Tim DeRoche

American writer

Tim DeRoche is an American writer and novelist.

Tim DeRoche


  • I want to draw a direct line from the racially discriminatory housing practices of the middle decades of the twentieth century and the laws and policies that create attendance zones for public schools today.
  • By carving up our cities into attendance zones, we are perpetuating the economic and racial divisions that marked one of the darkest eras of our nation’s past.
  • We already have a name for this practice of using your address to determine whether or not you are eligible for valuable government services. We call it redlining. Educational redlining is analogous to redlining in the housing market. In each case, valuable government services are reserved for more privileged communities, using geographic preferences as a way to limit who is eligible to receive them.
  • Almost 80 percent of public school children attend their assigned public school. If American public schools are divided along economic and racial lines (and it’s indisputable that they are), then it is primarily because of geographic school assignment, not because a minority of parents look to escape the failing schools they’ve been assigned to.
  • What is this peculiar, misshapen thing that we call an attendance zone? It’s an administrative service area. Government bureaucrats carve up the map and determine who gets preferred enrollment at what school. There are no elected officials at the attendance-zone level—and no political representation. The residents of a school zone are not subject to special taxes that go to the local school. An attendance zone is also a license to discriminate. If the school is full (most of the best schools are), then the attendance zone provides the school with the ability to exclude families who live within the district’s jurisdictional boundaries but outside of the arbitrary zone for that school as drawn by district staff.
  • The harder you look at attendance zones, the more they appear to violate fundamental principles. Isn’t public education supposed to be "the Great Equalizer" providing equal opportunity for all children, regardless of race or income level? Aren’t we all supposed to be treated equally under the law?
  • Here is the truth: 78% of public school children attend their assigned public school. If American public schools are divided along economic and racial lines (and it’s indisputable that they are), then it is primarily because of school assignment policies, not because a minority of parents look for better public school options for their children.
  • How are children assigned to schools? By their address. Our public schools are segregated because of the lines that are drawn, showing who gets into good public schools and who gets kept out. These lines often exclude many middle-class and lower-income families, especially immigrants and minorities.
  • [Cautionary verse] is a genre that has receded from view in recent years, but it’s hiding in the shadows, ready to pop out and horrify the stultified masses. Yet it will likely delight anyone who believes that children’s literature should be more than just morality tales dressed up with colorful pictures. Perhaps poems like these can help embolden the humorists of tomorrow. The way things are going, we’re likely to need them.
  • Writing in the New Yorker, Calvin Tompkins once suggested that stories by Belloc and others are not appropriate for children and are really meant for the grown-ups. To test his hypothesis, I suggest reading one of these classics aloud to a seven-year-old. In my experience, the child very quickly understands that she’s being told a sophisticated joke, and the butt of the joke is the parent who is constantly urging her toward upright behavior. I want to suggest that Gothic nonsense should be a part of every child’s upbringing.
  • The public school system is a foundational part of our social contract. But our laws and policies ensure that the most coveted public schools are only accessible to the select few who have the resources to play the game. We have to do better to fulfill Justice Warren’s promise.

"How Public Schools Cherry-Pick Their Students" (2023)

"How Public Schools Cherry-Pick Their Students", Time (May 17, 2023)
  • The public schools are not as inclusive as we typically assume them to be, and they often turn children away for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons, violating the foundational promise of common schools that are open to all children.
  • Historically, the most coveted public schools in America use government-drawn maps to discriminate against students who live in "less desirable" parts of town.
  • It’s commonplace for Americans of all races and income levels to use a false address to get into a school that they aren’t zoned for. School districts then sometimes hire private eyes to spy on kids and even put parents in jail for crossing the lines.
  • So when a charter school is found to be cherry-picking its students, there are consequences. Local ACLU chapters, including Southern California and Arizona, have published reports detailing how charter schools have either broken the law or violated its spirit…But the rest of the public schools are held to a very low legal standard of access and face very little scrutiny of their enrollment practices.
  • It’s clear that our public education system is not "available to all on equal terms." As a country, we desperately need to repair our social contract. One vital way to do that is to restore the promise of public education as a system of common schools that are truly open to all American children.

"Three Big Myths of a Public School Education" (2023)

"Three Big Myths of a Public School Education", The Free Press (June 15, 2023)
  • Public education in our country has long relied on certain foundational myths. Many—perhaps most—of us have largely accepted these myths as articles of faith. Now, a handful of journalists and activist parents are exposing the often-troubling realities.
  • With school access governed by government-drawn maps, families bid up the prices of homes within the coveted zone. As a result, the best schools are almost always located in the areas with the most expensive homes. A home within the zone will often cost $200,000 or more than an equivalent home just outside it. This is the real cost of a supposedly "free" public education.
  • District bureaucrats will insist that these maps are necessary to preserve the neighborhood school. But it’s worth remembering that we all shop at neighborhood grocery stores, and we don’t need exclusionary government maps to do it.
  • American public schools were once explicitly Christian and even Protestant. I would argue that, until recently, they were implicitly Christian while also offering a heavy dose of moderate liberalism, the dominant American civil religion of the last century. But as our politics have fractured, this traditional approach to education has given way in many schools. What’s been sucked into the void has differed from place to place: sometimes a reactionary conservatism, and sometimes a radical progressive ideology that seeks to destroy much of what we’ve inherited from prior generations.
  • Perhaps, one day, the public school system will launch a counter-reformation to address some of the core problems that have prevented it from fulfilling its noble purpose. But for now, the vested powers of the educational establishment, much like the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, have chosen to take a purely defensive position. Heretics who call for reform are labeled segregationists, book banners, or at the very least, "divisive."
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