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The Demise of Walk Zones in Boston: Priorities vs. Precedence in School Choice

  • Umut M. Dur
  • Scott Duke Kominers
  • Parag A. Pathak
  • Tayfun Sönmez

School choice plans in many cities grant students higher priority for some (but not all) seats at their neighborhood schools. This paper demonstrates how the precedence order, i.e. the order in which different types of seats are filled by applicants, has quantitative effects on distributional objectives comparable to priorities in the deferred acceptance algorithm. While Boston's school choice plan gives priority to neighborhood applicants for half of each school's seats, the intended effect of this policy is lost because of the precedence order. Despite widely held impressions about the importance of neighborhood priority, the outcome of Boston's implementation of a 50-50 school split is nearly identical to a system without neighborhood priority. We formally establish that either increasing the number of neighborhood priority seats or lowering the precedence order positions of neighborhood seats at a school have the same effect: an increase in the number of neighborhood students assigned to the school. We then show that in Boston a reversal of precedence with no change in priorities covers almost three-quarters of the range between 0% and 100% neighborhood priority. Therefore, decisions about precedence are inseparable from decisions about priorities. Transparency about these issues--in particular, how precedence unintentionally undermined neighborhood priority--led to the abandonment of neighborhood priority in Boston in 2013.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18981.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18981
Note: ED LS PE
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  1. Tayfun Sönmez & Tobias B. Switzer, 2013. "Matching With (Branch‐of‐Choice) Contracts at the United States Military Academy," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 81(2), pages 451-488, 03.
  2. John William Hatfield & Paul R. Milgrom, 2005. "Matching with Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 913-935, September.
  3. Aytek Erdil & Haluk Ergin, 2007. "What`s the Matter with Tie-breaking? Improving Efficiency in School Choice," Economics Series Working Papers 349, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. Guillaume Haeringer & Flip Klijn, 2015. "Constrained School Choice," Working Papers 294, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  5. Nathaniel Baum-Snow & Byron F. Lutz, 2011. "School Desegregation, School Choice, and Changes in Residential Location Patterns by Race," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3019-46, December.
  6. Tayfun S�nmez, 2013. "Bidding for Army Career Specialties: Improving the ROTC Branching Mechanism," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(1), pages 186 - 219.
  7. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun S�nmez, 2005. "The Boston Public School Match," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 368-371, May.
  8. Pathak, Parag A. & Sethuraman, Jay, 2011. "Lotteries in student assignment: An equivalence result," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 6(1), January.
  9. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun Sönmez, 2006. "Changing the Boston School Choice Mechanism," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 639, Boston College Department of Economics.
  10. Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sonmez, 2008. "Leveling the Playing Field: Sincere and Sophisticated Players in the Boston Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1636-52, September.
  11. Haluk I. Ergin, 2002. "Efficient Resource Allocation on the Basis of Priorities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(6), pages 2489-2497, November.
  12. Hatfield, John William & Kojima, Fuhito, 2010. "Substitutes and stability for matching with contracts," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 145(5), pages 1704-1723, September.
  13. Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez, 2011. "School Admissions Reform in Chicago and England: Comparing Mechanisms by their Vulnerability to Manipulation," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 784, Boston College Department of Economics.
  14. Caterina Calsamiglia & Guillaume Haeringer & Flip Klijn, 2008. "Constrained School Choice: An Experimental Study," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 757.08, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  15. Yenmez, M. Bumin & Yildirim, Muhammed Ali & Hafalir, Isa Emin, 2013. "Effective affirmative action in school choice," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 8(2), May.
  16. Eric Budish & Yeon-Koo Che & Fuhito Kojima & Paul Milgrom, 2013. "Designing Random Allocation Mechanisms: Theory and Applications," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(2), pages 585-623, April.
  17. Leah Platt Boustan, 2010. "School Desegregation and Urban Change: Evidence from City Boundaries," NBER Working Papers 16434, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Kelso, Alexander S, Jr & Crawford, Vincent P, 1982. "Job Matching, Coalition Formation, and Gross Substitutes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1483-1504, November.
  19. Federico Echenique, 2012. "Contracts versus Salaries in Matching," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(1), pages 594-601, February.
  20. Scott Duke Kominers & Tayfun Sönmez, 2012. "Designing for Diversity: Matching with Slot-Specific Priorities," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 806, Boston College Department of Economics.
  21. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Tayfun Sönmez, 2003. "School Choice: A Mechanism Design Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 729-747, June.
  22. Balinski, Michel & Sonmez, Tayfun, 1999. "A Tale of Two Mechanisms: Student Placement," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 73-94, January.
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