Personalized Education Analysis
Parents and teachers talk mastery education and their perceptions about its concepts
Cam’s Main Takeaways
- Teachers hear about mastery education way more and understand it way better than school parents, other parents, or non-parents. Not really that surprising.
- Despite how much more teachers know about mastery education, it’s remarkable to me that their perceptions and answers were so similar to the other groups of respondents. People reacted very positively to the ideas behind this approach.
- Most of our respondents think that mastery education could be offered to every student in Idaho as quickly as 5 years from now. To me that sounds wildly optimistic (but great!).
Table of Contents
- How Analysis Posts Work
- Personalized Education Survey
- Sample Demographics
- Have kids? In school? Teacher?
- Hear about mastery education?
- Understand mastery education?
- Satisfactory graduation rate?
- Would student ownership help?
- Grade on comprehension or behaviors?
- Individual or class pace?
- Should everyone have access?
- Would you have learned more?
- How expensive?
- Timeline until available to any student?
- What gets too much attention?
- What doesn’t get enough attention?
- Don’t buy it? Make it better.
How Analysis Posts Work
In our analysis, we take a deeper look at our survey results and highlight the patterns and insights we see under the surface using segmentation across meaningful demographics (like age, gender, and location). These are the things we think are interesting, and we make them public so everyone can learn.
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Personalized Education Survey
Education is the top public policy issue in Idaho. And recent governor task forces have recommended a bold shift to improve it: mastery-based learning. Many states are exploring this, and Idaho has a pilot program underway as a proof of concept. Leaders want to know what you think about its concepts.
Here are our survey questions and results, and below’s what I found most interesting.
Whenever you look at survey results or findings, it’s a good idea to check the demographics of the respondents — that can have a lot to do with whether the results are likely to reflect a broad population, or just a niche group. This survey was distributed to our subscribers via email, through Facebook via targeted ads, and was shared by subscribers as well.
At analysis time, we had 352 total responses. There were more women participating than men, more young parent -aged respondents (30s and 40s), and more participation from Ada county.
(One other thing to keep in mind — this is an opt-in survey, which means respondents decided whether or not they wanted to participate. I expect participants are more interested in this topic than others, so our results may not represent the views of an “average” Idahoan.)
Have kids? In school? Teacher?
First things first, demographics. Besides the standard Make Idaho Better demographics (gender, age, county), there were several others that we needed for this topic: children, children currently in school, and whether you’re a teacher. See the overall results below.
Half of the respondents were parents, most of those had kids in school, and we have a small, but substantial number of teachers that participated in the survey (60, 17%). These are the types of groups I’m going to want to compare, but I wanted to consolidate these questions into one dimension to use for handy segmentation.
Here’s what I came up with. Teachers (the most knowledgable folks about education), School Parents (second-most knowledgable), Parents without kids in school, and “not parents.”
We’re going to use these categories to see if groups are answering the same or differently, depending on the question.
Hear about mastery education?
First of all, I wanted to know if mastery is on people’s radar. I gauged that by asking how often people remember hearing about it.
Overall, roughly half of the respondents reported hearing about it “not at all often.” This would also include the folks that have never heard of it at all (maybe I should have included that option).
And there’s a decreasing amount of people that have heard about it at each frequency. “Not so often” is less than “Not at all often,” “Somewhat often” is less than that, etc, etc.
But let’s see if the respondent groups answer this differently. I’d guess that the teachers hear about it much more often than the parents.
Yup! Definitely. Roughly 70% of teachers hear about it “Somewhat often” or at a higher frequency than that. Only about 10% hear about it “Not at all often” (I wonder if those are private school teachers that aren’t affected by public school policies)?
And School Parents have heard of it more than parents that don’t have kids in schools and people that don’t have kids, but not by a lot.
Understand mastery education?
Ok, so maybe you’ve heard about it, but do you feel like you understand it?
Overall, it’s similar to the last chart — the most popular answer was that they understand it “Not at all well,” and for the most part, there were less and less people that understand it at higher levels.
But, I’m curious if people that have it on their radar more feel like they understand it better. Let’s check!
Absolutely. as we move from left (hearing about it “Not at all often”) to the right (“Extremely often”), you see a bigger and bigger green area, indicating higher levels of understanding. In fact, everyone that said they hear about it extremely often said they understand it at least “very well.”
But what about those respondent groups we put together? Do we think teachers understand this better than parents? I sure hope so!
Definitely the case for those we heard from. It looks pretty similar to the previous question — teachers know the most, school parents know a bit more than other parents, and other parents and non-parents answered pretty much the same way.
Satisfactory graduation rate?
Ok, this question is meant to gauge expectations. Basically, how successful do we expect schools to be in an aggregate sense? The way that I thought would be helpful to do this was graduation rates. For context, Idaho’s average high school graduation rate is about 80%.
Overall, our respondents indicated that they expect much better than what we currently have when it comes to graduation rates. About 55% said 95% or higher, and <10% said 80% or lower is satisfactory.
From this view, I feel like everyone has higher expectations of what “good enough” looks like on graduation rates compared to what we currently have.
But what about by our respondent groups? Do teachers have higher or lower expectations? I’m not really sure what to expect.
Actually, there appears to be pretty much no difference on this question across the groups. Teacher perceptions are pretty much identical to everyone else. Interesting!
Would student ownership help?
Now, we’re going to get into some prescriptive elements of what mastery education is all about. First off, student ownership over subjects and pacing. I wanted to know if people think more student ownership is generally a good thing and would make kids engage and learn better.
Overall, a resounding yes. 65% responded in the affirmative, and <10% thought more student ownership would decrease engagement and comprehension.
Cool, but what about by our groups? Teachers and school parents would probably have a better read on this than other parents and non-parents.
Not much difference here either! It appears that the majority of each respondent group thinks more student ownership would help learning. And essentially at the same proportions, too, which is interesting.
Grade on comprehension or behaviors?
Next up, grades. Grades and testing is a super tricky subject, and I don’t even pretend to know all the considerations here. But, I do know that mastery is focused on grading students’ knowledge of the material, rather than their behaviors (doing their homework, passing a test, etc.). I don’t know how this works, but I wanted to hear whether people think this seems like a better idea or not.
Overall, many more responded positively (50%) to this rather than negatively (20%), but not to the same extent as the previous question.
I’m not sure why that is, but it’s interesting. Let’s see what teachers have to say about this, and whether it’s different than the other groups.
Everyone’s on the same page here as well — proportions of support for grading on knowledge over behaviors was consistent across the board. But maybe this question was just less clear to respondents compared to others? I don’t know…
Individual or class pace?
Alright, this is a big one — pacing. The simplest way people have described mastery education to me is that it’s “comprehension fixed, time variable” instead of the traditional model, which is opposite. It’s all about having the time and flexibility to learn things quickly that you take to naturally and/or enjoy, and taking more time on the things that are harder for you. This helps kids get ahead in some ways, and not get left behind in others.
Overall, people LOVED this idea. 75% of respondents agreed that an individual pace is better than the standard pace of the classroom. And about 13% disagreed.
It’s interesting to me that the number of disagreers isn’t changing much across these last few questions, but this question drove more of the undecided folks into the positive side.
What can our groups tell us?
Most people in each group are positive on this, but teachers seem the most positive and school parents are the second-most.
I think it’s safe to say this is popular.
Should everyone have access?
Ok, the last three questions gauged perceptions on the key components of mastery education, and averages ranged from mostly positive to extremely positive. Now, let’s gauge the scalability of this idea. Should everyone have access to this? Or does it make sense only in some cases?
Overall, about 72% said they think it should be accessible to every student. Only about 11% said it shouldn’t.
If there’s one thing I know people like in Idaho, it’s choices, so whether somebody is opposed to something or not, they like to have the option to choose.
What do our groups say?
They’re mostly on the same page. I think the only standout on this view is that school parents especially think it should be accessible to any student. I don’t blame them! They want their kid to get the best education possible, so they want to have the option.
Would you have learned more?
Now, we make it personal. Maybe this sounds good for students in general, but I wanted to know whether people thought they themselves would have learned more if they’d had mastery education.
Again, roughly 15% responded negatively to this, and we had quite a bit bigger group who’s not sure and answered “Maybe” (27%). About 60% said Yes or “Yes, absolutely.”
I think the big “Maybe” group here indicates that people still aren’t so sure they know what this mastery deal is all about, so maybe is a safer way to answer.
But teachers know a lot about this. What do they think?
They’re really positive, about as positive as everyone else.
Ok, so I feel pretty comfortable at this point in saying that people like these ideas a lot. But, an improvement in education always sounds great when it’s not attached to a price tag. I wanted to know how expensive they think it would be to offer this kind of education system to every student in Idaho.
Overall, the most popular answer was “Somewhat expensive” (35%). I actually expected people to think this sounded super expensive, and we’d see most votes in the “Extremely expensive” category, but that was only 18%.
What do our groups have to say?
Again, they’re pretty much all in agreement on this, proportionally. School parents seem to think it’d be the least expensive out of all the categories. Not sure why that is. It could just be noise in the data, of course.
Timeline until available to any student?
Now, we talk timelines. Given what our respondents know about Idaho’s education system, and what they’d considered regarding mastery education, I wanted to know how quickly people think this could be an option for every student.
Overall, most people though it could be available to every student in 5 years or less (60%).
What?! People think we can fundamentally change how every school works in 5 years?! I’ve worked in a bureaucracy before and have seen how long it can take to send an email, let alone shift the entire system fundamentally.
When I talked to a local expert in mastery education, their estimate was 35–40 years before every student has the option to do mastery education. Only 5% of our respondents had that estimation.
Maybe people were just trying to be optimistic? — I did ask how quickly it “could be” offered. Maybe for some people that meant if we cut red tape and pulled out all the stops. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person I talked to would say 11–20 years in that scenario.
But what do most of our teachers think? They know what it’s like to shift the course of the education ship.
They’re actually just as optimistic as everyone else. Proportionally, they answered “1–2 years” a bit less, but their “5 years or less” rate was as high as any of the other groups.
I’m curious what my expert friend knows that all these teachers don’t…
Lots of interesting comments, as usual. I’ve highlighted several that I think are particularly thought-provoking or representative, and I’ve bolded key phrases to help you skim.
What gets too much attention?
I have 4 children and 10 grandchildren.7 are in Idaho schools. I worked in the Nampa school district for more than ten years. I find too much attention placed on the big testing, not enough on the everyday learning of relevant materials. We also need to get back to teaching trades, not everyone is a college prodigy, we need mechanics, pipe fitters, plumbers, electricians, they are educated often in another way not typical college campuses.
Lawmakers faking interest in helping. They can’t say they want better education and more tax cuts at the same time. The math just doesn’t work that way. Idaho does very well when controlled for funding, but we still need more. Teacher pay is too low, but not critically so. We need more funding to the schools.
I do not want kids learning on computers. They need human teachers, need to work with other kids. What you all call personalized learning is a way to cut the costs of having human teachers. Fuck you. Fuck your computer “personalized learning”.
Testing. Kids will do just fine if we stop stressing over it. You can’t hold someone else accountable for the decisions of another person. Teachers can lead students to water but can never force them to drink. Teachers burn out when our livelihood is based on someone choices other than those in our control.
How students and teachers DO NOT live up to some preconceived, prepackaged, standardized norms and that we are constantly “failing” no matter what we do.
New models of education. I attended an OR public high school as it transitioned to a mastery model, and it made almost no difference in outcomes. The good students still succeeded, the poor students still fell behind. Teacher quality makes a difference, but so does student quality. In addition to differences in intelligence, there are even wider disparities in attitude toward school, self-discipline, and family support.
The constant focus on the latest and greatest band wagon. Teachers have little time to catch a breath before the next new snake oil is rolled out. Top down decision making is detrimental and costly. Put education in the hands of those who are best at it-teachers, rather than administrators and definitely not elected officials.
Extracurricular activities and before / after school programs. Schools should not be government-provided childcare, and most extracurriculars are a distraction from learning. Learning can be improved without additional funding if parents will take some ownership, and if schools are allowed to enforce discipline.
Curriculum. It seems like we argue about what goes into deviations from national curriculum standards in Idaho more than other states. For example, currently they are arguing about opting-in for sex education instead of having it as a standard. Previous years there has been arguments about studying creationism vs. evolution.
Developmental children. One size fits all approach for all children doesn’t work in my opinion. If a kid wants to read another book let him. The point is that they like and want to read not that they read one book. Yes and check understanding.
Test results. Testing is not an accurate measurement of a school’s success, and shouldn’t be tied to teacher salaries. I understand the need to quantify for the state’s budget, but standardized tests don’t really paint an accurate picture.
That we are doing just fine which is the farthest from the truth. We need to try no ways to educate our children. Idaho is 25 years behind in a lot of things, let’s be the leaders in education across this country.
Testing and paperwork. Too much standardized testing without a clear understanding of children and how they learn. I was an elementary sp. ed. teacher for 26 years. Paperwork was the bane of my existence. I got into teaching to TEACH, not do mounds of paperwork. If we turn to “personalized teaching,” how much time would be spent taking data and doing paperwork rather than actual teaching?
Sex ed has become ridiculously socialized and convoluted. It’s not the schools responsibility to teach these concepts outside of family values and parental teaching.
I understand that homework can be an excessive and unnecessary stressor for kids, but from a college prep standpoint, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t exist at all. More and more colleges have moved from a lecture-based format (where you determine what you need to study outside of class) to a more collaborative format with lots of discussion, group work, and preparation — that means homework, including reading and writing for almost every class! Homework, when given, should be thoughtful, meaningful, and manageable (developmentally appropriate). The challenge of making learning developmentally appropriate for every child means personalizing aspects of education, but the idea of homework should not be thrown away altogether. From a job preparation standpoint, it’s the work you do, not what you know, that gets you paid. This comes back again to making the homework meaningful.
Standardized testing. Tests are no real way to test someone’s knowledge and much like students learn different ways, they also demonstrate their knowledge differently. And no way in hell should teachers be paid based on how their students test. I’ve heard that idea thrown around and it is just idiotic.
Teachers not getting paid enough to support their families or their classroom environment. Also, standardized testing.
Personalization gets a lot of attention but seems cost prohibitive. There is also the irony that the most personalized you can get would actually be to avoid public school altogether and homeschool.
I know someone in a high school that is doing mastery based classes. She has talked about how everyone thinks it’s a good idea to do this “individual learning” and mastery based grading, but in practice it isn’t working. Is very difficult to work without hard deadlines, so is easy to fall behind. Teachers still teach the same, so in content that builds on itself it is very difficult since a student may be trying to master an earlier idea and fall behind what is being taught in the classroom never to catch up. At the end of the first semester, nearly all of the students were struggling to complete the exams and projects so they could pass their classes.
Higher education. Currently, students, starting as early as junior high, are told they have to go to college to be successful after high school. That is not the case — those who go into trades, especially after high school, can be very successful (and financially stable!).
Students guiding their own education. While I believe that students should be a part of their educational process, I do not think we should sacrifice aspects of education for the individual, or for “experiential learning”. Not every student has the capability to guide themselves down a path they do not know. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that can cheat people out of their education when they are not able to learn from professionals. I believe people have the ability to rise to the challenge, and if you let students fully guide themselves, most students will simply meet expectations (and that is ok!). I had this experience in grad school where we set our individual curriculum/grades for the class, and most of us walked out of these feeling cheated out of that class. We came to learn from an expert, with the humility of knowing that we don’t know everything, and were shut down. That’s not empowering, that cheating someone of opportunity.
Education nowadays focuses too much on coddling the egos of the students rather than preparing them for the real world. Classrooms with self-paced learning modules.
Cost and waste. I almost always hear people taking about “just cut the waste they have plenty of money,” but rarely does anyone specifically identify what this wasteful spending is that could be cut.
How changing curriculum or mode of delivery, i.e. personalized education, can make a difference in outcomes. Typical educators trying to affect change when they can’t improve outcomes on any of them. Idaho education system is fine, better than most. Increasing graduation rates is both a function of program and easing up grading to “pass” more kids through the system. With self pacing comes parent complaining that junior isn’t getting moved along as fast as his peers. We have that already.
Public School. We homeschool our children. As a graduate of the public school system, there was so much repetition and so LITTLE personalization. I was utterly bored with school by the time I was a freshman, and as such, I failed 2 english classes because the material was no different than what I had been taught in 5th grade. My senior year I took 4 semesters of English to make up for it & graduated with a 3.0.
What doesn’t get enough attention?
We teach too many subjects including classes such “interunit”. My children rarely complete lessons at school within the time allotted. School is a hectic and almost schizophrenic experience.
Teacher development. Help us apply the research. Give us TIME to use the new information to change our practice to be amazing teachers.
All the aspects of a child that go into the ability to learn; what a “day in the life” of a student or teacher is really like; the giant class sizes; the changing norm of families and culture; the need to change educational opportunities and set ups to better meet the needs of a society that has evolved and changed greatly over the last one hundred years yet our schools still operate on this system; the need to change and restructure the way education is delivered to keep up with what we understand about brain development
The amount of standards we are asked to teach to mastery. The multiple level of learns we have in class, including those new to the country. Many people don’t realize the large population of refugee students we have (at all grade levels).
Learning Styles. I know that their are 4 types of learners. Visual; auditory; Reading & Writing; Kinesthetics. Wouldn’t it be great for all public school to offer public education based on the way a person learns verses one size fits all….
The amazing work teachers do. I don’t agree with allowing students to have too much freedom of choice. They don’t have the maturity to always see the big picture. I didn’t understand how math could help me in life. I got stuck on what a widget was and not what the thought process a problem could teach me. We have to have some standards but not just teach to the test. It’s a hard balance.
Regular students and advanced students. As a teacher I have almost no materials or time to spend with them giving them what they need because I spend the majority’s of my time with the students who are significantly behind.
Gifted and talented children. There used to be funding in Sandpoint for children who excelled but now there are no programs for them. Children that learn above their grade level should get as much support as children who struggle.
Ways parents can prepare children for success in the home, from birth onward. (Read to them, make time daily for reading out loud practice once they start school until end of third grade. ( Read classics or books of interest as a family, show excitement for learning new things, etc)
Mastery of facts, not theories. Literature that requires in-depth understanding of how to think not what to think at age appropriate levels. Phonics from day one. Old fashioned math, not new math which parents are unable to understand nor help their children to understand. Life skills such as how to save money, how money works in our banking system, lending and transaction practices such as owning property, interest, and debt usage. The ability to write so others can read and understand what the writer is trying to get across.
Recess and reading. Schools across the country are implementing more recess time and more reading programs with direct correlation to higher student success rates. Our schools need to work smarter. Also, later start times for high schools have also shown increased academic performance in grades 9–12.
Professional development that teaches teachers to integrate interest driven instruction with differentiation in curriculum
The value of a strong public education where students learn to interact with each other and to accept and work with those diverse students, including special needs students.
Teachers simply need unfettered time in the classroom. Time to plan, think, be creative, perhaps share ideas with a colleague, definitely not attend a meeting, “professional development,” or group read a book.
Teachers! We need better qualified, highly educated teachers to be in all our schools. When teachers have to work two jobs to make ends meet, there’s a huge problem. Pay our teachers more and attract talent from all over the country. Education has to be a priority and improve soon!
Pushing students, higher expectations. We don’t need kids who know deadlines aren’t real cause they can always turn in late work without penalty. Not giving kids deadlines and learning at their own pace will make the kids who care learn more and the kids who don’t care learn less. If you are going to do self paced you need smaller classroom sizes. Kuna high school did self-paced for some of their science classes when I was a student but we spent most of our time waiting for the teacher to instruct us when we needed help or approve us to move on. Idaho doesn’t give the funding for smaller classroom sizes needed for self paced learning
Real life connection and application of skills as well as the social, problem solving, conflict management and multi-age association skills required in real world employment.
It deeply troubles me to see kids getting a minimum of 50% credit for missing assignments. They should not get any credit if they didn't even attempt to do the work. This is showing our children that they can get a better grade for not even trying, as opposed to trying and doing a poor job. I would love to see more life skills taught in our schools, like gardening and home-economics.
Learning verses education. Individual mastery of clearly define Learning Objectives using individualized programs independent of time.
There is no way to divorce what’s going on in a child’s home life with how they present at school. Some are hungry, some are cold, some are tired, etc. I don’t know the answer to accommodating for this, it’s just something that needs to be reconciled.
Students. Public schools currently seem like students fall through the cracks — they can’t get access to their school counselors for guidance on classes or life after college. If post-high school education seems out of reach in high school, nothing will encourage students and families to go on.
Financial preparedness, integrated maths, integrated science, applied physics, reading and phonics. Homeschoolers are Already Doing mastery individualized learning plans, delight-led learning, and these things I just mentioned. This is exactly how I have home-educated all of my children through graduation.
Teacher burnout. Teachers are the most essential education resource, but they’re treated as if they are lazy, under-qualified, and entitled. Class sizes grow, resources shrink, and few realize that our teachers are not only highly trained educators, but take on the role of counselor, nurse, supporter, and general everything to their students in addition to supporting their own kids at home. A teacher in a rural or poor school might have to make sure her/his students are fed, safe, have a place to sleep, and other needs are met. This is in addition to trying to actually teach.
Learning about personal finance should be given much more weight than it is. How to do taxes, build credit, live on your income etc, should be taught each year of high school. More emphasis and value should be placed on trade schools. Not every student needs to be prepared for a 4 year degree when there are more skilled trade jobs than can be filled. Understanding of basic home repairs should be taught. Changing the washer on a leaky faucet should not be a mystery to anyone.
Every student learns at their own pace, whether you like it or not. If they’re struggling to keep up with your classroom, they normally stay behind until they catch up, or just skeet by superficially. If they’re learning faster than you expect them to, then they’ll busy themselves by learning other things on their own (or if they’re extra nice, they’ll work on teaching others). Neither of these students is enjoying classroom learning to the fullest, but they are learning at their own pace.
We think about the kids that we may be leaving behind when they are on the lower end, but we are also doing a disservice to the “gifted” kids who are bored because they are not being challenged. Only helping the masses perpetuates mediocrity. But really the only way to make this type of personalized education a reality is to invest in our teachers and have much smaller class sizes (like in the teens). It is not realistic for a teacher who is severely underpaid and unsupported by administration and often parents to build a relationship with 30 children in which they are expected to understand their unique skill level, how they learn, how best to support them, understand how their home life impacts their school experience, etc. etc. It amazes me how all the discussions about bettering the educational experience fail to address the literal instrument of education: the teachers. We barely have enough teachers as is, and unfortunately, the good ones leave the profession because they realize they are worth more.
The entire nation is falling behind in science and attitudes about science, so I guess my answer is STEM. But I want to add something here. With the strong anti-science attitudes that seem to be prevailing I see a danger to society. The anti-vaccination crowd seems to be growing, and at least a part of that group seems to be composed of well educated people. I don’t get that. So, I must wonder about critical thinking skills in that subset. Objective use of facts is critical to clear thinking. If people are stuck in belief systems that obstruct objectivity I see a danger to society at large. So, my point is this. Can there be a focus on objectivity?
Educator pay and teacher to student ratio. We can’t expect to maintain quality teachers without compensating them competitively. We also need to achieve the highest degree of personalization without unsustainably ballooning cost. Teacher to student ratio is one of the key ways to address that.
Students “summer slide”, how much review does it take in the first of the school year to get back to where they left off at the end of the previous year.
Mastery Education would be amazing — it would allow students who understand the material to move on, and those that aren’t quite there have the resources and time to fully understand it. Moving students on with a “passing grade” does not mean they are ready for the next level. However, with classrooms over capacity and only so many hours in a day available, schools cannot do this. They have to move everyone on so they can take on the next. This does not help the students nor the teachers — the mix of students not fully understanding the material and the students that have excelled create a challenge for the teacher to accommodate everyone while creating a learning environment.
I think people can get stuck on the “best way to educate” rather than the best way to prepare someone for adulthood. I think it is great that k-12 is having these conversations, but students are not isolated. These students have to prepare for college, sometimes post bacc programs, and eventually the professional world, and frankly, those worlds are not changing fast enough. So while it is great to see how we can better teach, I am not sure that some recommendations set up kids for the reality of the rest of their life, and the expectations and necessary skills that will be required of them.
No child left behind means teachers have historically not paid as much attention to the failing or below grade student. Personalized education will not change no child left behind. It sounds like the advanced students will be completing project-based learning with teacher check-ins while the struggling student will spend the majority of the time with the teacher. Behavior problems in the classroom take away from all students learning…how will Idaho address this?
Making school accessible for families where parents have to work. There should be a safe, supervised place for kids (on the school property) both before and after school. I would be OK to pay a fee to have my kids in one place, so that I can be to/from work at a reasonable time. Coming from a different country, I was shocked that this was not offered. I would bet that MANY parents would be willing to pay for this service
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