Episode: 300 |
Tim DeRoche:
Education Inequality:


Tim DeRoche

Education Inequality

Show Notes

Umbrex member and McKinsey alum Tim DeRoche is an independent management consultant, a screenwriter, an award-winning novelist and a non-fiction writer.

In Episode 66 of Unleashed, Tim discussed his novel Huck and Miguel, a re-imaging of the story of Huck Finn, set in modern-day Los Angeles.

In today’s episode, Tim discusses his latest (non-fiction) book, A Fine Line: How most American kids are kept out of the best public schools.

Learn more about Tim: https://timderoche.com/a-fine-line/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Tim de Roche Umbrex member who is the author of The Ballad of hugging Miguel, we talked about that the last time Tim was on the show. That’s a retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River, one of my favorite books, it’s just really incredible language. And Tim just came out with a new book, nonfiction, this time, a fine line, how most American kids are kept out of the best public schools. Tim, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Well, really happy to be here. All right. So Tim, let’s just start with help us just lay on us the main thesis of your book.

Tim DeRoche 00:56
Yeah, the book is about these policies in America that assign children to public schools, by based on where they live. So both district lines, school district lines, I think those are the lines that most people are very familiar with. And then attendance zone boundaries, which are the the lines drawn by a school district designating who gets preferred enrollment at which schools, and I’m really taking a critical look at these policies. And, and I know that we kind of all take them for granted. But I make the case in the book that we pay a tremendous societal cost for, for allocating education in this way.

Will Bachman 01:41
Okay. And you give some examples where someone could be just north of an avenue, and they go to this great local public school, and someone can be just south of an avenue. And they go to a really crummy school with very disparate rates of graduate of literacy rates, like one might be 80% are, you know, meeting the standards, and another one is like 12%, meaning the standards are some very low percentage, just by being on one side of the street or the other. So and that, you know, people, I think people can understand how that’s, you know, maybe not the fairest thing, but then a lot of people might ask, okay, well, what is a more fair way? Or what what are you suggesting instead? I mean, at some point, you got to decide who goes to what school? So like, what are you going to do instead of geographic boundaries?

Tim DeRoche 02:34
Yep. So So I prefer to remain somewhat agnostic on that. The and I’m not a prescriptive person, I think there there is lots of room for local experimentation. My in my preferred world, it would simply the state law, which is where most of these kinds of policies are set state laws should forbid districts from using where you live as a determined determinant of whether you get into a particular school. And And right now, state law either empowers school districts to do that, or they allow school districts to do it. And so if if if, if a state were to forbid districts from using geography, from your residential address using your residential address as that criterion, then there might be the space opened up for districts to experiment. So you know, one district might use a lottery a centralized lottery to allocate seats, just as some districts have done. Another district might choose to use will cite lotteries. So most charter schools in the United States use lotteries, as I’m sure most of your listeners are familiar with. to allocate seats, most charter schools are actually forbidden by state law, from from using where you live as a criterion to determine whether or not you get into the school, they have to use a lottery. Another district might choose to use first come first serve, right? You know, let’s you know, you got to get in the line. If you want to get into one of these elite public schools, you got to get in the line if if the school you want to get into has more demand than supply of seats. Now, all of those potential ways of allocating seats are imperfect. They have their shortcomings, they have the potential for abuse. But what I like about those types of solutions is that they are at least based on the principle of equal opportunity, right? Right now we’ve got a system that is not even based on the principle of equal opportunity. And as you stated, you know, there are examples, many, many examples. And my book is really centered around these examples of pairs of schools in American city. cities where you have a high performing school, right next to a failing school or, or a very school that is struggling mightily. And what keeps the two schools separate is an attendance zone boundary. And so if you’re on one side of the street, you go to a high performing school, if you go to this, if you’re on the other side of the street, you’re assigned to this failing school. And what that has done over time has, it has created these distortions in the real estate market where you know, living on the right side of the line will cost you $150,000, more $200,000 more in your home price, or $1,000, more in rent for an equivalent apartment, you know, on one side of the street of the other. So what happens over time is that the divisions in that neighborhood, the social divisions in that neighborhood in between the two schools become exacerbated over time. And you get these highly divergent outcomes, and highly separate populations of people really living in the same neighborhood.

Will Bachman 06:07
Yeah. So but I guess one question I had for you, is fine, in the extremely short term, you could take away the attendance zone boundaries, but then that seems to maybe neglect the impact of the second order effects, which is, you know, wealthy parents are going to, you know, work the system to get their kids into a good school. And, you know, if that if, you know, if the city is like, if a given metro area, a school zone, says, Hey, you know, we’re eliminating attendance barriers, then parents are gonna say, okay, fine, you know, I’ll just move out to the suburb to a good school there. And, you know, you lose my, my, my salary from your tax base, and the goods, the school, which is good in the first place, because you had a lot of wealthy parents lobbying, you know, contributed extra money, extra money to the PTA lobbying the politicians, the, you know, a good principle or whatever, that, you know, support goes away. If you start just a pure lottery system in the parents can get what they want. So, you know, and if you, you know, force them to just be in a lottery system, the district opt out of the opt out of that system. And if and if you say, okay, fine, the suburbs in the city are all randomized together, then the parents drop out of the public school system altogether, and say, Fine, I’ll just put my kids in private school, you know, instead of paying an extra 200 grand to live in the right neighborhood, I’ll you know, I’ll live in the neighborhood, I want to and I’ll spend 200 grand on private school.

Tim DeRoche 07:47
Yeah, that’s a common objection. And I don’t think that’s quite right. It would certainly happen to some degree will, you would lose some folks, you know, there’s some set of folks who want their kids to be in a, in a school with other elite students. And and some of those folks, if there was a bit more mixing of these populations would would flee to the suburbs, some of them would flee to private schools. But I want to call attention to the what used to happen in the California Community College System, right. So the California community college system used to have very strict geographical boundaries, right, where you were restricted to going to the community college that you were, you know, that you based on your residential address. And what happened in the 80s, is you saw the enrollment in the California Community College System start to decline. And so in the early 80s, mid 80s, I think, the state legislature passed a law, which is basically very similar to the reform I’m advocating in the K 12 system here, which is, the legislature in California said, we do not think it is in the best interests of the people of the state of California that they be restricted in what community college they can go to based on where they live, and we think that there should be a system of full open enrollment and choice. And the reason they did that was to try and draw people back into the system. And because right now, the public system is losing people who are assigned, you know, middle class people in lower income folks who are assigned to failing or struggling schools, and they are making other choices. And and I think, with a more open system where people were had more choices, and were, you know, had true open enrollment, then I think you would, you’d lose some people, but I think you draw others back in. And, you know, I want to also bring up bring back up your point about second order effects. One of the second order effects of this is that everybody would be in the same boat. Right? So right now you’ve got folks living in these privilege neighborhoods where they paid $200,000 extra. And, you know, they, they’re in favor of these enrollment preferences, right, because they paid for them. And oftentimes, they are also opposing efforts to provide more choices. So like charter schools, for example. These folks are saying, Well, hey, if we send our kids to the local school, then everybody else should do that. Right? Within realize, not everybody has the wealth to live in the attendance zones of those elite schools. And so if everybody were on equal footing, then we’d all be fully invested in, you know, the second order effect would be we’d all be fully invested in improving the schools if possible, and and providing as many choices as possible and kind of in increasing educational pluralism, at least, that’s my guess, you know, it’s a little bit of a projection. But I especially like the Community College example, because the community college system in California is, is thriving, and has really thrived since that moment when they opened it up.

Will Bachman 11:14
Okay, but like, in your example of it’s, I think it’s called North Avenue, where in the book, right, so, you know, and parents are paying an extra 150 $200,000 for the same size house to live on the right side of that avenue. Don’t you think that those same parents, if you said, Hey, you know, what we’re gonna do, you know, random assignments. So instead of going to the local, this good elementary school that’s local nearby, we’re going to, you know, send your third grader like, somewhere within, you know, five miles or something, randomize it, don’t you think those parents would say, hey, look, I paid 100 for the grant is live here. You’re gonna do that now. I’m just gonna move to the suburb, which is like a different school district, and have my kid go to school there.

Tim DeRoche 11:55
I think some of them would, I think some of them would, but I think I think others who you’ve current your, the system is currently losing to charter schools and private schools, outside of those zones, would come back to the public system. I mean, I don’t want to deny Well, you’re right, some of those folks would leave. But I think we’re under estimating those folks. We’re basically taking these very liberal progressive people. And we’re saying, Well, if they were forced to go to school with the general public, then they would have banned in their neighborhoods. And I know a lot of those people, I don’t, I’m sure some of them would do that. And again, I don’t I don’t I actually have no problem with some if somebody says, Hey, the right school for my kid is an elite public school. You know, unfortunately, it’s not that diverse, but I really want to maximize their, you know, their exposure to, you know, the highest quality academic content, and I want them to be with other high performers. I’m totally okay with that. I’m not problem with that. But I think that in effect, these these schools in the inner cities like Lincoln at Lincoln Elementary in Chicago, the with the example that you brought up, there, they’re functioning as semi private schools, right, but they’re operating on the public dime, right? So they’re, these are public schools, but that are really only available to people who have the wealth to pay for them. And so I just I don’t think they’re functioning as true public schools.

Will Bachman 13:24
Okay. What’s your take on? I’m curious, your take on New York City Schools, where I live, where you’re where it’s this, you know, pretty complicated system to navigate. In fact, you know, for a number of years, my wife ran this very large event every year helping, you know, parents entering the system, with their kids going into kindergarten, helping them navigate all the choices. It’s so complicated, because yes, there’s a local zone school, but there’s all these different, you know, charter options and special options. And, yeah, and you know, as a parent of a kid goes into high school, there’s, you know, 200 different high schools more that you can choose from that you can apply to and some you have to live in the in the districts and you have to live in the borough, some you have to randomize them you have to apply for. And then of course, there’s the specialized high schools that a lot of people have heard of Stuyvesant, Bronx science, you have take the test. Mayor de Blasio recently tried to change that test, or change the admission requirements. And there was huge pushback, particularly from Asian American parents, because Stuyvesant has like a very high percentage of Asian Americans, many of whom are working class, right, but who study super hard for the test. So there was like a huge push. I’m curious to hear your perspective on on, you know, New York City where there is some choice and it’s not purely attendance zone boundaries, but it’s this very complex web. What’s your shot in New York?

Tim DeRoche 14:57
Yeah, so one thing I do want to say my book focus is primarily on elementary schools, right? So I don’t dive too much into high schools, there tend to be more choice at high schools, especially in the big cities. The elementary schools are where you see these these more strict zones. So So yes, I do talk about New York a fair bit in the book, there are two examples that I use of elementary schools, where you have an elite school right next to a failing school. And the two, the two elite schools are PSA eight, Robert Fulton in Brooklyn, and ps 191. In on the Upper West Side. And yes, it’s very complicated. I talk in the book to Robin era. Now, who is she has a consulting firm, which does exactly what you described, which is help families navigate the choices. And now she’s primarily helping, right? These these consultants primarily emerge to help people live outside of these elite attendance zones, right? These are people who can’t necessarily afford, you know, $200,000 more to live within the zone, but they are very savvy parents, they’re trying to navigate their choices, they’re trying to figure out, Okay, can I get my kid into a higher performing public school? Or do I have to choose a private school? And you see these consultants emerge in the big cities. So for the book, I talked to one consultant in Los Angeles, I talked to Robin in New York, and I talked to another one in Chicago. And, you know, the, the big problem is that, because these systems are so complex, the the generally the people who are hiring these consultants are middle class folks, right. So they are, they tend to be more privileged folks, they’re not, they didn’t buy the house in the zone, maybe they’re not that wealthy. But they do have the resources and the savvy just to kind of navigate this system, the the the lower income folks. You know, single parents, it is very, very hard to navigate these systems for somebody who does not have the time, we’ve actually been in the midst of navigating those systems in Los Angeles for a five year old. And it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a halftime job, just trying to figure out how to do all this. And I think that’s why I’m a big fan of making these processes more, making them simpler, and making them fairer, and and and opening up to those elite public schools, because really, that whole complex system is meant for the people who who aren’t being allowed into those elite public schools with with the strict zones.

Will Bachman 17:47
Yeah, I mean, you say middle class, I mean, I don’t know our definition of that. But in New York City, I’m not sure about Robin, but I’ve spoken to other parents who have hired consultants, and we’re talking, you know, 5000 bucks, at least, to hire a consultant for a season to, you know, help get your kid into the right public public school.

Tim DeRoche 18:05
That’s true, they usually have options where you can get a little bit of counseling for a bit less than that. But yes, I mean, if you really want someone to handhold your process, hold your hands for that process. It’s going to cost you and it’s significant dollars. The other thing I’ll say, well, is that, and this is something you and I talked about, the last time I saw you for breakfast, you know, lying about your address, is very, very common in the United States. Right. And, and in New York, you know, I was told by an insider, hey, there’s a policy in New York, right to do, he has a policy once you’re in you’re in. So, you know, you hear of people renting an apartment for a month in the elite zone, right? Using that address to get their kid into the elite school, and then just moving out and going back to the place where they can actually afford an apartment, right? And then their kid is in no one ever questions it again. And and that’s I don’t, I don’t, it just doesn’t seem right, that that’s what we’re asking parents to do. Right. And I’m sympathetic to parents who make that decision. I’m sympathetic to parents who buy in the in the elite zone. I’m sympathetic to parents who can’t afford to live in the elite zone and try to try to find other choices. I’m sympathetic to lower income parents who say, I don’t know how to do this. I just got to drop my kid off at the school the government tells me to, I’m sympathetic to all of the parents and I don’t want to cast aspersions on anybody but i don’t i don’t think it sets up the dynamic right for for schools to improve over the long term and for us to feel like, like the schools are shared, that we share these schools and i think i think that’s what public schools were meant to be originally shit. You know, they were meant to be shared resources shared by the community. And I think these policies set it up so that these schools are not shared by the community.

Will Bachman 20:00
Yeah, no, I mean, look, and I, I mean, I share your your perspective that we ought to give every kid a great education. Right. So, I mean, I agree with that. More what I, what I try to understand is, you know, from you having researched this so much as to say, Okay, if we’re currently are in a situation where some public schools are really great, and some are really terrible, if we change the system from being like a zone based or attendance zone based to some other system, like, whoever applies first or, you know, you got to get the application, right, or that, that, then you introduced to something else, where people with wealth will figure out a way to game that system instead, right. So as long as there’s, you know, some limit scarce resource, people are going to spend the money to figure out how to, you know, capture that resource. And then if you make it purely, purely unnameable, and totally random, then people will kind of opt out of the system and, you know, get some other just, you know, go to private school or move to the suburbs.

Tim DeRoche 21:02
Well, certainly, that’s true. And, and, and, and people with resources, and both cognitive resources and financial resources, and social resources, we’ll use those to get the best option for their kid no matter what system you put in place. But I in we all benefit, right? In the normal world, we all benefit, when we go to the grocery store, I don’t have to be an informed shopper about which grocery store has the lowest price apples, because there’s somebody out there doing that, right. And the grocery stores are competing for that person on the margin. So I can be sort of a clueless customer, and I can just go to the grocery store. And I can assume that apples are probably priced pretty similarly, right across different grocery stores. So So take a look at Chicago, right? Take a look at Chicago, the old town neighbor of Chicago, split down the middle by North Avenue kids north of North Avenue are assigned to Lincoln Elementary, over 80% reading proficiency, kids south of North Avenue are designated go to minier Elementary, which is you know, 0% proficiency of graduating eighth graders in 2019. But then, so there’s this huge disparity and what keeps those populations separate? Is the attendance zone boundary of North Ave. But if you look, if you look at the health clinics in that neighborhood, right? If you look at a health clinic north of North Avenue, and you look at a health clinic south of North Avenue, right, there’s probably a bit of a population difference in who goes to those clinics. But if you look at their ratings, their patient ratings, right? They’re about equal. Right? The the health clinics could not be so disparate, right? In performance within just blocks of each other. Right, because people can cross North Avenue all the time, if one’s better, they just go to the other one. Right. And, and, and with schools, we don’t allow that. And so it enforces these divisions over time, and it creates a calcifies that disparity of performance and the social divisions, and where you don’t see that in other and other areas of our economic life.

Will Bachman 23:15
Yeah, well, that’s partly because, you know, it’s a absolute complete monopoly. And, you know, I, I guess, I consider myself mostly a progressive on a lot of issues. But I wonder here, if, you know, if we’re trying to solve, like the wrong part of the problem, you know, with with the attendance on boundaries, what if instead of going that direction, you said, Look, I don’t know it costs 15 grand to send your kid to public school. So hey, you know, what, if you don’t like going to, you know, this crummy school, here’s 15 grand voucher, you can go public, private, anywhere you want with that 15 grand, and if it costs more than 15, grand you can pay yourself. So you can go to like a, you know, private school up the street, and you can take this voucher and go there. And then the teach and by the way, public school, if you know all the parents like opt out of your school, then you just have to fire those teachers. Right? If you do a crummy job, and, you know, introduce some competition in the market.

Tim DeRoche 24:12
What’s What’s that, that I that I very much agree with in the sense and you can, you know, they’re they’re having the dollars follow the students, right? To the school of their choice, right? There are there are private models of that, right, which would be a voucher or an educational savings account. There are also public models, which people tend to feel more comfortable with, which are charter schools where the dollars follow the kid. And if the school can’t recruit enough kids, then it’s going to close. So I’ve fully supported that. What I would say well, is that the one of the reasons that that is not as popular and doesn’t have as much political support, is you have very wealthy families buying into these attendance zones and saying, Well, I don’t want to support choice like everybody should just go To the school they’re assigned to, right. And so one of the second order effects I, that, you know, I have in my mind is, well, hey, if everybody was in the same boat, then all of these parents who are, you know, using their wealth to access these schools, then they’d suddenly be in the same boat as the rest of us. It’s like, okay, hey, we got to go, you know, we want, we got to find the right school for our kids, and we want it to be close to our house. And perhaps it isn’t the best idea that each family be assigned to a school, let’s, let’s give everyone choices. And let’s argue for educational pluralism. And I think the attendance zones make it hard to have that discussion, right? And make it hard to move towards solutions, like the one you’re describing. Because these, these folks get very comfortable in the attendance zones. And they, they they start, they don’t believe that we need more choices, if that makes sense.

Will Bachman 25:58
It does. Alright, so I got a question for you. So yeah, you know, this is a really well researched book, you know, you got like a ton of, you know, I mean, not just really well written and deeply footnoted, but also a lot of charts in here and right, you know, so this was a huge effort. I got asked like, what, what? And you know, I, you know, having known you for years, I didn’t really think of you as sort of an education focus consultant. What was the genesis of this book? What, what you got you motivated to write it? Are you trying to shift your kind of focus now to kind of policy consulting? Or was this just a, you know, something that got hold of you, and you decide that you had to pursue it? You know, your shift is, I’m just curious to hear like, the story behind it.

Tim DeRoche 26:47
Yeah, so, so actually, this is just a passion project that it did, it rose out of some of my consulting So, so I’ve been passionate about public education, reform and the policy angle, especially I am no expert on curriculum or instruction. But I am really interested in the way we set up these systems of health, you know, public education, and what kinds of incentives it creates, and how it affects our society over time. So I have you I, as you know, I have an independent consulting practice, I in recent years, I have mostly been doing private sector work. But I did work in public in education reform for a while back in my 20s, and 30s. And I still do maybe a quarter of my work is with nonprofits. So I will, you know, kind of come in and be a McKinsey, director, partner with the CEO of the nonprofit and kind of help them think through their strategic options and the financial implications and the resource implications of what they’re trying to do. And so about six or seven years ago, I was hired by Democrats for education reform to work with Gloria Romero. She is the former Majority Leader of the CalSTRS, California State Senate. And she had a she was she was their local chapter head at that time. And she was trying to figure out what she was going to do, after, you know, having left the Senate. And so I sat down with her and over coffee in LA, and she was out giving speeches at the time about how your zip code should not determine your educational destiny. And so we started thinking just in that very first time I met her ever over coffee, we started thinking, we just started asking the question, well, how does that work? Right? We know they’re these elite schools. In the heart of LA, we know that the zones matter. And we and I just I started asking the question, well, how can how can a district if you’re a taxpayer, if you pay taxes into a district and your political constituent of that district, and you live within walking distance of one of these elite schools? What is the legal basis? Like how, what is the league? You know, how does the district say Nope? How do they turn you away? What’s the legal foundation of that? And so I started researching that, and kind of led me down this rabbit hole. And so I had been doing that for many years, kind of on my own time just thinking about these policies. And then after my first book came out my novel, that book was more successful than I expected it to be really more successful than then than a first novel has any right to be and got more media attention. And, and so after that, I started thinking, well, there’s this other thing that I know a lot about that not a lot of people know about. And so what can I do with that? I wonder if I could turn this into a nonfiction book. So I was probably 40% done with the research for this book, when I decided to write the book. And still a ton of work had to be done. But, you know, I could sort of see in my mind’s eye what a book what a nonfiction book might look like addressing this issue. And I was passionate to take all of this knowledge I had accumulated that, you know, not a lot of people knew about this untold story. And I was eager to try and turn it into a nonfiction book.

Will Bachman 30:19
Okay, cool. So if you know if, you know, a state representative who’s reads the book, and his patent says, Yes, this is I agree, this is a problem. What? An ask you Okay, what should we do about it? Tim? Like, what? What’s your, you know, how do you reply to that, like, what, what sort of should replace the attendance zone?

Tim DeRoche 30:43
Well, I will always come back to that community college language in California, right, where the the, the legislature wrote what I would regard as is almost a perfect law, because it’s not, it’s not prescriptive. The largest says it’s not in the best interests of the citizens of the state of California, that they be restricted to attending the Community College, in the zone where they live, right. And we think that they should have full choice. And we, we’re going to open them up. And so that would be the first place that I would start now there are there are a couple efforts. So if you, this is starting to get some traction, if you look, there’s a African American legislator, state legislator in Georgia, who has introduced a bill that would allow it would basically decriminalize address, borrow, borrowing, so you could you could attend a school if you could convince someone in the zone to lend you their address, right, that lend their address to your kid. So that’s one example. And then in California, here, there’s a Republican who has introduced a true open enrollment bill in California, that would truly open up the the the public schools right now we have an open enrollment law, that that, you know, kind of, you know, with a wink and a nod gives the Okay, and gives legal cover for these geographic enrollment preferences. And he’s rewritten the open enrollment law to really provide true open enrollment and lotteries. And so what you can see with this is that there’s a little bit of traction, there’s traction, both on the right and on the left. And so you get it the issue that really cuts across the partisan divide?

Will Bachman 32:35
And what are the kind of the next steps for you? Are you now going to put energy into going out? And, you know, giving a lot of talks on this? Or is there a nonprofit that is kind of working to advocate for this on this topic? Sort of what now that you’ve done the book, sort of what, what what comes next on this issue for you?

Tim DeRoche 32:57
Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, you know, I just wrote a piece, I published a piece in the education journal education next about some of the legal options, there are some potential ways that you could challenge attendance zones in in court, the attendance of the many elite public schools appear to violate federal civil rights law from 1974. So we are eager to, you know, find the right set of plaintiffs and the right lawyer to to file some lawsuits to kind of bring this issue to the courts. That’s, that’s one potential road. And then I’ve also been talking to a bunch of activists about potentially protesting some of these elite public schools, in the big cities and doing a coordinated national protests. And so, you know, we’re in the initial stages, the book only published last week. And so, you know, people are only become now becoming aware of the arguments in the book. And so we’re having a lot of discussions at this point. And, you know, one of those roads, you know, we will likely go down or both. Yeah. And Gloria is really my partner in it. Yep.

Will Bachman 34:11
Another question is, you are the, is there something just inherently good about the, you know, these elite schools? Or is it more a question of, sort of Harvard or Yale where, you know, the, the most important element of those schools in terms of producing great graduates is just the admissions office where, you know, is it is it a case where, you know, the schools are elite, because it’s, you know, the people attending them are, you know, the kids have wealthy parents who put a lot of effort and money into the school and hire tutors, for their kids and so forth. And if you, you know, purely randomized admission to like a Lincoln Elementary, and then after, you know, two or three years if it’s truly getting a random sampling Have the city that, you know, just then it’s no longer an elite school anymore in terms of the performance of the kids. So what happens to elite school? If you do remove the attendance zone? Does it just become basically revert to revert to the mean?

Tim DeRoche 35:17
Well, there there’s no doubt that Lincoln serves a group of families that prioritize educational attainment, right, and that, that, that value that and so the school is benefiting from from what’s going on? You know, the scores reflect that, you know, if you took kids from the near and transfer them into Lincoln, you know, they’re not immediately going to perform at the same level, you know, but I do think that there, I think that’s a false dichotomy to claim, either claim, well, it’s it’s either the kids are just that way already, when they go into the school, or, you know, the school is what turns them into high performers, I think, you know, when you go to is when you’re in a classroom, and you’re surrounded by, let’s say, 31, human beings, right, you’re, let’s say you’re a student, you’re surrounded by 29, there’s 30 kids, you’re surrounded by 29 kids, and one teacher, right? The you are influenced, you know, we love to think of education as this transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the students, but the students are being influenced by each other. Right? There, there. And so when we, when we segregate our schools based on on income and where people live, and the social divisions enhance over time, because of these lines, and the real estate distortions, and blah, blah, blah, that we’ve already talked about. You what you end up getting is the most troubled kids all being concentrated in in, in certain schools. And I think that’s very problematic. And I do think there is a lot of evidence that many of those kids, were they in different settings would do better. Now, would they do better at the same level as the the Lincoln standard? And would Lincoln retain those test scores, right, with a little bit more mixing? Well, they’d probably drift down a little bit. But maybe that’s not the end of the world. And maybe there might be some folks who would really benefit and get their life on a totally different trajectory. Were they exposed to different types of kids, different types of teachers, and a bigger mix of our society, rather than being ghettoized in a school, you know, in a failing school with other troubled people? Right? I don’t, I don’t think that’s the best way to do it.

Will Bachman 37:45
Have there been any cases where that you were that you came across, where you had one of these dichotomies elite school nearby a failing school? And they did, you know, kind of change the attendance zone? So it was more of a random assignment? And then what happened then has that has that actually happened? Do we have any test cases of what actually does happen?

Tim DeRoche 38:11
Well, there are increasing numbers of school districts experimenting with lotteries, as opposed to zones and and to varying degrees. Some of those lotteries give a preference if you live close to the school, some do not. So there is a little bit of that. And then the other example you have will is cases where the attendance zones are changed, right, there’s still a zone, but they change where the line falls. And, you know, and some people reading my book, they say, well, we just need to change, you know, change where the lines fall, let’s redraw those boundaries. So they’re more inclusive. The problem is, if you have a zone, if you redraw the zone, over time, you’re just gonna get wealthy people buying into the new zone, right. And so unless you’re changing the zone, every couple, every couple of years, you’re still going to lead to the same long term dynamic. And as you talked about, the second order effects are very, very important. So So, you know, I think if you want to look to the, to the districts where you see more choice, right, New Orleans has more choice Boston, you know, not a perfect system, but they do have a system where it’s more like a lottery DC for their middle schools, has a lottery that seems to be working pretty well. And again, I want to emphasize like I got a five year old kid, I have a two year old. I’m not saying that proximity doesn’t matter. I don’t you know, I would I would be very, very opposed to any system that assigned my kids to school across town. I just don’t think districts should be assigning kids to schools at all. And and you know, finding a school close to our home that we feel good about is is a benefit. extremely high priority for my family, I might value proximity even more than the average family. Because I don’t want my kids in a car for two hours a day, right? I want them with quality teach, I want them spending time with quality teachers, I want them spending time with me and my wife and doing activities. I don’t want them stuck in a car. So I don’t want to say that proximity doesn’t matter. But Sorry, I a little bit of a rambling response. There aren’t a lot of examples where you can just look at say, Hey, there were these two elite schools, and then they got rid of the boundaries. Right, that we don’t have a great example is I don’t know the great examples like that.

Will Bachman 40:36
All right. What are the typical positions of teachers unions, regarding You know, this this matter of the attendance zones? Or do they kind of support to intend to support? Yeah, let’s get rid of attendance zones? Or, or make it more of a? Or are they you know, more in favor of the current system typically?

Tim DeRoche 40:55
Well, so I’ve gotten mixed signals on that. And, you know, it’s just coming into kind of public, public conversations. So I think that’s an open question. I think, you know, one of the messages is, my book is that these lines often replicate the lines of the redlining maps from the 1930s. These were maps that were used to determine who was eligible for housing assistance and who was not. And the federal government drew these maps. And, you know, in the big cities, you, you’d see, you know, large swaths of the city designated as undesirable right, then, so folks who lived in those areas were ineligible for housing assistance. And, and those were largely areas with high percentages of minorities and immigrants. And what you see is that these attendance zones, sometimes the shape still holds, you know, there’s a resemblance to that old redlining map, where the shape of the attendance zone map of the elite for the elite school kind of matches the desert, quote, unquote, desirable area on the redlining map, and it still excludes areas with a large number of minorities and immigrants. And so you look at the teachers unions, you know, the teachers unions are going to be against things like redlining. And so I think, you know, it’s going to be hard for them to to, you know, say, Oh, we need to keep these divisions, because that’s kind of not what their constituency believes. The problem for the teachers unions is that they, you know, they, they aren’t big fans of choice, right. And the and as we discussed earlier, the attendance zones are one of the ways that they keep the coalition coalition against choice together, right. So if you want to fight charter schools, you need these people buying homes in these exclusive areas, and you need them to keep saying, Well, everybody should just send their kids to their neighborhood school, like we do, they shouldn’t have other choices. And I think, as we, as we discussed earlier, if you opened up if it was true open enrollment, those folks would have very different political incentives. And I think the teachers unions might worry about losing some of them. And so it might, you know, in principle, they might say, I don’t like these lines, but in on a practical political level, they might say, well, we want to keep those folks in our coalition. So we’re gonna we’re gonna, you know, be okay with them.

Will Bachman 43:23
That’s fascinating. Yeah. Nobody likes competition. Exactly. I think that clients in my attendance zone should only be able to hire my consulting firm. That’s it. Yeah.

Tim DeRoche 43:39
No, it No, it’s totally true. Right. It’s totally true. And, and, and, and it’s a very human reaction. We don’t want competition, right. We don’t want competition and, and I’ve compared the parents who buy these, you know, buy into these zones, I’ve compare it to compare them to the the taxi drivers in New York City, right? The taxi drivers in New York City bought medallions that were worth millions of dollars in some cases. And the value of that medallion was that the government protected you from competition, right? They kept other folks out. And so now with Uber and Lyft, and ride sharing, the the value of those medallions has fallen. And some of those taxi drivers took, you know, the government to court saying, hey, you’ve taken this away, but the courts say no, Hey, you, just because you bought this to be protected from competition doesn’t mean you can be protected from competition, you know, forever into infinity. Right. And I think that’s my same argument for these folks. Hey, like, I understand you were trying to make the system work for you. But you know, basically, by buying into the zone, the value of that zone is the value of keeping other kids out of that public school, even if they’re taxpayers into the district in which you reside. Right, right. Yeah. So I you know, I think So it’s it. You know, I just think you can’t be protected from from those folks forever.

Will Bachman 45:06
Yeah, no, no with the coronavirus pandemic, and so many kids now studying from home, parents working from home, and it has occurred to me, it’s somewhat random that my kids who are now all three of them going to school remotely, that they, you know, that it’s just the fact that like, they happen to be going to school remotely with kids from, you know, from New York City. And it’s like, if kids are going to go to school remotely, then why not have a school that could be super specific, that it’s perfect just for that particular kid, right? And where it gets from anywhere, could go, you know, I mean, maybe a kid’s really into Dungeons and Dragons or something. So you could have a school where math and Language Arts and Social Studies are all taught with a Dungeons and Dragons backdrop, or whatever the kid is fascinated with. You could have very specialized schools that would appeal to a narrow segment. That would be forget about like attendance zones or, or school districts just, you know, from anywhere. Now, I don’t see that happening. But no technic, technically, it would certainly be be possible now. And it’s kind of silly that if kids are going to school remotely, that it’s all just based on where you own a house?

Tim DeRoche 46:22
Well, yeah, and I think that you raise a good point, I mean, you’re never gonna get rid of the need to go and to go into a building and be with other kids your age, and to hang out and get in fights. And like, you know, it and all of that is necessary. But I do think that the pandemic might push us in the direction of modularization, of education, to some degree, I already know some families here in LA, who send their kids to public schools, they’re not satisfied with the math instruction. So they, you know, access tutoring online, and that tutor might be in Asia, right? Or might be on the other side of the country. And, and certainly, you know, you could extend that to having groups that study a particular topic. And, and niche based education, where you’re allowing a kid who has an interest in dungeons and dragons, or, or baseball statistics, or, you know, art from the 17th century, or whatever weird thing that kid is into, that they could find a community of folks where they could really study that in depth. And that community would not necessarily need to be, you know, bounded in space. And that that’s neat. I think, I think there’s, I’m hopeful that that maybe the the pandemic will start to encourage those types of interactions?

Will Bachman 47:41
Well, yeah, I’m not 100% sure about your point that, you know, kids have to go to school to make friends and so forth. I’m wondering, if we come out of the pandemic with something that is not exactly homeschooling, but with so many kids now, you know, work studying from home, it’s, some are probably doing terrible, and just, you know, playing video games, but some are probably really liberated by now, I don’t have to sit in class for seven hours, while the teacher, right, you know, goes to the, at the pace of the slowest student, I could get done in two hours, what normally took six or seven, you know, and I think a lot of parents might be wondering about, Hey, I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want to be the teacher and homeschool my kids, but they’re thriving under this system, I want sort of this same thing. But with best in class, instead of, you know, my local public schools, you know, teachers doing a really crummy zoom. So I’m just going to keep my kids at home. And I’m going to search for some kind of, you know, outsourced homeschool, you know, service where I can, you know, get best in class instruction for my kids from anywhere, and, you know, sort of homeschool, but pay someone to do it for you.

Tim DeRoche 48:56
No, I think I think well, homeschooling has been rising overall, in recent years, and it used to be kind of a fringe thing, both on the right and the left, and especially popular in conservative Christian communities. But then also, we end kind of left wing, you know, kind of anti establishment communities. And I do think that a growing number of parents are being open to that. I certainly know a number of people who I truly admire, who were homeschooled and I, and I do think I mean, if you talk to somebody who’s been homeschooled, one big component is they’re there, you know, and they and they had a good experience. The parents worked overtime to figure out how to get the kids out, whether it was through sports, or theater or other activities, interacting with kids like them in the real world. I, you know, maybe you’re skeptical of that I remain committed that that is very, very important for socialization.

Will Bachman 49:55
I agree that that’s important. Like that they need to interact with kids, but just not necessarily in it. school building.

You know, I agree with that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a school setting. Right? It could it could be in some other setting. And and Yeah, I agree with that. I think there and there are there are increasing services right. In California, you can get public funding, right. If you’re going to kind of homeschool, I think it’s through the charter school program. There’s a way to kind of homeschool your kids and get a little bit of government funding to fund some of that. So it’s not restricted just to the folks who have the money to pay.

Will Bachman 50:30
All right. Well, Tim, your book a fine line, how most American kids are kept out of the best public schools. A great read. Where can people beyond the book where can people go to find out more about you and more about this? Cause?

Tim DeRoche 50:48
Yeah, so my website is Tim to Roche comm t Im e r. o ch. e.com. And you know, if you want to read more about the the legal issues, you can read my my piece in education next. That’s education next.org. You’ll find it really quickly. And then I also published a piece in quillette, back in January, which which kind of laid out the case about the school divisions and talking about it more from a policy point of view rather than a legal point of view.

Will Bachman 51:18
Fantastic. Well, Tim, thank you so much for being on the show today. And for listeners, if you’ve listened this far, you might be interested in giving this show a five star review on iTunes helps other people discover the show. If you’d be inclined to give it four stars, you’re less than just don’t bother. Tim, thank you so much for joining.

Tim DeRoche 51:39
Thank you. Well really appreciate the conversation.

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