Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boston School Choice: it's not all location

The latest article in the Globe's series on school choice in Boston, by Jenna Russell, makes very graphically a point I like to make by saying that school choice always brings out two political viewpoints. Those who live close to good schools are members of the "walk to school party", while those who don't are members of the "school choice party".  In Boston, those interests are accommodated by having half the seats in some schools give a priority for children who live in the "walk zone," while the other half do not. The decision is then made based on the preference lists the families submit (via a deferred acceptance algorithm that makes it safe for families to reveal their preferences), with ties broken by lottery.

The article focuses on two children, one of whom lives right across the street from a good school and one who doesn't. The kindergarten only has 32 places, only 16 of which are reserved for local children, with the other 16 giving everyone equal access. Since there are lots of ties, the lottery is important.

An early education in the meaning of ‘no’

"The system seems deeply regrettable to her parents, Jen and Doug Bowen-Flynn. But to Marie and Markel Wade of Dor chester, it is a blessing. They, too, live steps away from an elementary school. If school assignments were based on proximity, they would have no choice but to send their children to Winthrop Elementary, which has lower test scores and a less polished reputation.
Instead, because of a lottery that gives all students a chance to seek a seat at better-regarded schools, it is they who send their children to the school on Sawyer’s doorstep."

(Our papers on the design of the Boston school choice mechanism here.)

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