How Do Boston Public Schools Assign Seats?
School Assignment, December 2005
Abdulkadiroglu, Pathak, Roth, and Sonmez study the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system for assigning students to schools in response to a Globe article which highlighted the difficulties that Boston’s system may give parents in strategizing during the application process. They describe the difficulties of the Boston mechanism and explore possible replacement mechanisms.
School choice in Boston has been partly shaped by desegregation. In 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered busing for racial balance. In 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals freed BPS to adopt a new, choice-based assignment plan. In 1999 BPS eliminated racial preferences in assignment and adopted a new mechanism. The design tried to give students their first choice school. However, a student who fails to get her first choice may find her later choices filled by students who chose them first. Thus, there is a risk in ranking a school first if there is a chance of not being admitted; other schools that would have been possible had they been listed first may also be filled.