A Chinese MIT Grad Student Designed the New School Choice System

A good example of collaboration between the city and its talented academics.

The Boston School Committee voted to approve a plan that ends the current school zone system, a decades-old legacy of the busing plan. The new plan allows parents to request six schools, two of which will be among the highest performers in the district. For those not personally immersed in it, one of the most interesting angles to this story is that Boston picked a plan developed by a young Chinese-Canadian grad student. That’s the angle the New York Times went with. Profiling the student, Peng Shi, today, the Times’s Katherine Seelye writes:

That it took a dispassionate outsider with coding skills but no political agenda to formulate the model is a measure of the complexities facing urban school districts today. Many such districts, like Boston’s, are plagued by inequities, with too few good schools and children mostly of color trapped in low-performing schools. Overcoming that legacy here has been so emotionally charged that previous attempts to redraw the zones have failed (though in 2005 the district did change the algorithm it uses to assign students).

Actually, it’s worth noting that Boston reached outside political circles to an academic when it reformed the system in 2005 as well. In fact, Harvard Professor Alvin Roth won the Nobel Prize in Economics last year in part for his work reimagining the Boston school matching system.

Both cases are good examples of ways Boston can leverage its technical and academic talent in the civic sphere. The Boston Globe ran a great editorial series “Open Up, Boston” last month suggesting ways the city can be more welcoming, and it included a plea for civic leaders to embrace the younger, techier community. Peng’s plan isn’t without controversy, but it still shows that good can come when the city works with the new-comer talent its striving to keep around.