Monday, February 4, 2013

School choice in Chicago and England, and some ideas about comparing manipulabiliby

The current (February 2013) issue of the AER has the following paper by Parag Pathak and Tayfun Sonmez, which combines some incisive observation with some new theory:

 School Admissions Reform in Chicago and England: Comparing Mechanisms by Their Vulnerability to Manipulation
Parag A. Pathak and Tayfun Sönmez

"In Fall 2009, Chicago authorities abandoned a school assignment mechanism midstream, citing concerns about its vulnerability to manipulation. Nonetheless, they asked thousands of applicants to re-rank schools in a new mechanism that is also manipulable. This paper introduces a method to compare mechanisms by their vulnerability to manipulation. Our methodology formalizes how the old mechanism is at least as manipulable as any other plausible mechanism, including the new one. A number of similar transitions took place in England after the widely popular Boston mechanism was ruled illegal in 2007. Our approach provides support for these and other recent policy changes.  "

Here's their story of school choice in England (where I am today):

"In England, forms of school choice have been available for at least three decades.  The nationwide 2003 School Admissions Code mandated that Local Authorities, an operating body much like a US school district, coordinate their admissions practices. This reform provided families with a single application form and established a common admissions timeline, leading to a March announcement of placements for anxious 10 and 11 year-olds on National Offer Day. The next nationwide reform came with the 2007 School Admissions Code. While strengthening the enforcement of admissions rules, this legal code also prohibited authorities from using what they refer to as ‘‘unfair oversubscription criteria’’ in Section 2.13:

In setting oversubscription criteria the admission authorities for all 
maintained schools must not: give priority to children according to the order of other schools 
named as preferences by their parents, including ‘first preference first’ arrangements.

A first preference first system is any ‘‘oversubscription criterion that gives priority to children according to the order of other schools named as a preference by their parents, or only considers applications stated as a first preference’’ (School Admissions Code 2007, Glossary, p. 118). The 2007 Admissions Code outlaws use of this system at more than 150 Local Authorities across the country, and this ban continues with the 2010 Code. The best known first preference first system is the Boston mechanism, and since 2007 it is banned in England.  The rationale for this ban, as stated by England’s Department for Education and Skills, is that ‘‘the ‘first preference first’ criterion made the system unnecessarily complex to parents’’ (School Code 2007, Foreword, p. 7). Moreover, Education Secretary Alan Johnson remarked that the first preference first system ‘‘forces many parents to play an ‘admissions game’ with their children’s future.’’

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