Even the Best “Game Theory” Algorithm Cannot Ensure Justice via School Choice

School district strategies based on universal school improvement and on choice and competition represent two very different values. One seeks the larger goal of serving all children; the other is directed at a select group of children who are thought most likely to succeed.


The NY Times just explained the sophisticated school-choice matching system that places students in New York City’s high schools.  The city’s  formula models econometric “game theory” to provide, it is said, optimal choices both for the students submitting applications to the city’s high schools and for the schools seeking the students they want:

“Students list their favorite schools, in order of preference (they can now list up to 12).  The algorithm allows students to ‘propose’ to their favorite school, which accepts or rejects the proposal.  In the case of rejection, the algorithm looks to make a match with a student’s second-choice school, and so on… In 2004, the first year that students were sorted in this way, the number who went unmatched plummeted, from 31,000 in 2003 to about 3,000—still a lot of disappointed teenagers.  That year, and every year since, the algorithm has assigned roughly half of all students…

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