a good match (updated)

New Nobel prize winner designed city's HS admissions system

The latest Nobel Laureate is the economist who designed the system the city uses to match students to high schools.

Alvin Roth, a product of Queens’ Martin Van Buren High School who is now a professor of economics at Stanford University, was today named one of two winners of this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. The prize recognized his work in market theory, where he has studied markets of people, rather than prices.

To address a time-consuming medical residency matching process that induced perverse incentives for applicants to list less-preferred options first, Roth engineered what is now known as a “deferred acceptance algorithm.” The algorithm allowed the placement system to match applicants to residency programs based on their highest mutual preference.

The deferred acceptance algorithm became the basis for New York City’s high school admissions process in 2003 and remains the mechanism that the city uses to match nearly 100,000 students and schools each year.

In a 2005 paper, Roth and two other researchers detailed the process that brought the algorithm to the Department of Education. He wrote that the department’s then-director of strategic planning, Jeremy Lack, approached him to suss out whether the medical match system he designed could work in a sprawling system of public schools with diverse admissions policies.

“The three authors of the present paper … advised (and often convinced) Lack, his colleagues (particularly Elizabeth Sciabarra and Neil Dorosin), and the DOE’s software vendor, about the design of the match,” Roth and his fellow researchers wrote.

The paper concluded that the admissions system in its first year was not perfect but represented an improvement over what previously existed. The system allows students to list more schools on their applications than they could under the pre-2003 system, but it also ensures that they receive only one admissions offer and have no chance of winding up on a waiting list.

Each year, about 10 percent of applicants aren’t matched with any of the schools they listed on their applications and must  reapply to schools that still have open seats in a second-round process.

“What I can’t say is that it would be absolutely better for everyone,” Roth told the New York Times in 2003. ”I think it’s going to be better for many people. It’s going to be better for the city. But I can’t say that everyone will be better off because some people benefit from the private dealing, some people benefit from the inefficiencies.”

But he also told the newspaper that he would prefer to take his chances in his system than in the old one.

Roth is the second Martin Van Buren alumnus ever to win a Nobel prize and also the second New York City public school product to win a Nobel prize this year. Last week, Robert Lefkowitz, a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, won the Nobel prize in chemistry. He was Bronx Science’s eighth Nobel laureate, making it the high school with the most graduates who have earned the prestigious award.

Roth’s market research also undergirds a recent innovation in organ donation, the long chain for kidney exchanges.

Updated: “I want to congratulate Alvin Roth for winning the Nobel Prize and creating the algorithm on which our high school admissions process is based and which has benefited thousands of students since we first implemented it in the 2003-04 school year,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement that recognized Roth as the second graduate of Martin Van Buren to win a Nobel prize.

Updated again: Roth did not actually graduate from Martin Van Buren High School, according to a 2010 profile in Forbes Magazine, which says he dropped out during his junior year. “I think I was understimulated,” Roth told Forbes.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede