The performance of school assignment mechanisms in practice

Published in: Journal of Political Economy (Forthcoming). (with Monique De Haan and Pieter Gautier and Bas van der Klaauw)

The theoretical school assignment literature points to a trade-off between strategy-proof mechanisms, such as the Deferred Acceptance (DA) mechanism, and manipulable mechanisms that allow students to express the intensity of their preferences, such as the Boston mechanism. We assess this trade-off using a unique combination of register data and a novel survey instrument that elicits students' preference intensities for secondary schools in Amsterdam. Contrary to the theoretical prediction and previous empirical results, we find that DA results in higher mean welfare than the adaptive Boston mechanism used in Amsterdam. We provide evidence that this is due to students making strategic mistakes. The welfare loss due to such mistakes is equivalent to a 4.5 percent increase in home-school distances. Around 90 percent of this loss can be avoided by switching from actual Boston to strategy-proof DA. This switch also has distributional consequences because disadvantaged students and lower ability students benefit more from it.

I want to read this! (PDF)