Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: Joy Morton

October 30, 2018

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(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)

Has any charity done more good in America than Joy Morton did as an entrepreneur? He was the founder of Morton Salt Company in Chicago.  One simple innovation – iodized salt – positioned his company to be the dominant salt brand in America for a century. And that very same product changed the destinies of millions upon millions of people.

Joy Morton was a Midwest businessman. By all accounts he was a decent, upstanding member of his community, an honest man. He was a philanthropist. But his greatest contribution to mankind is in the millions of tons of salt he sold.

Morton was an entrepreneur, a money maker. He didn’t give away his salt. His job was to sell it. And like all entrepreneurs, he needed an edge, a way to stay ahead of the competition. Plenty of other companies were making cheap table salt. And of all things, a goiter epidemic and emerging medical science gave Morton the edge he was looking for.

Rewind to 1920. Morton Salt Company was based in Chicago – squarely in the middle of a region plagued by goiters. If you don’t know what a goiter is, check out a few images on Google. “An enlargement of the thyroid gland,” the medical definition doesn’t do goiters justice. They can be nasty, painful, even debilitating. There’s a chance you’ve never seen a goiter with your bare eyes. But in the early 20th century goiters were so common in the American heartland that the region was called the “goiter belt.”

We know now that the cause was iodine deficiency. In the early 1920s the people of the Midwest fed mainly on iodine-poor food. In coastal regions, where fish and other iodine-rich foods formed core parts of the diet, goiters were extremely rare. A person travelling west from Boston to Chicago needn’t have been a doctor to notice the sudden and widespread appearance of goiters on children.  From an excellent, short article published in Nutrition, “History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and Supplementation.”

Prior to the 1920s, endemic iodine deficiency was prevalent in the Great Lakes, Appalachians, and Northwestern regions of the U.S., a geographic area known as the “goiter belt”, where 26%–70% of children had clinically apparent goiter. During the draft for World War I, a Michigan physician, Simon Levin, observed that 30.3% of 583 registrants had thyromegaly (including both toxic and nontoxic goiters), many of which were large enough to disqualify them from the military, in accordance with U.S. Selective Service regulations

Joy Morton solved the problem. By the 1920s, fifty years of science had slowly established the connection between iodine deficiency and goiters. Experiments were showing that iodine treatments could effectively eliminate the condition. The research on iodine was there for the world to see. But aside from a few scientists and physicians, next to no one read it or understood it – almost no one. The Morton Salt Company saw it and saw profit.

In 1924 Morton Salt began selling iodized salt. A massive marketing campaign followed. “Keep Your Family Goiter Free!” Can you imagine? Morton sold tons of salt and made tons of money at it, and in the process improved millions of lives. The goiter epidemic disappeared seemingly overnight and Morton Salt has been America’s favorite salt brand ever since. This accomplishment alone is worthy of the Al, but it turned out the effect of iodine intake reached far beyond curing goiters.

Iodine is vital for brain development. The World Health Organization today states plainly, “Iodine deficiency is the main cause of brain damage in childhood.” This was not known during Joy Morton’s time.

The impact of Morton’s Iodized Salt strains the imagination. The sudden, widespread introduction of iodine into the diets of millions of Americans created a natural research experiment. From a 2013 paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Salt was iodized over a very short period of time beginning in 1924. We use military data collected during WWI and WWII to compare outcomes of cohorts born before and after iodization, in localities that were naturally poor and rich in iodine. We find that for the one quarter of the population most deficient in iodine this intervention raised IQ by approximately one standard deviation. Our results can explain roughly one decade’s worth of the upward trend in IQ in the US (the Flynn Effect).

One. Standard. Deviation. Countless foundations have invested countless dollars to achieve impacts a fraction of that size in [a] tiny fraction of the population – and most have failed. Morton accomplished it all with table salt.

The benefits of Morton’s salt extended even to children in the womb. From another excellent paper from NBER, released earlier this year:

In 1924, The Morton Salt Company began nationwide distribution of iodine-fortified salt. Access to iodine, a key determinant of cognitive ability, rose sharply. We compare outcomes for cohorts exposed in utero with those of slightly older, unexposed cohorts, across states with high versus low baseline iodine deficiency. Income increased by 11%; labor force participation rose 0.68 percentage points; and full-time work went up 0.9 percentage points due to increased iodine availability. These impacts were largely driven by changes in the economic outcomes of young women. In later adulthood, both men and women had higher family incomes due to iodization.

As a philanthropist, Joy Morton went on to do wonderful things with his fortune. But none of those things were as wonderful as what he did for people when he started selling iodized salt. And that’s why he deserves the Al.

Collin Hitt is an assistant professor in the department of medical education at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

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Proposition 305 Delayed the Modernization of the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Program

October 30, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Auditor General has performed an update on their review of the Arizona Department of Education’s administration of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. Back in 2016, the Auditor General found a number of deficiencies in the Department’s oversight of the program. Two years later, they find…many of the same shortcomings. Given the proximity of a public vote on ESA eligibility and administrative modernization, this is basically like pouring a bucket of chum in shark infested waters. Overreaction is guaranteed, despite the fact that the funds discussed represent less than 1% of the total. The greatest irony here is that the bill that the Save Our Schools group placed on the ballot (thus either delaying or killing depending upon the will of the voters) took robust steps to improve the administration of the program.

ESAs are complex programs to administer, and bless their hearts the Arizona Department of Education volunteered to be the first to try. The Arizona Republic’s story on the Auditor General update includes push-back from the outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas on the Auditor General update:

State schools Superintendent, Diane Douglas said the misspending of the voucher money is the result of decisions by the Republican-controlled Legislature to deny her department money needed to properly administer the program. Douglas said lawmakers resist properly funding oversight because they want a private entity to oversee it.

“If you’re not willing to put the resources into the oversight, then it doesn’t happen appropriately,” Douglas told The Arizona Republic on Monday. 

She said her staff has “done a phenomenal job with the lack of resources.”

She criticized the audit for glossing over the Legislature’s failure to properly fund oversight.

That’s a story but not a credible one. From the outset, the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Program has included fees for management companies as an allowable expense for accounts. While the Arizona Department of Education had no experience in managing multi-vendor accounts, there are in fact multiple private firms which have gone up and down the learning curve of managing (for instance) health savings accounts. Other states with ESA programs have contracted with these firms in order to build digital platforms so that both administrators and parents can view accounts and account transactions in real-time. They’ve also developed methodologies to prevent misspending of account funds from occurring. They do this for a very modest fee. These platforms also collect user reviews to help inform the decisions of other parents- which is the only plausible way to hold, for instance, an occupational therapist or online education provider accountable for performance.

What was requested of the department repeatedly and I know this because I myself personally all but begged them to do this on multiple occasions- was to have them hire one of these firms so as to radically improve the administration of the program. The parents would have received superior program that was easier to use, misuse of funds could be dramatically curtailed, and transparency improved. Everyone wins, and you can see this underway in Florida, where the main Gardiner Scholarship administrator (Step Up for Students) has contracted with SAP Ariba to create such a platform.

I interpreted the feedback I received as “Nah man- hold my beer! We’ve GOT THIS!” No wait I think what I was actually told was “the Superintendent is suspicious of outside vendors” which translated in practice to approximately the same outcome. In any case since then the Department’s administration of the program has looked something like:

Notice that this is not a bureaucratic turf issue. The avenue allowed left the Department of Education in charge of the program. Any outside vendor would have reported directly to them, and they could tell them what to do and hire/fire them at will within the normal confines of state contracting. The great advantage here is that these firms have decades of experience in navigating these waters and there are multiple players in the space that could compete if the state created an RFP.

The complaint about under funding of administration also rings hollow because as previous reporting from the Republic established the Department failed to spend the resources allocated for program administration by leaving funded FTE spots open. If you don’t spend the funds appropriated for you, then you don’t get to complain that you needed more funds. And by the way, the private firms with plentiful experience in managing account based program could have been funded for a very modest fee by the account holders, and would have not needed to subtract from the funds the department didn’t in any case fully spend.

Oh but it gets better.

Arizona SB 1431 from the 2017 session included a large number of items to improve the administration of the program and to increase transparency. You can read a list of these items here. In evident despair of the Department modernizing the program administration, the legislature (wisely imo) included these provisions:

Directs ADE to post on its website information and data that are updated monthly regarding ESAs that includes the following:

a)info on all purchases and expenditures made with ESA monies that does not violate the personal privacy of any student or family and that includes only aggregate date;

b)the number of enrolled students disaggregated by eligibility; and

c)any other information or data that may be pertinent to promoting transparency and accountability of the ESA program.

and…

Requires, rather than allows, the Treasurer to contract with private financial management firms to manage ESAs and directs ADE to cooperate with the Treasurer and the contracted firm.

The collection of signatures against SB 1431 by the Save Our Schools group at minimum delayed the modernization of the program in the form of Prop. 305. If the yes vote prevails, SB 1431 will take effect, whereas if no prevails it’s back to the drawing board. The polls on this provision have been mixed, and at the time of this writing it seems the proposition could go either way. Regardless of what happens at the ballot, it remains abundantly clear that program administration must be modernized.

Just as a reminder, this is the same Arizona Department of Education which mis-allocated $85,000,000 in federal title I and IDEA funds, giving some schools too much while short-changing other schools. The “blame the legislature” trick also doesn’t work here as the positions that allocate funding are funded by Uncle Sam (like every other state) but one doesn’t read stories about Montana, Oregon or (fill in the blank here) managing to make a mess of these sorts of things.

Note that the response to this has never been nor should it be “If the Department can’t administer Title I we should just get rid of it!!!!” but I’m fairly confident that I could go on to twitter right now to find this argument being made with hypocritical gusto. In fact I fear I could find this double standard being applied by the very people who delayed the modernization of the program. It’s a neat trick to prevent the implementation of solutions while continuing to complain about the problems. Let’s see what happens next.

 


Religious Schools and Science

October 30, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this deluge of Al nominees to bring you . . . something about education! Namely this post at OCPA about why religious private schools can teach science so well. The main reason is that religious people’s beliefs about science are not very different from everyone else’s:

This is partly because the extent to which less-religious people “believe in science” is overrated. Consult your daily horoscope for guidance on whether secular reason and revealed religion are the only belief systems in modern America. Don’t worry, if you can still find a newspaper, you’ll have no trouble finding a horoscope—nearly every U.S. paper has printed them for generations, in spite of unanimous opposition to astrology from the world religions. If you’re a Libra, you can weigh the evidence and find that secular Americans are imperfectly rational. If you’re an Aquarius, you can pour cold water on the illusions of secular rationality. If you’re a Gemini, you can pour it twice.

The more important factor, however, is that ignorant people have vastly understated the extent to which religious people and institutions in the modern world “believe in science.” None of the foundational commitments of science—that nature works regularly, that the human mind is capable of discovering and describing that regularity—are in conflict with religion. That is why all the world religions have embraced modern science; indeed, the Christian assumption that nature and the human mind were made by a rational God was, historically, an essential precondition for the emergence of modern science.

Belief that miracles have sometimes occurred is no hindrance to science. On the contrary, you can’t believe in miracles as exceptions to the ordinary course of nature until you believe that the ordinary course of nature is rational and regular. And you can’t believe miracles serve to demonstrate visibly to their observers that nature is being disrupted—which is what miracles are for in the first place—unless you believe that the human mind is capable of knowing the regularity of nature (and hence knowing when it has been disrupted). Belief in miracles, far from contradicting the view that nature is regular and that we can know its regularity, presuppose this view.

The underlying problem for the way we think about this, unsurprisingly, is that people are more concerned with advancing their view of religion than with getting their facts straight:

These observations force us to recognize that we have to do better at distinguishing two questions. One is whether people ought to “believe in science” given their worldview, and the other is whether those people do in fact “believe in science.” Whatever you think about what people ought to believe, as a point of empirical fact the relationship between people’s beliefs about religion and their beliefs about science simply does not justify the confident assertions made about these beliefs.

Let me know what you think!


For The Al: The Rock of Chickamauga, George Henry Thomas

October 25, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

As the prospect of civil war loomed in 1860, southern partisans in the U.S. Army began shuffling commands around, to put all the southern-born officers together. That way, they could work and train together, forming relationships, cohesion and teamwork that they could take with them together in the event of secession. And when the break did come, half those southern-born officers did in fact leave together.

Among those who did not was the man with three first names: George Henry Thomas.

Here’s a Civil War story you don’t know and need to: Over 100,000 white southerners, known as Southern Unionists or Southern Loyalists (as well as Yankees, Scalawags and Tories among their detractors, alongside less printable names) served in the Union army during the Civil War. Every southern state except South Carolina contributed at least a full battalion to the Union. Tennessee alone produced 42,000 loyal men to fight for the Stars and Stripes.

If there is ever going to be healing for the still-festering wounds of the Civil War, it will come when we who hail from the South are ready to admit that the Cause was wrong. That will be a hard pill to swallow; clearly we are not yet ready to swallow it. One thing that will make it much easier will be if we learn to tell the stories of the many thousands of southerners who knew better than to be taken in by the Cause.

If you asked the Southern Unionists why they were fighting for the North, they’d have told you they weren’t fighting for the North. They were fighting for the Union.

Among that roll of honor, Major General George Henry Thomas – son of Virginia – stands head and shoulders above the rest. “Old George H. Thomas is in command of the cavalry of the enemy,” wrote J.E.B. Stuart to his wife. “I would like to hang, hang him as a traitor to his native state.” The two had studied together at West Point.

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Why does Thomas deserve The Al? Let me count the ways:

1. Thomas brought the Union’s disastrous early losing streak to a close by winning its first strategically significant victory, at Mill Springs, Ky. on January 18, 1862. He was in a position to do so because his prowess and natural leadership (his men identified with him as a fellow “soldier’s soldier” yet also looked up to him as “Pap Thomas”) were so much in evidence that between April and August of 1861 he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel, then colonel, then brigadier general. At Mill Springs, he broke the Confederate hold on Kentucky, and – probably even more important in the long run – delivered a much-needed morale boost. It’s hard to overstate how shocking the loss at First Bull Run and the series of subsequent defeats were for the Union. It became an open question whether the Union might make terms and quit. Mill Springs shored up political support to see the war through.

2. At the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863, commanding Union general William Rosecrans – whose commission had been backdated so he could fake seniority and get promoted to that command ahead of Thomas – committed a major tactical blunder, and Union lines collapsed. Confederate troops charged in, and the defeat threatened to turn into a rout from which the campaign might not recover. Thomas held his ground, inspiring his troops to stay and bear the brunt of the attack, in order to provide cover for the rest of the Union forces at Chickamauga to organize a retreat. A message runner (future U.S. President James Garfield) informed Rosecrans that Thomas was “standing like a rock.” The Army of the Cumberland was saved, and Rosecrans was removed from command in favor of Thomas. He led the Cumberland to a dramatic reversal of fortunes, culminating in a decisive Union victory in November in the Chattanooga Campaign. (Ironically, the climactic battle was won in part by dumb luck.) The Union gained permanent control of Tennessee and strategic dominance of the entire western theater, as well as the staging point from which Sherman’s Atlanta campaign would be launched and supported the next year. Thomas was known forever after as The Rock of Chickamauga.

3. After the Chattanooga Campaign, a chaplain asked Thomas if the Confederate dead should be buried separately by state. “No, mix ’em up,” said Thomas. “I’m tired of states’ rights.”

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Special $5 Treasury note honoring Thomas, 1890

4. When John Hood found he could not directly stop Sherman’s march to Atlanta, he turned around what was left of his Army of Tennessee and tried to cut off Sherman’s lines of communication to the Union stronghold in Chattanooga, hoping to draw Sherman off to fight him. But when Hood got to Tennessee, he found The Rock of Chickamauga – who was once his teacher at West Point – waiting for him. Thomas smashed the Army of Tennessee so hard that it ceased to exist; its few remaining men dispersed and joined themselves to other Confederate forces. Thomas earned yet another nickname, The Sledge of Nashville, and a very-long-overdue promotion to major general. (“I suppose it is better late than never,” he commented. “I earned this at Chickamauga.”)

5. After the war, with much of the South in desperate, starvation-level poverty, Thomas sent generous financial assistance to his two sisters living there. They sent the money back, declaring that it must have been sent to them by mistake, as they had no brother.

6. One of the main reasons the wounds of the war have not healed is the vast superiority of southerners as storytellers. Our national memory of the war has been disproportionately shaped by the way the South has told its own story, for the simple reason that northerners, in general, can’t tell a story worth a nickel. Thomas saw what was happening early on; he sounded the alarm in 1868:

The greatest efforts made by the defeated insurgents since the close of the war have been to promulgate the idea that the cause of liberty, justice, humanity, equality and all the calendar of the virtues of freedom, suffered violence and wrong when the effort for southern independence failed. This is, of course, intended as a species of political cant, whereby the crime of treason might be covered with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand in hand with the defenders of the government, thus wiping out with their own hands their own stains; a species of self-forgiveness amazing in its effrontery, when it is considered that life and property—justly forfeited by the laws of the country, of war and of nations—through the magnanimity of the government and people was not exacted from them.

Alas, that was one battle with the Confederacy he was destined to lose.

7. Thomas spent the postwar years overseeing the military government of various regions of the South under Reconstruction, and in particular suppressing the Klan. He set up military courts that would enforce labor contracts for black citizens who couldn’t get redress in civilian courts.

8. He retired to upstate New York and was buried there. None of his blood relatives attended his funeral.

For the honor of the Union and the South: The Rock of Chickamauga for The Al.

Image HTs – color, b/w, T-note


For The Al: Adam Butler and Autumn Thomasson

October 24, 2018

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Those of us interested in markets often use the childhood experience of running a lemonade stand to illustrate how business can be a school of virtue. In recent years, unfortunately, we have been more likely to point to the shutting down of lemonade stands as an example of how overbearing regulation is stifling the entrepreneurial spirit in our culture, destroying this and other traditional rites of passage like teenage summer jobs.

This summer, though, we got a delightful surprise. Under the leadership of Adam Butler, general manager of beverages and nuts for Kraft Heinz, Country Time Lemonade introduced the awesomeness of “Legal-Ade.” It’s a system of financial and legal support, covering permits and fines up to $300, to help kids like Autumn Thomasson keep their lemonade stands open over the summer. They also donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which helps kids and families run lemonade stands to raise money for cancer research.

It’s also the rockingest advertisement I have seen in a long time. “TASTES LIKE JUSTICE!” Wish I knew that actor’s name, I’d add him to the nomination.

Is it even legal for corporations to get this creative and take a risk standing up to the regulatory state for their customers? Aren’t they required to run to the corner and cower in fear, promising to do whatever the state demands?

Because if they’re not . . . our big corporations are run by cowards.

And they’re probably leaving a lot of money on the table, too. You think this aid program paid for itself in increased sales for Country Time? I’d bet you more than a glass of lemonade it did.

Why do I think so? Here’s one reason. Adam Butler says: “Legal-Ade will be back next year, helping support kids’ rights to run lemonade stands! We look forward to kicking off year two of the program and helping more kids next year.”

Watch out, lemon protection rackets. Autumn has backup.

For bringing lemonade to the world, having a ton of fun mocking PLDD lemon thugs, and making an honest buck doing it all, I nominate Adam Butler and Autumn Thomasson for The Al.


For The Al: Eric Lundgren

October 23, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Since June 15, Eric Lundgren has been in prison. His crime: Downloading software onto computer disks for his customers instead of making them do it themselves – which many of them couldn’t do, leading to unnecessary abandonment of perfectly good computers (filled with delightful chemicals) into our landfills. His sentence: 15 months in prison.

In the spirit of honoring noble scofflaws like Al winner Wim Nottroth and UX (who played Valjean to Higgy winner Pascal Monnet’s Javert), I nominate Eric Lundgren for The Al.

This is not Lundgren’s first run-in with the powers. His first arrest was at age 14, when he panicked and fled from a police cruiser trying to pull him over for driving a not-entirely-street-legal go kart he had made with a lawn mower motor and a boombox.

Since then he’s put his ability to repurpose parts to more productive use. He became a millionaire tech entrepreneur finding a variety of ways to reuse electronic devices and components rather than let them rot. Some of these have been lucrative, some charitable, and some both at the same time. He launched the first “electronic hybrid recycling” facility in the United States, turning old cell phones and stuff back into useable devices. This serves the poor (who can get devices cheaper), saves the environment (chemicals in phone batteries are nothing to mess with) and, hey, put a buck into Lundgren’s pocket, too.

He once built an electronic car out of discarded parts that out-distanced Tesla’s car on a single charge. And don’t forget the troops – his company once donated 14,000 cell phones to military personnel deployed overseas, where I bet they were grateful to be able to make a call home.

His trouble with the law – this time – springs from his having manufactured a “restore disk” that you could use to restore your software after a crash. One thing he provided on the disk was a copy of Microsoft software to re-install. He found that many customers either were, or felt (which amounts to the same thing) unable to restore this software themselves, and perfectly restorable computers were being thrown out in favor of new purchases because customers couldn’t get their old ones to work.

Now, let’s be clear about four indisputable facts:

  1. Lundgren was not authorized to download the software, so he did break the law – as he admitted by pleading guilty (though he appealed the jail sentence as excessive).
  2. The disks could not be used on a computer that did not already have a paid-up license for the software, and anyone with a paid-up license is allowed to re-download the software for free, so Lundgren didn’t cost Microsoft a single thin dime that it was ethically entitled to.
  3. Microsoft wanted this case prosecuted because they wanted to collect sales revenue by getting people to dump perfectly good computers in our landfills so they’d have to buy new computers with new software.
  4. Only a coward or idiot of a prosecutor would charge a case like this.

There’s nothing wrong with making a buck as you do good for the world. But there is something wrong with making a buck by not doing good for the world. And there is a whole lot wrong with sending a man to jail for 15 months so a company can make a buck off actively harming its own customers.

I’m proud to nominate Eric Lundgren for The Al.

Image HT


Baby Baby DARLING You’re the WEST!

October 22, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


So I decided to see how the charter sectors of the Top 10 rated charter laws in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools would look in a cohort gain chart compared to the Cactus Patch. The top ten (in order) are Indiana, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, DC, Florida and Kentucky. The above chart shows 4th grade math and reading scores from 2013, and then 8th grade math and reading scores from 2017-when the 4th grade cohort from 2013 were 8th graders.

Sadly of these states NAEP only reports charter student scores for Colorado, DC, Florida and Minnesota. You have to have a minimum number of students before the NAEP will report scores, and mind you that you can find male Asian scores in some states. It’s a mixed bag with the non-reporting states- some of the laws are old and just not very active in producing “charter schools” (Indiana) and others are young and not very active at producing charter schools (Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and especially Kentucky). When they do open schools they are going to be AMAZING– as in I’ll have to extend the axis scales on these charts. For now I’ve included them clearly in the above charts as very dark dots. What? Can’t see them? Not to worry just squint hard and use your imagination.

I’m fond of the charter sectors in all of the remaining top 10 states (i.e. the four with actual schools) in different ways. Colorado is a fellow member of the Wild West, Florida is an honorary member, DC charters clearly do better than DC districts despite getting about half of the funding and few of the families with both parents having law degrees, and Minnesota kicked off the charter school movement.

I think that all of these charter sectors have majority minority student populations with the exception of Colorado. I’ll let you decide whether Colorado’s higher 4th grade scores or Arizona larger gains and higher 8th grade scores qualifies as most impressive, but either way darlings you’re the west best!