Reserve Design: Unintended Consequences and the Demise of Boston’s Walk Zones

Peer-reviewed Publication

Umut Dur, Scott Duke Kominers, Parag Pathak, and Tayfun Sönmez

November 2018

We show that in the presence of admissions reserves, the effect of the precedence order (i.e., the order in which different types of seats are filled) is comparable to the effect of adjusting reserve sizes. Either lowering the precedence of reserve seats at a school or increasing the school’s reserve size weakly increases reserve-group assignment at that school. Using data from Boston Public Schools, we show that reserve and precedence adjustments have similar quantitative effects. Transparency about these issues—in particular, how precedence unintentionally undermined intended policy—led to the elimination of walk zone reserves in Boston’s public school match.