VEST Education and Research Speaker Series: Jon Valant

When Schools Choose Students: Biases, Challenges, and Opportunities in School Choice Placement Algorithms

  • - EDT
  • Holloway Hall (Bavaro Hall 116)
When Schools Choose Students: Biases, Challenges, and Opportunities in School Choice Placement Algorithms

Many cities with school choice programs employ algorithms to make school placements. These algorithms use student priorities to determine which applicants get seats in oversubscribed schools. This study explores whether the New Orleans placement algorithm tends to favor students of certain races or socioeconomic classes. Specifically, we examine cases where families of Black and White or poor and nonpoor children request the same elementary school as their top choice. We find that when Black and White applicants submit the same first-choice request for kindergarten, Black applicants are 9 percentage points less likely to receive it. Meanwhile, students in poverty are 6 percentage points less likely to receive a first-choice placement than other applicants for the same kindergarten program. However, these biases are not inevitable. In non-entry grades, where placement policies favor students whose schools are closing, Black and low-income applicants are more likely to obtain first-choice placements than their peers. We examine these priorities and simulate placements under alternate specifications of a deferred-acceptance algorithm to assess the potential of algorithm reform as a policymaking tool.

Speaker Bio
A headshot of Jon Valant, VEST Event Guest Speaker Fall 2023

Jon Valant is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and the Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. He specializes in PK-12 education policy and politics. Much of his research examines inequities in U.S. schools and the policies that mitigate or exacerbate those inequities. This includes work on topics such as school choice, student discipline, resource allocation, and the barriers that keep families from accessing opportunities. 

He works closely with local and state research-practice partnerships (RPPs) in Louisiana and Washington, DC. Jon also studies the politics of education, examining issues related to public opinion, partisan politics, education governance, and the goals of public education. He engages regularly with local, state, and federal policymakers, and co-edits an education policy research blog called the Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard. Jon holds a PhD (Education) and MA (Political Science) from Stanford University and an MPP from Harvard University.


This event is open to the public. No registration is required to attend.

Event Information

Event Sponsor

  • Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Fellowship Program