Boston School Lottery and the Globe

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The Globe is doing a full ‘package’ on the Boston school lottery (a subject near and dear to my heart, see here and here).

They’ve done a nice job explaining the very complex lottery and selecting a number of different families to profile (although the West Roxbury family seems like a reach — the pastor of a start-up Evangelical church?).

It appears that this series will continue over the next two weeks as lottery results go out to each of the families. A few observations:

1) How many receive their top 3 choices? The introductory Globe piece has graphic (apparently unavailable on-line) that emphasizes the how the vast majority of applicants get one of their choices (but those who don’t leave the city at an alarming rate).

However, my hunch is that graphic overstates the case. The BPS encourages people to put down as many choices as possible. One family profiled has nine choices and I’ve heard anecdotally of people going much higher. Is getting your ninth choice really the same as getting your top 3 choices?

2) The role of sibling preference — I’ll have some new data on this shortly. I’ve always felt that the BPS shielded the reality from parents by not releasing historical sibling preference numbers. It releases the number of ‘available seats’ but for very popular schools up to half of those seats are not really available to the lottery participants, they are going to siblings.

3) Complexity — BPS offers a variety of school structures — K0 – 1, K2 – 5, K2 – 5 (w/ Advanced Work), K2 – 8, K1 – 5, K1 – 5 (with Advanced Work), K1 – 8, 6 – 8, 7 – 12 (exam schools), and 9 -12. From one perspective, giving parents options is good. From another, the complexity of the system and one’s ability to discern what is best for your 3 – 4 year is a daunting task for most.

4) The Lottery is a Market — I hope the Globe explores how/if the BPS uses the lottery results in the planning. It is clear that certain schools are consistently popular. Does the BPS have plans to address this by replicating the models that people want?

Lottery results will be filtering in starting next week and I’m looking forward to how the Globe handles the rest of the series. Good luck to all.