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From Immediate Acceptance to Deferred Acceptance: Effects on School Admissions and Achievement in England

Working Paper

Camille Terrier, Parag Pathak, and Kevin Ren

September 2021

Countries and cities around the world increasingly rely on centralized systems to assign students to schools. Two algorithms, deferred acceptance (DA) and immediate acceptance (IA), are widespread. The latter is often criticized for harming disadvantaged families who fail to get access to popular schools. This paper investigates the effect of the national ban of the IA mechanism in England in 2008. Before the ban, 49 English local authorities used DA and 16 used IA. All IA local authorities switched to DA afterwards, giving rise to a cross-market difference-in-differences research design. The results show that the elimination of IA reduces measures of school quality for low-SES students more than high-SES students. After the ban, low-SES students attend schools with lower value-added and more disadvantaged and low-achieving peers. This effect is primarily driven by a decrease in low-SES admissions at selective schools. The findings point to an unintended consequence of the IA to DA transition: by encouraging high- SES parents to report their preferences truthfully, DA increases competition for top schools, which crowds out low-SES students.