Archive for October, 2022



October 28, 2022

Hello Mr. White House Fellow. It was nice visiting you in the Washington, DC area a few weeks ago while I was attending EAAMO. I hadn’t expected so many papers there to be focused on school choice and the drawing of attendance boundaries, which are very American problems that have a strong role to play in structural inequity. A series of studies by Chetty et al. show that the friends and neighbors of the family in early life have a very strong role to play in your future earnings — much more than your own family characteristics. (Income is not the best proxy for success, but it is something.) Parents want to give their kids the best opportunity they can, and the peer group is the biggest thing they can do. The introduction to the page linked above on school choice states that “many still choose their schools by buying a home in their desired district.” That was the case for Sonia and me 22 months ago when we moved into a new home, and I think it was the case for Mamma and Papa when you and I were in early elementary school and we moved into a new home.

There are many similarities in the situation of the two homes. Both are in neighborhoods next to a small body of water (Hardscrabble Lake; Snooks Pond) off of a long-named, hilly and wooded road (Hardscrabble Road; Woodchuck Hill Road) that connects a state route (120; 92) and an unnumbered ‘ville’-ending artery (Pleasantville Road; Jamesville Road). They are both in academically-strong, predominantly white, affluent for their county, New York State public central school districts (Chappaqua; Fayetteville-Manlius) having 3 elementary schools (grades K-4), 2 middle schools (grades 5-8), and 1 high school (grades 9-12). Both are located near the boundary of the district and closer to the high school of a different smaller school district (Briarcliff Manor; Jamesville-Dewitt). They are within the attendance boundary of the one elementary school of three (Roaring Brook; Mott Road) that divides its attendance between middle schools and goes to the older (built 1928; 1932) middle school with neo-classical architecture (Robert E. Bell; Wellwood).

For all the similarities, however, there are differences that I’ve been observing over the last 22 months. Whereas the famous coach who lives in our Fayetteville neighborhood coached college lacrosse (Roy Simmons, Jr.), the famous coaches who lived in our Chappaqua neighborhood coached professional basketball (Stu Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy). On the sidelines of kids’ soccer games, parents in Chappaqua talk about which swimming and tennis club they’re joining. There are a lot of business consultants and finance guys. The school board takes retreats to the luxurious Mohonk Mountain Resort. Despite both districts being filled with mostly upper middle class people (the top 20%), the income distribution is quite different and I think it makes a difference.

Chappaqua Central School District Economic Statistics (from

Chappaqua Central School District Economic Statistics

Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District Economic Statistics (from

Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District Economic Statistics

Chetty et al.’s work makes clear that at the very top of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale compared to any other regime, “the highest-SES individuals tend to have particularly high-SES friends.” Like in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, it bears out that “Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours”.

At Mott Road, our music teacher Mrs. Clark with the help of other teachers and parents put on a musical production of Peter Pan for which Mamma challengingly sewed the crocodile costume, and all the other costumes were just spare clothes of various kinds contributed by families. This year at Roaring Brook, my kids are participating in a production of Peter Pan as well, but it is being directed and produced by outside professionals with professional costumes, lighting, etc. and we have to pay a not insignificant fee for them to participate. To me, this kind of approach foments greater class hierarchy and divides. I’m sure I was sheltered, naïve, and not woke, but I didn’t feel divides being fomented as much in Fayetteville as in Chappaqua. (“We ought to use the pluperfect and say wakened, but woke is better and was always used by Peter.”)

Now I don’t see other options as an individual actor, being where we are locationally and with present day structures in place, wanting to give my kids the best chance they can have. Not letting the kids take the opportunity we have put in front of them would be a disservice to them. Despite valuing some amount of equity, I have seemingly cast a hypocritic die as a card-carrying ‘dream hoarder‘. Unlike anyone else in the neighborhood, I do my own lawn-mowing, weed-whacking, and hedge-trimming with the hope that my kids see my actions and don’t end up being very entitled, but I don’t think that will do much. I have to let them fly like Wendy, John, and Michael Darling, but I have to keep them grounded in some other way.