I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems Phildelphia’s schools are having, and how various actors in the situation are playing out their role.

Background (Skippable)

The long story made short is Philly is closing a lot of schools. From my simplistic research so far I’m concluding that some school closings do make sense, but that the rash of closings is a last second swerve to avoid budget failure that has been threatening the district for years. Furthermore, the district has been giving out school charters for private schools in some dubious and questionable situations. Some dubious behavior of charters (not *all charters*) and willy nilly granting more charters has undermined the enrollment levels, making it seem smart to close more schools. Again, that is my simplistic research, I’m sure other folks have a better point of view.

As a new dad, I’ve been looking at school districts and pondering when it gets to the point that I abandon the system, and pay higher rates to put a child into a privates school. To me that decision reeks of game-theory, so I’m putting down my thoughts on it to clarify a bit.

To the Game Theory:

From a theory point of view, this could be modeled as a variant of the Stag Hunt game. Lets imagine a game of ‘Stag Hunt’ with thousands of players. Now lets add to those players a distribution of resources that roughly matches the Philadelphia general income, and/or tax base. Finally, we need to add a reasonably high threshold to not joining the game (ie, the cost of private education for a child). Which is odd, since it sets cooperation at a lower and default threshold, and individual action at a higher threshold. I think that becomes a decent model of parents drawing their students out of the district to private schools, lowering the income available.

Then the question becomes, what is the defection rate/system that drives more people to defect? Is there a good way to map/cap general defection from the game? At what point have we undermined the commons so far that every participant is worse off?

General Musing

What amazes me the parents fallacy only their own children’s education is in their interest. As an american you interact and depend on hundreds to thousands of other people for all of your infrastructure. The kindergardener in a crappy school today is going to be a Nurse caring for us in 30-40 years. The kids you are yanking head-start funds from are going to be mechanics, plumbers, and taxi-drivers in 20-30 years. Do you really want to be running around a city or country with these people on the loose? Do you really want to undermined your future quality of life, by setting up an environment of poorly educated people around you to care for you in old age? As much as my own child’s education matters to me, having educated caretakers in old age, and educated co-voters at all ages is hella-important.

It also makes me think I need to find, or invent, a bunch of new terms for real-world game theory.

Reluctant Freeloader: These are people who can’t contribute to the game a fair amount. Think ‘unemployed single dad.’ They are working and contributing what they can, but they don’t have the means to cover their cost.

Woefully Advantaged: This is someone with enough resources they think they can defect from the game without consequences, but really are suffering for it.

N-th turn: Borrowed from computer science. This is a reference to some point in the future (the n-th turn) when the game fails or people lose based on their earlier strategy.

School District Problem: This is a variant of the Stag Hunt problem, as described above.