Monday, May 22, 2023

Available To All: Same Old Crew, New Wrapper

Every year thousands of American kids are unfairly or illegally turned away from public schools. Hear their stories and how we are fighting back on their behalf.

That's the top line at the site for Available To All, a new (sort of) outfit founded (maybe) and headed up by Tim DeRoche, author of  A Fine Line: How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools.' DeRoche started out at McKinsey, then spent some time in the investment world before spending 20 years as an independent business consultant. Along the way he wrote a best-selling retelling of Huck Finn and produced/wrote a PBS kids science series (Grampa's Garage)

A Fine Line came out in 2020, and was praised soundly by Tony Miller (former Deputy Secretary of Education under Barack Obama), Lester Hiner (EdChoice), Gregory McGinty (Broad Foundation), Mona Davids (founder NYC Parents Union) and Corey DeAngelis (choice cheerleader for hire). DeRoche spent five years researching and collecting stories for the book, which hits on many of the themes that we find in ATA, in particular focusing on educational redlining, the practice of drawing lines so that districts include the Right Students. That can include old district lines and the modern practice of seceding from a district, what I once called white flight without the actual flight

When exactly was Available To All born? That's a bit fuzzy. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine finds a version of the site in November of 2021. Same text as current front page, different design, no links to other pages, and an invitation to "Sign up now for updates as we move toward our launch in early 2022." In August of 2022, the archive finds the familiar front page, but none of the inside pages show up at that time. On his LinkedIn profile, DeRoche dates his founding of ATA from January of 2023, by March the inside pages show up, and on his LinkedIn page, DeRoche posts "Today we launch Available To All" and says he'll be suspending his consulting biz to run it.

Characterizing itself as a "watchdog group" (and not, say, a PR operation or a website), The ATA position is pretty simple:

Our mission is to ensure the public schools are available to all on equal terms, as promised by the Supreme Court. Public schools of all types--traditional, charter, magnet--should have admission policies that are simple, fair and transparent. We believe it is vital for our social contract that the best public schools be accessible to families of all backgrounds.

And DeRoche thanks his partners-- 50CAN, Stand Together, Bryan Gillette, and ExcellinEd.

50CAN is the longtime choicer-promoting advocacy group. Stand Together is the rebranded Koch Foundation. Bryan Gillette is a PR firm. ExcellinEd is the Jeb Bush choice advocacy group. 

The Director of Digital Communications is Aaron Guerrero, who "worked at two leading education reform groups," the California Charter Schools Association and StudentsFirst. The Board of Directors is chaired by Derrell Bradford, head of 50CAN, a pro-privatization outfit. The other two members are DeRoche and Adam Peshek, the education guy at Stand Together, formerly at ExcelinEd.

So what is Available To All, "a nonpartisan watchdog defending equal access to public schools." actually saying?

The basic message is that public schools do not provide fair and equal access to all students, and thereby, they suggest, not living up to the Supreme Court requirements of Brown v. Board. And DeRoche cites different sorts of stories, typified by what he writes in the current Time, "How public schools cherry pick their students." Not all are equally valid critiques.

He has several times turned to the story of an Arizona mom whose autistic child was rejected by a public school because they didn't have "any more room" for kids with disabilities. This is absolutely not okay. It is also an absolutely predictable result of Arizona's open enrollment law, which says you can pick any school you want to attend. Because individual schools do not have infinite capacity, the law allows for caps. Because there are caps, not everyone gets to go to the school of their choice. The fix here is really simple-- cut open enrollment and make each public school responsible for the education of every child in their area (just like most other states in the country).

DeRoche also takes some charters to task for cherry picking--and then tries to lump them in with public schools. Charter schools are not public schools, and their ability to officially or not-so-openly curate their student body is one reason why. 

DeRoche is critical of magnet schools and the games they play to manage their enrollment. He's got a point; some magnet schools don't quite work as intended, like using a magnet to attract wood and gold. He also throws a shot at Ney York City schools, which I've come to believe are representative of nothing except New York City schools and if so many journalists, thinky tank folks, and policy wonks did not live in NYC, we wouldn't talk about that system nearly so often.

His most solid complaint is educational redlining. There's no question that it has been used in some cities as a way to resegregate schools. The really unfortunate aspect of this issue is that the country has been steadily rolling back all manner of civil rights actions (thank you, conservative judges). States have gone to court to argue that they have no obligation to do more than the bare minimum in providing education. How do we convince districts to reverse education redlining, or states to make them? 

I don't have a certain answer, and I doubt that ATA does, either. Nor am I 100% certain that they're looking for one.

I don't assume that anybody with ties to a Koch organization or Jeb! Bush is automatically evil and awful. But we know that the organizations that are tied to ATA have a fairly clear agenda. And that agenda has never been the support and strengthening of public education.

So what do they get out of backing DeRoche's project?

Well, for one, they get to push out headlines that accuse public schools of cherry picking. This has been a standard talking point response to the idea that public schools are better than choice for taxpayers because public schools serve everyone-- "No, they don't. They're all cherry picky, too." So here's a whole "nonpartisan" group to help push that talking point out into the press and help discredit public schools (even if it has to enlist charter schools and anti-public school policies to do it).

While "the principle that public schools need to be 'available to all on equal terms,' as the Supreme Court requires" is an idea worth supporting, I note that ATA doesn't advocate for the solution of, day, making every public school an excellent one by providing resources and support and taxing the super-rich to make it possible. Nor do I see them calling to break through educational redlining by, say, busing students across those lines. And they certainly aren't making a single sound about using public tax dollars to provide vouchers that finance schools that are openly and explicitly absolutely NOT available to all.

Educational gerrymandering is certainly a real issue, but I'm hard pressed to think of a time that these groups have been out there fighting against it, other than promoting school choice as a way for a select few students to escape, or programs like the Arizona open enrollment program that guarantees some students will be shut out. And, of course, gerrymandering of school districts wouldn't matter so much if it wasn't a tool for segregating resources. 

So, bottom line, I'd say that tucked in amongst ATA's complaints are some real issues, or at least the tip of some real issues. But I'm betting this organization is not going to lead the search for actual solutions.


  1. Regarding dates, I found a PDF at dated 7/26/2022 and with the author "Tim's laptop". It mentions "Tim DeRoche, the President of Available to All" and gives a deadline by September 16, 2022. The domain name was registered 2021-10-28. "yes. every kid" is another choicer-promoting group.

    1. Good catch. yes. every kid. is not just a choicer group, but a Koch organization.

    2. ATA received their tax exempt status on 1/23/2023 with an effective date of exception April 25, 2022. . A California Business Search at says the CA shows April 25th was the initial filing date for the company.

    3. We're not some shadow group....You can just ask me when we got started!

      Happy to tell you anything you want to know about how we got started, why I wanted to do this, or what our goals are.

    4. Our host already asked that in the blog post, with, "When exactly was Available To All born?", followed by research backing up the conclusion that it's "a bit fuzzy".

  2. Hi Peter - Thanks for the thoughtful critique. We're just getting started, so that's why there isn't too much out there. (I've been working toward the launch for a couple years, but we only officially launched in March.) I do indeed believe that many public schools are cherry-picking a lot more than we know. It's just a natural human instinct, and we need strong laws and oversight to ensure that it's kept to a minimum. ATA has a couple big reports in the works, one about the decriminalization of address sharing and a second about the laws that govern public school enrollment procedures. We're big fans of Open Enrollment, especially true OE without any loopholes. Hope you'll follow along and keep an open mind as we do more work. We're always open to a critique offered in a spirit of goodwill!

    1. The solution that will help all kids is equitable public resources in each district, wrap-around community schools, and smaller class sizes.