Q&A on school choice and enrollment: Neil Dorosin and Gaby Fighetti from The Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice

The Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice (IIPSC) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support groups of people in cities in designing and implementing school choice and enrollment processes. They work with consortiums of people in cities to bring them through a process they call market design: creating a group of policies and operations that, when taken together as a whole, govern the way kids apply to and are accepted to schools.

IIPSC is hosting a conference on May 20, 2015 where education leaders from all over the country will gather to immerse themselves in unified enrollment theory and practice. Practitioners from cities that have already implemented or are implementing unified enrollment – Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Oakland, and Washington DC – will be on hand to share their knowledge and experiences. The goal is for all participants to emerge from the conference with a concrete set of knowledge and tools to use in advancing this critical work in their own cities.

Neil Dorosin is the Executive Director and Gaby Fighetti is the Deputy Executive Director of IIPSC. Read more about their work below.

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve at IIPSC?

Neil: In the last 25 years, we’ve seen a trend in many American cities where the model of public education as one large district as a provider is no longer what’s in place. Our work, in part, is a response to unintended consequences of that decentralization.

In most cities, there are far fewer seats and schools that are desirable than there are people who want those seats. One of the central problems in public school choice is: How do you fairly allocate those seats?

Gaby: We feel the answer to the allocation problem should use the guiding principles of transparency, efficiency, and equity:

  • Transparent: It should be easy to tell how the seats were distributed and what policies were used in making allocations.
  • Efficient: If there are two students applying to the same schools, both students should get an offer instead of one person getting two offers and the other person having to wait until the other one chooses.
  • Equitable: The process should be fair, and no group should be intentionally or unintentionally disadvantaged.

IIPSC’s mission is to support school systems and their partner organizations in developing and maintaining transparent, equitable and efficient enrollments systems and to continually improve the design of the systems of choice.

There are short and long term benefits to systems of schools as unified enrollment facilitates collaboration across sectors while also facilitating healthy competition among schools. It maximizes access and choice for families, which is the ultimate goal.

How has IIPSC effectively launched this current reform movement with unified enrollment?

Neil: IIPSC principals first worked together in New York City in the very early Joel Klein years, and in this environment there were almost no charter schools. This illustrates that the ideas within unified enrollment are not specific to any particular type of school- charter schools, district schools, non-public schools, etc. They are ideas that allow administrators to serve families better. To bring efficiency, equity, and transparency to enrollment and choice systems.

When we began working with Denver we realized that what we were doing requires district and charter sectors to work together in a whole new way, and these changes are fundamental to the way cities manage school choice and then hopefully implement portfolio reform strategy. We are committed to political neutrality and always make sure that people in cities know that our work is meant to advance healthy choice processes, not to advance any political position. We love the fact that people in cities all over the country now see the ideas and guiding principles of unified enrollment systems as things that they believe in and want to advance in their cities.

Tell us about the team who helped design the unified enrollment system.

Neil: Al Roth shared the Nobel Prize in economics for applying matching theory science to solve real world problems. Most famous examples include the Medical Residency match (matching residents and hospitals), kidney donor exchange programs (identifying compatible pairs of donors and recipients from VERY long waitlists, and saving many lives), and for unified enrollment work. Parag Pathak was his student, and is now a full professor at MIT. Atila Abdulkadiroglu co-wrote the seminal paper on the market design approach to school choice in 2003 and joined Al and Parag in the first schools project – in New York City in 2003. Al, Parag and Atila are all now members of our advisory board and active participants in our projects with cities.

It turns out that matching science can be adapted to solve these and other problems, and to make people’s live better in real and meaningful ways. We are motivated by this every day.

Who benefits from this work?

Gaby: We believe very strongly that when unified enrollment is done well, all three agents benefit: parents, individual schools, and school systems . Families/parents receive better service because many of their barriers in making school choices are reduced. Individual schools benefit from reduced instability in their registers. There’s a certain degree of equity that they experience regarding how their enrollment operations are conducted. Finally, there are short and long term benefits to systems of schools as unified enrollment facilitates collaboration across sectors while also facilitating healthy competition among schools. It maximizes access and choice for families, which is the ultimate goal.


Neil Dorosin is the executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice. He was the director of high school admissions operations at the New York City Department of Education from 2004 – 2007. He led a team in overhauling the choice system and then managed NYC DOE’s high school choice process for four years. He began his career in public education as a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx in 1994. 

Gaby Fighetti is the deputy executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice. She was the executive director of student enrollment at the Louisiana Recovery School District from 2011-2014. She led the implementation of OneApp, the unified enrollment system in New Orleans. She began her career at the NYC Department of Education working within the Office of Portfolio Planning. Connect with Gaby on Twitter at @GFighetti.