School Choice Design Challenge 

Each year in New York City nearly 80,000 eighth-grade students apply to high school, choosing from more than 700 program options. This Fall, iNYCS led six startups through the first School Choice Design Challenge (SCDC) to create prototypes of new tools for the school choice experience.

Through participatory design research, panels, and user feedback sessions with students and families, SCDC startups deepened their understanding of the challenge, validated their ideas, and iterated their products to enhance the high school choice experience.


This Fall, iNYCS held a School Choice Design Challenge (SCDC) with selected startups to create prototypes of new tools for the high school choice experience. Like a Challenge or Hackathon, this process explored the crowd–sourcing of ideas and solutions from diverse non–traditional sources in order to expand the range of supports available to stakeholders.

The SCDC represents the convergence of the following innovative strategies:

  • A user–centered design based on ethnographic research and authentic stakeholder input;

  • A commitment to the enhancement of user experience as well as to outcomes;

  • The crowd–sourcing of solutions;

  • The development of a problem–solving methodology that can be applied to any area;

  • A commitment to open and accessible data in modern formats.

Learn more about the project phases below.

Problem Definition. As with the Gap App Challenge and Music Education Hackathon processes, the SCDC began with a user-centered design process. This time we engaged the Public Policy Lab (PPL) for structured discovery sessions with parents, students, guidance counselors, and staff from the central Office of Student Enrollment. The learning from these sessions was then distilled into a series of design prompts that informed the developers’ SCDC work, as well as potential future projects undertaken by OSE. In a user–centered design framework, these prompts are intended not as formal analyses or as official positions but rather as provocations and points of departure for the initial phase of development.

Process. The design challenge consisted of a two­–month engagement with six teams selected through an informal application process based on the quality of their past work and the degree of innovation and usability detailed in their proposal. We reached out directly to companies already working in school selection, comparison-shopping, and data visualization, as well as issued an open call to our community of developers. Selected teams were given stipends, awarded at the end of two months to those who fulfilled their commitment to develop something useful and different from their pre–existing offering.

These are not official DOE apps, just as the Gap App or Spotify applications were not. Participants retain all IP in their work and were free to develop the features and user experience they deemed best.

Resources. We provided API access to the full OSE school profile dataset, equivalent data from the Charter School Resource Center, and other public DOE datasets (these datasets will be announced as public resources at the conclusion of the SCDC).

OSE staff served as advisors and business process resources, and PPL supported the design briefs. iZone staff facilitated the engagement of developers with end–users for product validation and testing purposes.

Timeline. The SCDC launched on September 17 and will conclude November 12 with a public demo night. We offered four in–person sessions for the developers to deepen their understanding, iterate, and validate their ideas:

  • SCDC kickoff

  • High School Fair visit

  • Night of Inspiration panel, with speakers from various fields of information design

    • Alex Fiorillo, Vice President @ Ideas42

    • Annette Diefenthaler, Senior Design Research Specialist @ IDEO

    • Grant Tudor, Senior Strategic Planner @ Ogilvy & Mather

    • Leland Rechis, Product Manager, @ Kickstarter

    • Max Krohn, Co-Founder & CTO @ Formerly OkCupid

  • Two user testing and feedback sessions with 8th/9th grade students and parents

  • SCDC conclusion and public presentation

Participating Startups: (NYC) (Santa Barbara) (NYC) (NYC) (NYC)

Vital.AI (NYC)




Rethink Education


The Gap App Challenge

The NYCDOE’s iZone issued a challenge for apps to help address gaps in middle school math skills. The majority of middle school students are at least one year behind in math, so giving all students in a class just what they need to get ahead can be challenging. The skills students acquire in middle school math are fundamental for other subjects, for their next years in school, and for their future.

We offered $100,000 in prizes and the chance to pilot in iZone schools.

We’re proud to announce the winners of the Gap App Challenge

1st Prize for Instructional App KnowRe 

2nd Prize for Instructional App Mathalicious

1st Prize for Admin App Hapara Teacher Dashboard for Google Apps 

2nd Prize for Admin App LiveSchool 

Honorable Mention Algebra Touch

Honorable Mention Chalkable

Honorable Mention Fluid Math

Honorable Mention Woot Math

Honorable Mention Fraction Planet