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.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.