Did the Nobel Prize Committee choose this year’s economics laureates to influence the growing debate in Boston about how to assign students to public schools? I know we’re the hub of the universe and all that, but the Scandinavians can’t possibly be so focused on our issues. Still, the awards to economists Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth shouldn’t just shine a spotlight on their work on assignment mechanisms. It should also make us pause before embracing changes that restrict the school choices of Boston’s parents — especially those with less means.
Boston has struggled for decades to find an equitable way to assign students to schools. The current system for elementary- and middle-school children splits the city up into three zones. Children entering the system generate a list of their preferred schools, which can be within their zone, or within a mile of their home, or one of the city’s few “city-wide” schools. High school students can apply anywhere. Students with siblings in a school or who live within walking distance of a school have a better chance of getting in. But beyond those factors, a lottery determines which child goes where.