BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bea Reviews A Fine Line: How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools by Tim DeRoche

Publisher: Redtail Press
Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: May 17th, 2020
Buying Links: Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Books | Kobo |
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Blurb from goodreads:

WHAT SIDE OF THE LINE DO YOU LIVE ON?

Coming on May 17th, the 66th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that little Linda Brown couldn't be excluded from a public school because of her race. In that landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the court famously declared that public education must be available to all on equal terms, but sixty-six years later, many of the best public schools remain closed to all but the most privileged families. Empowered by little-known state laws, school districts draw attendance zones around their best schools, indicating who is, and who isn't, allowed to enroll. In many American cities, this means that living on one side of the street or the other will determine whether you leave eighth grade on a track for future success or barely able to read.

In A Fine Line, bestselling author Tim DeRoche takes a close look at the laws and policies that dictate which kids are allowed to go to which schools. And he finds surprising parallels between current education policies and the redlining practices of the New Deal era in which minority families were often denied mortgages and government housing assistance because they didn't live within certain desirable zones of the city. It is an extraordinary story of American democracy gone wrong that will make you question everything you think you know about our public education system.


My Thoughts:

Although I teach toddlers in an early childcare center, and not children at a public school, I was intrigued by the topic of this book, especially in light of last year's college admission's scandal. You may have seen news stories about parents arrested for enrolling their child in a public school with a 'fraudulent' address. DeRoche addresses this - how public schools and neighborhoods are zoned, state and city laws and policies on public education and school enrollment, and why the current system isn't working.

Right now in the United States of America, states provide public schools for all children. This is not established in the Constitution by the way. It's a state-established right, via state constitutions. All 50 states do provide public education but the actual requirements and expectations vary by state. DeRoche gives examples from specific state constitutions so we can see exactly the wording and the promises given re publicly provided education . Then he looks at specific schools in certain cities and which local families are allowed to send their children to the neighborhood school and which families and children are denied. Yes, children are allowed to be denied attending the school closest to their home while students who live further away are allowed, even encouraged, to attend that same school. Typically, white (usually) middle upper class families are zoned for the good schools while everyone else is zoned for the school that are falling apart or performing poorly. Some of the zoning rivals the gerrymandering seen for electoral purposes in their absurdity and inherent inequality.

Using specific examples, (though the names of some families have been changed), official records, and state laws as well local laws and policies, DeRoche looks at how and why this happens and the legalities, or lack thereof, of these actions. He examines the impact of racism, redlining, politics, and money. He questions why schooling is based on our neighborhood. We are allowed to choose our place of worship, our doctor, our grocery store, and even our work, regardless of where we live so why are public schools the exception? He examines how this approach benefits some schools while harming others, and looks at the games that schools and parents engage in in order to attract the 'right' students and attend the 'right' schools. Most parents want what is best for their children and sometimes that leads to outrageous behavior such as paying an extra $100,000 or more for a house in a good school district only to find out, too late, that they live on the wrong side of the street. No, that's not hyperbole or exaggeration. Some towns and cities get that specific about school zones and boundaries. Say I live on the east of Main Street; my kids go to the high-performing school a mile away while my friend across the street has to send their child to the poor-performing school down the block. What sense does that make? And this is why families game the system to get their children into a desirable public school. And this results in some schools vigorously policing family addresses and residences. Hell, some even hire private investigators to follow children and make sure they go home to the address on record. Some schools even will make impromptu visits to a child's home to verify they really live there, even checking to see they have a toothbrush there. Yeah, this book raised my blood pressure quite a bit.

DeRoche's writing is occasionally dry but that's due more to the subject matter than his ability to write. He did extensive research and every chapter has footnotes; some have graphs or maps. At the back of the book are several indexes and a bibliography. He cites court cases and rulings, interviews, articles, etc. I admit, my brain fried a little reading it all. I found that I needed to read a chapter or two then take a break; Sometimes the break was days long and at other times it was shorter, an hour or so. I can't deny that the book was an eye-opener and it certainly gave context to the news stories concerning parents who are arrested for 'fraudulently' enrolling their child. DeRoche offers possible legal and legislative solutions for changing how schools determine who attends. He acknowledges that fixing the zoning won't fix other existing problems with our school systems. Then again, those other problems weren't his focus.

I recommend this book to anyone with a concern for our educational system, fairness, or equality of access to public education. It's well worth reading, regardless of whether or not you have children.

13 comments:

  1. What an interesting and important topic. I have a friend who had the school zone line cut through her property so she was able to choose which district to attend but the neighbors on either side of her had to go to different schools. It seems rather arbitrary at times but I am sure that those specific boundary lines were drawn by someone who had some kind of agenda.

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    1. Exactly, and the agenda os rarely for the benefit of the children.

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  2. Wow. We did choose where to move so our daughter could go to one of the best school districts after she was born. But luckily our city (Mpls MN) had many great school districts. My brother just sent his kids to private schools (Tampa FL)

    Anne - Books of My Heart

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    1. You lucked out then. 😊 It's too bad private schools aren't an option for all families but at least they are for some.

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  3. Yes. This is correct. This happens in NYC a lot. I've been there myself growing up.

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    1. Got trigger happy and hit post.
      I don't agree with it. I think it's rough and unfair.

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  4. You think the system of uneven neighborhood zoning is rough and unfair? I agree with that. DeRoche actually cited NYC in his examples.

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  5. It's outrageous and heartbreaking at the same time.

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    1. It really is. DeRoche did a good job laying out the problems and offering possible solutions.

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  6. I tried reading this ARC and found it rathe repetitive, although quite infuriating. My best fiend in high school actually lived out of district n a crappy school district. Her grandparents lived in district, so they used their address.
    U ended up DNFing the book, but from your review I gather that much of what I read I could have been summed up in your review, so I don't think I mised much by not reading the rest of the book.

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    1. I can see DNFing it. It was dry at times and there was some repetition. I read it in stages as it wasn't one I could read in one sitting.

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