Solving school segregation with the matching mechanisms of schools

In recent years, economists have gained significant experience (and fame) in practical market design in matching children to schools. Much of this success is based on the seminal papers by Gale and Shapley (GS), which were initially used for entry-level job markets.

The aim of matching mechanisms is to collect information from market participants – schools and children – as ordered preferences, which are called priorities in the case of schools, and find an allocation that is safe and efficient for them.

This approach has recently been very fruitful in many real-life cases that explore the allocation of school places to students in primary, secondary and upper-secondary schools. Although generally speaking, no mechanism incentivises all participants to be truthful, there are some useful design principles. For example, if priorities are based on objective criteria like distance, the GS mechanism (also known as deferred acceptance) is safe and incentivises the true revelation of preferences for families. There is also evidence of ‘bad’ design, e.g. immediate acceptance known as the Boston mechanism, and it has been mostly replaced with the GS mechanism.

The number of existing applications is growing with the number of urban areas facing various social problems related to parental free school choice. These problems are related to urban segregation, which in turn feeds into school segregation; the distances children have to travel to schools and urban transport problems related to it, siblings in different schools and the ability of disadvantaged families or special education children to exercise school choices and more.

Photo: Yuliia Mazurkevych / Adobe Stock