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School Admissions in the United States: Policy, Research and Practice

education, higher education, public services, schools

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Author(s):  Josh Hillman
Published date:  25 Jan 2006
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This paper reviews and distils a considerable body of evidence from the US to inform the admissions policy debate.

This paper reviews and distils a considerable body of US evidence from research and practice to inform the school admissions policy debate. It describes the organisation of admissions policy in the US and identifyies three admissions policy drivers at play: the desire to create neighbourhood schools, intake balancing, and parental school choice and differentiation.

The paper analyses the research evidence supporting these drivers and discusses the complex interaction between them. The impact of school composition on educational outcomes, both direct and indirect is discussed.

The paper goes on to examine three alternative US admissions systems where "controlled choice" is in action. Case studies from North Carolina, Massachusetts and San Francisco show how school districts have developed innovative admissions systems, balancing the policy drivers as part of strategies for raising standards and narrowing achievement gaps. Methods combine an element of parental choice with methods such as random selection, setting floor and ceiling targets for the numbers of deprived pupils and a points weighted system of school assignment which draws on pupils background and previous attainment.

The paper discusses the relative benefits and drawbacks of each system and, in the context of the vigourous debate over school admissions, provides some vital pointers for achieving a fairer system in England.