I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Correcting the Facts About NJ Charter Schools and My Research

I'm trying to keep this short because there are many other things that deserve my attention. But I feel compelled to respond to mischaracterizations of my work when they are directly affecting public policy, especially in my home state.

Last month, Newark Public Schools superintendent Roger León called for the NJ Education Commissioner, Lamont Repollet, to deny the renewals of four charter schools in the Newark city limits.

I'm going to hold off expressing any opinions about these specific renewals, or León's arguments about their impacts on the finances of NPS. Suffice to say that there is plenty of empirical evidence that small school districts -- which are, for all intents and purposes, what NJ charter schools are -- are not as efficient as larger ones. There is reason to believe, therefore, that small charter schools with redundant systems of administration can produce fiscal pressures on hosting public school districts, which have the obligation to fund charters. My own work in New Jersey shows how this pressure manifests, although the issue is complex. Again, we'll save a discussion of all this for later.

For now: León's letters to the commissioner refer to several pieces of research on charter schools, including a brief I wrote with Julia Sass Rubin: New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View - 2018 Update, Part I (2018). Here's how León characterized our work:
Research conducted at the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning & Policy shows that the proportion of special needs students has historically been far lower in charter schools than in district public schools. According to the Bloustein School's report, New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View, the percentage of students with special needs in Newark's District schools is approximately 40% higher than in Newark's charter schools, and the percentage of Newark students with high-cost disabilities is approximately 17% higher in District schools than in the District's charter schools. Even more startling, according to the same report, the percentage of students identified as English language learners is approximately 11 times greater in Newark's District schools than in the District's charter schools.
With all due respect to Superintendent León, let me correct him: the percentage of classified students with high-cost disabilities is 17 percentage points higher than that percentage in the charters.

Why does this matter? Federal law delineates 12 classifications of learning disability types. Of these, empirical research commissioned by the State of New Jersey shows that at least two of these types -- Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and Speech/Language Impairment (SPL) -- are "low-cost."* 

Imagine two school districts, each enrolling the same overall proportion of special education students. But one of the district's population of these students has higher-cost needs; in other words, they have the same percentage of classified students, but more of those students are designated as "autism" or "emotional disturbance" or "traumatic brain injury" than the second district. That district is obviously going to have more fiscal pressure to educate its students, because the cost of educating their students is greater.

As Julia and I showed in our report, this is exactly what's happening in Newark (and other NJ school districts).

Obviously, this is going to be a concern for NPS, which has to bear the costs of educating these children with higher-cost needs. It's an obvious point and it should be no surprise that Superintendent León is making it. So what's the problem? 

Well, a couple of pro-charter advocacy groups have stepped in to object to León's letters to the commissioner. And one of their objections, from the New Jersey Children's Foundation, calls into question our report.
Second, the report by anti-charter activist Julia Sass-Rubin, has already been discredited as under-counting high-need special education students at charter schools due to data suppression rules, and is not a disinterested academic paper, but rather was funded by anti-charter foundations.
That's it; that's everything in the letter attempting to debunk our work. The sole objection -- aside from our funding, which has nothing to do with our analysis itself -- is that we are "under-countin​g​ high-need special education students at charter schools​ due to data suppression rules."

Is it true?

I invite everyone to go to the 2016 Special Education Data page at the NJDOE website. You will, indeed, find a notification that data cells of 10 or less are suppressed. What you won't find is any specific notice of how this rule is applied -- and that's important.

Because if you drop down and click the "By Disability" link under the "Ages 6-21" column, you will get a spreadsheet that clearly does not suppress any cells, no matter how small the number is in those cells.** This is the dataset Julia and I used for our paper. I see no reason to doubt the veracity of these data: they are figures published by the NJDOE, available to all. What NJCF is asserting in their letter is not true -- we did not under-count high-need special education students at charter schools​.

Let's step back a minute from this minutia and instead think carefully about the issue. NJCF is saying that Julia and I are incorrect in stating that NPS's special education population has more students with high-cost needs than the special education population enrolled in the charter schools. The logical conclusion, then, is that the Newark charters*** are enrolling just as many kids with high-cost needs as NPS.

Does that make any sense to you?

NPS has a school specifically set up to serve deaf children, the Bruce Street School. No Newark charter school has anything even close. The Camden Street School has a series of programs for  Newark students with high-cost special needs that allow them to be integrated as much as possible with general education students, while still maintaining class sizes of 5 to 6 for instruction delivery that can't be done in a mainstream setting. There's no way small charter schools that were designed to enroll a mostly general education population could deliver the same services.

This is a rational policy choice on behalf of NPS: when a large district like Newark has children who have special needs that can't be met within a mainstreaming situation, bringing them all together from across the district makes sense. School districts do this all the time. But it's impractical to think a relatively small charter school can provide the same sort of instruction geared toward special education students with profound learning disabilities.

Let me be clear: that's not a knock on the charters. Of course we don't expect charter schools to serve students with the higher-cost learning disabilities. Of course we wouldn't expect the parents of the students with those disabilities to enroll them in schools that can't serve their needs. Why would anyone dispute this? Why is NJCF wasting its time arguing this very obvious point?

The question in NJ charter school policy is not whether charter schools will ever enroll the same proportion of Limited English Proficient or special needs students as hosting public school districts -- of course they won't. The question is whether the state -- which has the sole authority to grant or deny charter school applications or renewals -- is imposing the fiscal burdens of charters on districts without fully accounting for those burdens.

When the state calculates the payment a district like Newark must make to a charter school, it makes that calculation based on a student's special education status. But the only type of disability that changes a payment amount is speech/language impairment. Which means the state demands a district pay the same amount for a charter student who has a mild reading disability (which may not even require an intervention in a smaller general education classroom) as they do for a student who has a traumatic brain injury.

So if the charter is enrolling more students with lower-cost needs, there is an additional fiscal burden on the district. How much? No one knows... because the state came up with its charter funding formula on the basis of no empirical evidence. The 90 percent calculation in the charter funding formula is based on nothing, so far as I've been able to tell. So are the weights in the charter funding formula: instead, they assume the weights used in the state's district funding formula, SFRA, are relevant to charters. But we don't know if that's true (frankly, we don't even know if the SFRA formula is valid in this day and age of higher standards, more school security, more technology, etc.).

It's not "anti-charter" to point this stuff out. And you can agree or disagree with Superintendent León, or the charter advocates, or the charter skeptics, or whomever. But we are very much in need of a real conversation about charter school policy in this state, and that conversation has to be supported by the facts, and by logical, rational analysis.

I'm human, and I've made plenty of mistakes. If I get something wrong, I'll correct it. But the NJCF critique of my work with Julia is not accurate, nor is it logical. I'll be happy to accept their apology.

ADDING: There are a lot of other questionable assertions made in the NJCF letter, and the NJ Charter Schools Association letter, that I've discussed before.

ADDING MORE: Just remembered: the 2014 disability data are also not suppressed. So it's not like 2016 was unprecedented.

* I've recently come to the conclusion that Other Health Impairment (OHI) should be included in the bin of "lower-cost" disabilities. There's further evidence that educating an OHI student has costs that are closer to SLD and SPL students than the other classifications. OHI tends to include students who have asthma or ADHD, which is often treated at no cost to the district. I'm continuing to study the issue and, in formal reports, will back up any changes in my methods with an explanation.

** As of the writing of the post, Sunday, January 12, 10:00 AM. And let me add this:

I take the privacy rights of students, especially special needs students, very seriously, as both a researcher and an educator. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument that suppressing these data is necessary to protect those rights. If there has ever been a case of a student's or family's privacy rights being impacted by the release of these data, I have yet to hear it.

If the NJDOE insists on suppressing these data, however, there should be some mechanism where researchers can obtain them for limited use. Other education datasets are available to researchers under these terms -- these data should be available as well.

*** By the way: what does the aggregate charter school special education rate -- or, for that matter, the aggregate test outcomes, LEP rate, etc. -- have to do with the specific applications for renewal of the four charters in question? Why defend the renewals of these specific charters with aggregated data for the entire Newark charter sector?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Hoboken, NJ Charter Schools: An Update for 2020

Long time readers know I have always thought one of the most interesting charter school sectors in New Jersey, if not the United States, is in Hoboken. A small city across the Hudson from Manhattan, Hoboken has undergone a period of extraordinary gentrification over the last several years. As detailed in a great book by Molly Vollman Makris --  Public Housing and School Choice in a Gentrified City; Youth Experiences of Uneven Opportunity -- Hoboken's charter schools have become an alternative system of schooling for affluent parents in a city that still has large numbers of children living in public housing and experiencing economic disadvantage.

I interviewed Molly back in 2015, and she made an important point: segregation is not an issue that can be laid entirely at the feet of Hoboken's charter schools. There are, in fact, many factors involved in why Hoboken's schools enroll the student populations they do. But the charters, as Molly put it, are part of the reason the city hasn't been able to adequately address the realities of segregation:"So I don’t think the charters and intra-district school choice are creating segregation so much as inhibiting desegregation. I think we all could do a better job."

Other than a few visits with family, I haven't been back to Hoboken much since I did that interview. But I've kept my eye on the city, if only because I think it's a unique case study in the annals of school choice. So my spider-sense buzzed a bit when I came across this (all bolded emphases in this post are mine):
At a Hoboken Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10, the board voted 8-0-1 in favor of a resolution opposing Elysian Charter School's request to the state to add 36 students in K through fifth grade. 
The resolution approved 8-0-1 states, "Imposing increased charter school costs on the Hoboken Public School District, in addition to the aforementioned loss of state aid and on top of normal and expected annual cost increases, will result in further budget reductions and program cuts in the district schools to the detriment of the district academic programs."
It also charges that the charter schools have an "increasing segregative" effect on students, saying that Elysian educates a "disproportionately low number of economically disadvantaged students."
I'm going to stay away from the funding issue now, although I promise I'll be coming back to the topic later this year (I've got a few things cooking on the NJ school funding front, and work on charters and school funding is later). But the issue of segregation on Hoboken's charter schools is worth looking at more closely.

Elysian CS says it is not having a segregative effect; here's their response from the school's website:
Charter schools in Hoboken do not have a segregative effect. Demographic trends in Hoboken have resulted in a 23% point decline in the proportion of economically disadvantaged students in traditional district schools, falling from 71.5%in 2013 to 47.8% in 2019. If public charter schools were causing a segregative effect on the district, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students would have increased, not decreased over the last six years. As Hoboken District was losing economically disadvantaged students, overall, Hoboken charter schools were increasing the proportion of economically disadvantaged students enrolled.
If you take a minute to think about this statement, you'll realize it makes no sense. The overall population of disadvantaged students -- as measured by eligibility for free or educe price lunch -- may be decreasing, but that doesn't mean the student populations couldn't still differ greatly between the Hoboken Public Schools and the city's three charter schools.

In addition, Elysian is making a bold claim: that the charters are enrolling proportionally more disadvantaged students. Is it true? Let's start by looking at eligibility for free lunch (FL), which means a student's family has an income at or below 130 percent of the poverty line.

The three charters are in red; HPS schools are in blue. I have Brandt School set aside as a dotted line because it is unlike the other HPS schools in that it only enrolls children up to Grade 3 (originally, the school was the district's early childhood center; there's talk it may return to that function).

What does the data tell us? Hoboken Charter School has, indeed, enrolled more FL students.* But Elysian's free lunch-eligible population has actually decreased since 2010. Hoboken Dual Language CS (also know as HOLA) has seen little change in its FL population.

What about free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) eligibility, which sets a higher family income bar of 185 percent?

Again, since 2010, Hoboken Charter School has seen a rise in its FRPL population -- but not Elysian (or HOLA). Put simply: Since 2010, Elysian's student population has been more advantaged than all other comparable schools in the Hoboken Public Schools district.

Let's look at race:

Again, if we leave out Brandt, with its uniquely young student population, we find the charters have tended to enroll more white students than most HPS schools. That's changed a bit over the last several years... except for Elysian Charter School. If anything, Elysian's student population has become more white since 2010.

Here's the data for black student populations:

And here's Hispanic:

Let's be clear: when it comes to racial segregation and schools, there's much more going on in Hoboken than just the charters. The difference in the proportion of black students at Connors is striking when compared to the charters or the other K-6 schools in the HPS district. The decline in the Hispanic population in Wallace and Calabro is also remarkable. This said, it seems very odd for Elysian CS to deny the segregative effects of Hoboken's charter sector when viewing this data.

Let's look at one more important student characteristic: special education status. Here are the special education classification rates, which are reported at the district level, for the charters (which are de facto their own districts) and HPS (sorry about the color changes).
At first glance, it would appear that Elysian is actually pulling its weight when it comes to educating children with learning disabilities: their classification rate is nearly identical to HPS's and has been for several years.

The problem is that not all children have the same disabilities.

A bit of explanation is in order. NJDOE reports the number of students classified in one of 12 different types of disabilities. But if a district has fewer than 10 students in a particular type of disability, it suppresses the data.** It doesn't suppress a cell, however, if it has "0" students. Because of this data structure, and because we can get the total number of students from other data sources***, we can extrapolate the possible ranges of "high-cost" disability proportions.

What are "high-cost" disabilities? I basically count all disability types except for three: specific learning disabilities (SLD), speech and language (SPL), and other health impairments (OHI). SLDs and SPLs are generally learning disabilities that do not require the same level of intervention as things like autism, traumatic brain injuries, emotional disturbances, and so on. OHIs can range in severity, but often include things like asthma or ADHD, which, again, usually;y require less-costly interventions.

Of course, I'm not saying these disabilities can't be profound; as an educator, I will tell you first-hand they can be. But empirical studies have shown these three disability classifications tend to cost considerably less to address than the others.

By my calculations, only 9 percent of Elysian's special education population, at most, has been identified with any of the higher-cost disabilities. This contrasts sharply with the 35 percent figure for HPS.

Let me say what I always say when looking at the data for individual charter schools: I have no doubt Elysian Charter School has great teachers, wonderful children, and dedicated families. Like all schools, its stakeholders should be proud of their school's accomplishments and successes.

But good public policy is built on solid analysis of relevant data. And state data makes one thing very clear: the students in Hoboken's charter schools are fundamentally different from the students in its public district schools.  In the case of Elysian, that means fewer students proportionally who are in economic disadvantage, or who have a profound special education need.

Again, we'll get to the fiscal issues later. But for now: I don't know why anyone would be surprised that HPS's Board of Education has serious doubts about expanding the size of Elysian Charter School.

More to come later this year...

ADDING: Back in 2015, Elysian's senior staff was making a splash with their... unique theories on school funding.

 * Hoboken Charter School is the only one of the three charters with a high school. According to Molly's book, many affluent parents do not see this high school as an option for their children, even as they enroll them in the K-8 school. The high school is actually in a separate building, quite a ways away from the K-8 school. So it's very likely that many of the students who boost HCS's overall FL percentage are in the high school.

I can't tell how the 9-12 and K-8 population of HCS differs on FL or FRPL status, however, because NJDOE data does not disaggregate this data by grade level in charter schools -- even for different school buildings, like it does for district schools.

This is a major failing of the NJDOE data I've pointed out numerous times. It shouldn't be hard at all to fix, either. So let's do that. Please.

** Contrary to the reporting of some people who really have no damn idea what they are talking about, NJDOE has, in the past, released databases that do not suppress this data. They last did so in 2016. Unless and until they say otherwise, I will reasonably assume that data is correct.

*** Age 6-21 classified student counts can be derived from the gender files, or the LEP files. Just add males and females, or LEP and non-LEP, together.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Misleading Rhetoric of School "Choice" Advocates: Wealth and "Choice"

One of the functions of this blog over the years has been to deconstruct the rhetoric of education reformers as they advocate for their preferred policies. Foremost among these is the expansion of school "choice."

"Choice," in our current discourse, comes in two basic flavors: charter schools (often sold as "public charter schools," despite the many problems with the term) and vouchers (often sold as "scholarships," although the difference is practically meaningless).

The rhetoric used to push for either or both is largely similar. One of recurring themes for both charter and voucher proponents, for example, is that "choice" is giving disadvantaged families access to the same types of schooling that advantaged families enjoy.

"Choice," you see, is the reason privileged parents can send their children to "good" schools, while less-affluent parents must consign their children to "bad" schools. Because of "choice," privileged families can move to places with "better" public district schools, or enroll their children in "better" private schools. If we offer all families "choice," the argument goes, they will enjoy the same access to "good" schools that the wealthy enjoy.

Implicit in this argument is an assertion -- sometimes overtly stated, sometimes not -- that, under a school "choice" regime, disadvantaged families will enjoy access to choices that are equivalent to the school "choices" the wealthy currently enjoy. 

The logic of this entire line of argument is dependent on the idea that charter schools or vouchers schools are offering the same sort of education that affluent families enjoy in suburban public schools or well-resourced private schools. If the argument of the choicers is not that these options are equivalent, they're not really addressing the root problem: they are essentially admitting that education, even in a choice regime, will remain unequal between the rich and the poor. Because any conception of "good" and "bad" schools is relative, they would be saying that the advantaged would still send their kids to "better" schools under a "choice" system, and the disadvantaged would be consigned to schools that are "worse."

But the rhetoric of the choicers doesn't ever suggests the choices for the less-affluent will differ from the choices for the affluent under a school "choice" system. To the contrary, their arguments are designed to have us all believe that more charter schools and more vouchers will finally give everyone the same "choices" the wealthy have.

Let's look at more than a few examples (all emphases are mine).

* * *

Reason.com: "Wealthy families have long had school choice because they can afford to move to the districts with high-performing schools. Thanks to an antiquated government school funding system that closely ties zip code to education quality, low-income families have been at a disadvantage for decades. When they're implemented at the state level, school choice programs like Arizona's aim to give disadvantaged students a chance to break free from their circumstances and attend a school of higher quality than their neighborhood public school. They're meant to be a solution to the opportunity gap, not a way to make it worse."

Cato.org: "Under the status quo, wealthy families already have school choice while low-income families do not. Wealthy families can afford to live in districts with high-performing government schools or send their children to private schools. By contrast, low-income families generally only have one choice: the local assigned government school."

The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions: "However, Beshear clearly articulates a view that limits access to alternatives to only those children fortunate enough to reside in wealthy families.

WFPL-FM reported that during this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign, Beshear said: “If you want to send your kids to private schools, that’s your right. That’s a choice that many people make and should be able to make.”

Yet by opposing a voluntary giving program which make such choices possible for many families, Beshear is really saying: You can have more choices for your children if you have the wealth which allows you to write big tuition checks to private schools. But it’s just tough luck for those families and their kids who don’t."

The Institute for Justice (Nevada): "And the fact is that wealthy families already have school choice,” House said. “This is a program to promote the choice of low-income families and the Nevada Legislature is taking away those choices with this bill."

Democracy Prep Charter Schools: "I am not only a CEO of a network of high-performing charter schools, I am a black mother. I sent one of my children to my school, Democracy Prep, for his high school education. Democracy Prep was not perfect for my son. More variety in course options and a robust coding program would have been good for him. But it was the best option for me and my family. It was a choice that we made. And I am so grateful that I was able to exercise that choice. I am grateful that we weren’t relegated to a zoned school, as so many families are. You know, where zip codes determine schooling options and children are treated as a public resource? Why should wealthy families be allowed to exercise choice, with their feet and their pocketbooks, but low-income families be told to support the traditional public school system, even when that system is failing their children?"

The Illinois Family Institute"In recent years, school choice has been a battle many parents have joined, because it should not be only wealthy parents who have the freedom to choose their children’s schools. All parents should have that freedom."

The Foundation for Economic Education: "Under the current status quo, the quality of students’ education is often determined by their parents’ income. This is because wealthy parents can afford to send their children to private schools and live in neighborhoods with the best public schools. Such options narrow as income declines, and the children of poor families—who are often people of color—have few choices. Hence, they typically attend schools with the poorest math and reading scores, the worst discipline problems, and the highest levels of violence.

A ticket out of these conditions is school choice, which financially allows parents to select the schools their children attend, regardless of whether they are public, private, or charter. Sanders is “strongly opposed“ to giving parents this option. He says this is because private and charter schools are led by 'unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.'

The School Choice Movement"Opponents of school choice are loud, persistent and well funded.

But in Florida, they are not winning.

The reason is simple: the arguments for school choice are compelling.

Let’s begin with the issue of social justice. Affluent parents always have enjoyed the ability to pick their children’s schools. They can move into neighborhoods with high quality public schools. They can afford the tuition for top private schools."

The Foundation for Economic Education (again): "School choice offers a solution to this unfair reality where the rich are able to choose their school and the poor are stuck by law in a failing system. In 2016, the NAACP voted on a moratorium against charter schools, and over 160 black education reformers wrote an open letter in opposition to the declaration. They wrote: '[F]or many urban Black families, charter schools are making it possible to do what affluent families have long been able to to do: rescue their children from failing schools.'"

* * *

Now, some might argue that none of the school "choice" supporters here are outright stating that disadvantaged families will have the same choices as the wealthy. They've left open an escape hatch: they didn't explicitly say the choices would be the same for the rich and the not-rich -- only that both would have choices. So we can't really say that the "choice" advocates are claiming that the rich and the poor alike will have the same access to the same types of schooling under their plans; that would be so unfair...

Except words matter. The entire point of bringing the "choices" of the wealthy into the conversation is to make the case that vouchers will grant the less-affluent something the rich already have. And no one here explicitly acknowledges the choices won't be the same; to the contrary, the reader is guided to the logical conclusion that the advocates are calling for equality in choices between the rich and the poor. Otherwise, schooling would remain unequal -- and what's the point in changing the system if that problem remains?

If choicers really want to argue this point, however, let's look at some more examples of their rhetoric -- examples where the authors explicitly state that school choice will offer the same options for less-advantaged parents that more-advantaged parents enjoy.

* * *

Florida Parent Network"I support educational choice for all.

Educational options have existed for the wealthy for as long as anyone can remember. What’s controversial is when we suggest that those same options should be open to everyone."

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article213232859.html?platform=hootsuite&utm_source=Unknown+List&utm_campaign=8f6ba64468-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_15_04_00&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_-8f6ba64468-#storylink=cpy

The Heritage Foundation: "For students who do face adversity, the best thing we can do to level the playing field is to fix our broken public school system. Students who lack rigorous school choice options in their state must attend their assigned district public school, no matter the quality.

Restricting schooling options for families reinforces the cycle of poverty for students from poor neighborhoods, and undoubtedly affects a student’s preparedness for college.

Wealthy parents have been exercising choice for their children for decades, and it is time for state lawmakers to afford that right to all families.

The Manhattan Institute: "In the American public education system, children’s educational prospects are determined by their families’ zip codes. This system reinforces a cycle of poverty as parents living in poor districts are left with no choice besides local public schools. By giving low-income families the option to send children to higher-quality schools, school choice extends to low-income families a choice that is already available to wealthy families."

The Thomas Fordham Institute: "Why vouchers? It’s no secret that wealthier parents enjoy a greater choice of schools for their children. They can afford to purchase homes in high-status suburban districts or cover the costs of private school education.

Yet few low- and middle-income families have similar opportunities. They typically send their kids to a public school that is assigned to them based on residential address. Many times, this works out fine. But when it doesn’t, students with limited means are stuck in schools that don’t meet their educational needs.

School choice, including private-school scholarships, opens opportunities and levels the playing field for less-privileged families. In Ohio, more than 35,000 youngsters already use publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools of their choosing. The overwhelming majority come from low-income and/or minority households or have a special need such as autism."

K12 Insight"To help, my colleagues and I have put together a practical guide to succeeding in a world of school choice.

[Read the guide: The School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Capturing Market Share]

In it, we attempt to shine a light on the changes taking place—and help school leaders embrace a new mindset, one that levels the playing field and keeps students coming back."

Method Modern Schools: "Granting parents the freedom to send their children to the school of their choice, regardless of address, levels the education playing field. Charter schools achieve this by offering unique educational options for all families, regardless of neighborhood or income level."

* * *

The explicit message here is that the choices offered through vouchers and charters will lead to everyone having the same choices. "Leveling the playing field" is a construction that sends a clear message: everyone's choices will be equivalent; otherwise, the field wouldn't be level. 

But let's be frank: the difference between these arguments and the ones further up is, in reality, tiny. The point of all of these statements is to get the readers to believe school "choice" will give to the less wealthy what the wealthy already have. The rhetoric of school "choice" advocates is clearly designed to make the case that charter schools and school vouchers offer everyone the same "choices" as advantaged families.

Which leads us to an obvious question: is it true? Are charter schools -- particularly the no-excuses charters in urban areas, enrolling large proportions of students of color -- at all equivalent to the public district schools found in the leafy 'burbs? Are voucher schools at all similar to suburban district schools, or the elite private schools down the street?

I've spent a lot of time on this blog over the years addressing the first question, and the answer is clearly: no, in no way are "no excuses" charters like suburban district schools. I haven't spent as much time on the second question; given the pumping up of the school voucher movement since the installation of Betsy DeVos as the SecEd, it's a point that's worth exploring. 

But the fact is that school voucher amounts are generally quite small compared to the costs of educating a student in a well-resourced private school. So it's clear that no, these programs are not offering an education that is equivalent to that enjoyed by affluent families. Again: I'm planning to get more into this question over the next year.

For now, it's enough to say this: the rhetoric of those who promote school "choice" clearly attempts to make the case that charters and vouchers grant less-affluent families choices that are equivalent to those of more affluent families. If these advocates are going to continue to make their arguments in this way, they then have an obligation to show that no-excuses charter schools and voucher-accepting private schools are equivalent to suburban public schools and well-resourced private schools.

Running away from this obligation is tantamount to admitting their rhetoric is misleading. And I know they would never want to do that...