expelled, arrested and even sent to juvenile justice systems than White peers, even when they are referred to dean’s offices for the same infractions. That also suspensions are far more-likely to be meted out over minor matters such as disruptive behavior and attendance than for violent behavior and drug activity. That soft and hard bigotries among White teachers toward poor and minority children are underlying reasons why those kids end up being suspended more-often than White counterparts. And that teachers and school leaders often use suspensions and expulsions to  to let themselves off the hook for the failure to address the illiteracy that is usually at the heart of child misbehavior.

Given all the facts, it becomes clear that Eden, Petrilli and their allies have little interest in dealing honestly with data and evidence on the damage of overusing harsh school discipline. Which makes them untrustworthy when it comes to the mission of the school reform movement to help all children succeed in school and in life.

Featured photo courtesy of the New York Times.

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The Conversation: Daniel Losen on Reforming School Discipline

On this edition of The Conversation, Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA discusses his testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on school discipline reform, challenges…

On this edition of The Conversation, Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA discusses his testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on school discipline reform, challenges the claims of Max Eden and others opposed to the federal guidance on addressing disparities, surmises why opponents of ending overuse of suspensions and other harsh discipline are unwilling to engage three decades of data proving the need for overhaul, and what districts must do to transform school climates for the better.

Listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to The Conversation podcast series and the overall Dropout Nation Podcast series. You can also embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Google Play, Stitcher, and PodBean.

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Betsy DeVos’ School Discipline Problem

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is…

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is that while the education philanthropist-turned-education czar is no White Supremacist, she has continuously collaborated with a regime whose goal is to harm the communities of Black, Latino, and immigrant children as well as the people who love and care for them.

One of the ways she has done this lies with the moves by the U.S. Department of Education to ignore its civil rights obligations as written in the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including stemming the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh traditional discipline that damages poor and minority kids. The move to bring in Hans Bader, who has dismissed decades of research on this issue, is the latest example of DeVos’ aiding and abetting of bigotry.

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, DeVos’ appointee to oversee the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, has already taken steps to end the Obama Administration’s efforts to push traditional districts and charter schools to use new approaches to discipline that actually help all children learn. This includes issuing guidance to regional directors to stop collecting three years of past complaints filed by against a district or charter when investigating a new complaint. Essentially this means investigators can no longer use previous complaints as evidence of a district systematically overusing suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against particular groups of kids.

Now with Bader, a former scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and brother of its current president), on board as a member of the Department of Education’s legal staff, DeVos and Jackson are likely to take the next step in ending efforts on school discipline reform: Rescind the “Dear Colleague” guidance issued by the Obama Administration three years ago that reminded districts to stop overusing harsh school discipline against Black, Latino, and Native children because it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The guidance has been widely opposed by traditionalists and so-called conservative school reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Hans Bader (right) will now have a role in shaping federal policy on school discipline. Those who care about the futures of children should shudder at the thought.

Despite having spent little time on studying school discipline and other civil rights issues, Bader has emerged as a go-to guy for movement conservatives and others opposed to federal efforts on school discipline reform (as well as on the effort to address how universities handle rape incidents on their campuses). His arguments against a federal role in school discipline reform can be summed up in two sentences. The first: That the Obama Administration’s guidance is overreach because the federal government has no right to address any form of overuse of school discipline, especially “disparate impact” in which policies can incidentally or deliberately discriminate against poor and minority children. The second: That there is no racial or ethnic bias in how districts and other school operators mete out such discipline in the first place.

There are plenty of problems with Bader’s first argument. On the legal merits, the ability of the federal government to weigh in on disparate impact was settled three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project that the federal government could address such matters. While the ruling focused on housing, the high court’s ruling effectively kibboshed a previous opinion, Alexander v. Sandoval, that Bader often uses in his arguments against federal oversight on school discipline matters. Put simply, disparate impact is now legally recognized as a form of racism, essentially accepting the reality that bigotry need not be overt to actually exist and harm the most-vulnerable. [More on that in a minute.]

As Dropout Nation noted three years ago in a critique of a similar argument made by Hoover Institution scholar Richard Epstein on the pages of Education Next, Bader fails to recognize that Title IV of the Civil Rights Act is actually fairly broad, giving the federal government plenty of leeway to address any denial of opportunities for equal education. This includes addressing complaints from families over any instance where their children are being denied high-quality learning. More importantly, Bader fails to consider other civil rights legislation, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and IDEA, which grants broad leeway on this front. Particularly with  Title IV of ESSA, which gives the federal government leeway to address and fund efforts to deal with school violence, the federal government is given an expansive role in addressing how districts and states use school discipline.

As for Bader’s second argument: Three decades of data and research demonstrate that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As a team led by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA noted in their review of suspension and expulsion data, the out-of-school suspension rate of 23.2 percent for black middle- and high schoolers in 2013-2014 (based on data released by the U.S. Department of Education) is three times the 6.4 percent out-of-school suspension rate for white peers. This, too, has been consistent in analysis of data, this time that of state governments. This isn’t surprising because decades of data have shown this. A team led by University of Pittsburgh researcher John Wallace demonstrated in a 2008 study that young black men in 10th grade are 30 percent more-likely to be referred dean’s offices — and 330 percent more-likely to be suspended — for the same offenses than white peers.

The consequences of overusing harsh school discipline isn’t just limited to time out of classrooms.

As with the overlabeling of young men as special ed cases, a key reason why so many children black and brown have been suspended lies with the perceptions of adults in schools about the kids they are supposed to teach. Recent studies of the perceptions of children held by their teachers echo Vanderbilt University Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s longstanding point that adults in schools end up deeming kids as unworthy because they think they are destined to end up that way. These biases, which data has demonstrated to be clear when it comes to discipline, are often reflected in how White teachers view Black children in their care in other areas of instruction and school culture.

As I pointed out on Saturday, White Supremacy (along with other forms of bigotry) isn’t simply about overt acts and outright statements. It consists of a continuum of actions that are often divorced from personal and social intentions. Even if a person doesn’t intend on being bigoted, they can support, be indifferent to, or unwilling to change policies and practices that maliciously or incidentally damage the lives and futures of poor and minority people. In the case of school discipline, the consequences of policies and practices can be as racialist as overt acts by those engaged in explicit racial discrimination.

Even if teachers and school leaders aren’t explicitly targeting black and Latino children in meting out discipline, the decisions they make can result in educational neglect, malpractice and abuse. This isn’t just true for poor and minority children. Children regardless of background condemned to the nation’s special education ghettos are subjected to even harsher school discipline –including restraints and seclusion (also known as solitary confinement when done to adults) — because teachers perceive them to be unworthy of more-therapeutic treatment. The consequences of these failed practices can be seen in and out of schools, especially in how police officers brought into schoolhouses deal with Black and Brown children and even those who are White with special needs.

Given the voluminous evidence, the fact that Bader continually argues against school discipline reform demonstrates his intellectual sophistry and his lack of fitness for serving in any role that tangentially involves public education. That he has little in the way of experience in addressing civil rights issues, especially on the education front, makes him even less fit to serve.

Yet it isn’t shocking that he is in this role. This is because DeVos has long ago demonstrated her lack of knowledge and general incuriosity about the role the federal government can play in addressing the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis and advancing systemic reform. More importantly, given her unwillingness to criticize Donald Trump’s bigotry and that of the administration before and after taking up space at L’Enfant Plaza, the Department of Education was bound to be as involved as the departments of Justice and Homeland Security in advancing the administration’s efforts against poor and minority people.

Certainly DeVos isn’t an active White Supremacist. Her past record supporting the expansion of school choice demonstrates that. But she is clearly a collaborator in the administration’s agenda. The hiring of Bader exemplifies this reality.

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