How to Meet Student Body Diversity Goals While Still Giving Parents a Say in Where Their Child Goes to School


Ashley Smith
PR Specialist

How to Meet Student Body Diversity Goals While Still Giving Parents a Say in Where Their Child Goes to School

INFORMS Journal Operations Research New Study Key Takeaways:

  • A new algorithm achieves school diversity goals while allowing parents to still have a say in where their child attends.
  • The only caveat with the model is there is no way to control the size of a school, so diversity changes may have more of an impact on smaller schools.
  • In order to reach goals, some schools may have to have empty seats.


CATONSVILLE, MD, September 3, 2019 – All parents want their children to get the best education possible, so how do school districts allow parents/guardians to have a say in where their child goes to school while still meeting diversity goals for the student body? New research in an upcoming addition of the INFORMS journal Operations Research has a solution, just in time for children to return to school for the 2019-2020 year.

Giving parents and students a voice in which school they attend is done by using school choice programs. These programs try to assign students to their most preferred school and seek to close an opportunity gap, which is usually expressed in terms of proportions or diversity goals. 

School districts frequently modify their priorities over factors such as a student’s distance to the school or whether they have siblings in the same school, by giving more weight to race or socioeconomic status. This does not guarantee that the diversity goals will be met. Sometimes these goals are replaced by numbers related to the capacity of the school, which poses a problem because schools aren’t being filled to capacity and it is hard to predict which schools will be popular with parents from year to year.

The authors, Thanh Nguyen of Purdue University and Rakesh Vohra of the University of Pennsylvania, say they have come up with a method that doesn’t replace diversity goals with numbers or modify priorities. 

“Our solution gives everyone what they want. The only caveat is there is no way to guarantee the proportionality requirements for small schools. A large school will have little movement in diversity levels because if a small number of students from a particular group are added or removed, it won’t really change the overall percentages. But with a small school, if a single student leaves it makes a big difference in the percentages,” said Vohra, a professor in the Departments of Economics and Electrical and Systems Engineering.

This research allows schools to more closely meet their goals, while giving parents more options and not limiting families to the school in their neighborhood.


About INFORMS and Operations Research

Operations Research is a premier peer-reviewed scholarly journal focused on the applications of operations research. The research serves the entire research community, including practitioners, educators and students. It is published by INFORMS, the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. More information is available at or @informs.





Ashley Smith