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The Boston Public School Match

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.