Centralized enrollment matches students and schools of choice

By Douglas N. HarrisJon Valant and Betheny Gross, EducationNext, Fall 2015 

In most areas, public school assignments are generally determined by the home address of the student. However, when school choices are offered the application and assignment process can become difficult. In New Orleans the application process was initially decentralized, and individual applications had to be submitted to each school that a student wanted to apply to. This proved to be confusing and burdensome to parents, as well as inefficient and potentially unfair in terms of matching students to schools.

The city has now updated the assignment process by centralizing it and using a computer algorithm to match schools and students. The algorithm takes into account student requests, school admission priorities, and seat availability. New Orleans and Denver became the first cities to use this Roth/Shapley-inspired centralized enrollment system across charter and district sectors. The system used in New Orleans, OneApp, provides families with information about applications, profiles of prospective schools, and the actual application. The algorithm leaves all assignments tentative until the final round, ensuring optimal choices for both students and schools.

The Louisiana Recovery School District set three goals for the OneApp; efficiency, fairness, and transparency. The app has generally been able to make the process more efficient, fair, and transparent, although it does not have the ability to eliminate all problems associated with the enrollment process. The success of the system partially depends on public support, and the trust that parents have in the system. Administrators pay careful attention to the successes and failures of the system, in order to continually develop the system and provide the best matches possible.

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