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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.