Matchmaking: Enabling Mandatory Public School Choice in New York and Boston

Thomas Toch and Chad Aldeman
Education Sector
September 2009

Mandatory public choice--the practice of a school system requiring students to choose a school rather than be automatically assigned to one--has shown to foster innovation in public schools if joined with an effective placement system, according to this report from Education Sector. The report chronicles the evolution and success of New York’s and Boston’s systems of public school choice, both of which were initially stymied by logistical hurdles and ineffective methods of placing students in the schools they wanted. The districts consulted with experts who had developed successful models for placing medical students in residency programs, awarding law clerkships to law students, and pairing kidney donors with recipients. As a result of the improved school-placement practices, more students were able to get into their top picks, which in turn increased competition among schools. The report’s extensive explanation of the matching methodologies could be useful to districts seeking to create or improve their magnet and school-choice lottery processes and also how to create a successful portfolio of schools. (New York has a well-developed one.) Such mandatory choice programs have yet to show any significant impact on achievement, but they lay a solid foundation for increased competition and innovation among public schools and can provide a valuable complement to charter schools and voucher programs. Check out the full report here.

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