Joi Ito on The Boston School Bus Algorithm

November 14, 2018

An interesting piece of background in WIRED on the Boston school bus algorithm:

Optimizing the algorithm for greater “equity” also meant many of the planned changes were “biased” against families with privilege. My view is that the fact that an algorithm was making decisions also upset people. And the families who were happy with the new schedule probably didn’t pay as much attention. The families who were upset marched on City Hall in an effort to overturn the planned changes. The ACLU and I supported the activist parents at the time and called “foul” on the school system and the city. Eventually, the mayor and the city caved to the pressure and killed off years of work and what could have been the first real positive change in busing in Boston in decades.

The interesting part of the article is how the City of Boston actually was thoughtful in how it implemented the algorithm and involved the community, but it did not prevent the backlash. I was lucky in the program I implemented where backlash around the algorithm was almost non-existent. Most folks were happy because in addition to the algorithm we improved the job selection process for young people. I saw first hand how thoughtful the City of Boston tries to be when implementing these programs, and am glad the folks at MIT got the chance to tell their story.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.