Category Archives: analogies

Wishful Thinking

There seems to be quite a bit of wishful thinking at work with regard to the Smarter Balanced assessments. That aiming for minimum technology requirements and hoping for the best is enough. That we won’t need to buy anything more than we already have. That the state will find the money to pay for it all plus 4% growth plus fully fund the teacher leadership system (no need to prioritize spending, we can have it all!). That somehow, we can pretend that it’s all benefits and no costs, and in any case, it’s worth it (whatever it ends up being).


The experience in other states is that the move to statewide online assessments is a massive (and expensive!) undertaking, with many opportunities for things–large and small–to go wrong, even with the best planning.

In the next post I plan to address assessment technology issues experienced by other states (followed by a post on time and costs to administer the assessments). You can answer for yourselves whether Iowa is engaging in the best planning for a move to statewide online assessments.

Of course I’m not immune to wishful thinking myself. Surely legislators, prudent minders of the state budget, won’t vote for schools to pay more for assessments when schools could pay less for an assessment that meets all the minimum legislative requirements and covers all the required subjects. That legislators surely won’t vote to pay more without knowing exactly how much more it will be now and in the future. That legislators won’t knowingly impose unfunded mandates on our schools. And that somehow this decision on statewide assessments will be about assessments and not political sausage-making.

*Inspired by Math with Bad Drawings. I think we can all agree that Education in Iowa should stay away from both analogies and bad drawings from now on.

Arguing by Analogy

I think that I can safely say that every time that I thought that I had a good analogy I was going to use in writing a post, I have ended up discarding it.

Analogies are hard to get right, and it frankly doesn’t seem productive to me to use an analogy if it results not in illumination, but instead results in arguments about whether school assessments really are or are not like packing parachutes.

One analogy I see from time to time, and saw again quite recently, is that if you would defer to a doctor during surgery, than you must defer to teachers.

I hardly think it is likely that parents are showing up in your classrooms actually interrupting lessons as you are trying to teach. However, without spending too much time on it, I also think that the culture of medicine is no longer one of absolute deference–think second opinions, informed consent, and patients showing up with articles they have printed off the internet.

So if we must have a medical analogy, here’s how I think of it: Imagine you are compelled to see a home birth specialist when you want an obstetrician, or an obstetrician (with a high c-section rate!) when you want a home birth. Imagine you are compelled to see a pill-prescribing psychiatrist when you want cognitive-behavioral therapy, or a talk therapist when you want to experience “better living through chemistry.” Imagine you are compelled to see an orthopedic surgeon when you want a chiropractor, or a chiropractor when you want an orthopedic surgeon.

All of these practitioners are experts, right? So what difference should it make to the patient? And, yet, I don’t think it is at all hard to see that the differences between patient and practitioner in those situations will not easily be resolved by a display of the practitioner’s diplomas or licenses. The differences may not even be easily resolved by research, after all, what good is research showing something “works” if the patient has a fundamental value conflict with either the ends or the means or both?

I think the same is true in education to some extent, though I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to imagine all the possible value conflicts between parents and teachers/administrators with regard to discipline, grading, acceleration, or teaching any subject you choose to consider.

In other words, though credentials may play some role in whether a parent is willing to defer to a teacher or administrator’s professional judgment, I think that it is much more important that the parent perceives that the parent and the teachers/administrators are all on the same page/same side.

Or, as Chris says:

I wish people would distinguish between questions about how to reach certain educational goals (on which I think teachers’ expertise is particularly valuable) and questions about what goals to pursue. People seem to want to reduce every debate to a contest about whose “evidence” is better, rather than confront the conflicting value questions that are often at the bottom of the disagreement.

Ultimately, I think that public school teachers, administrators, and school boards need to be able to explain their decisions and the bases for them. And, that professional judgment probably is an incomplete explanation, particularly in circumstances that are largely or entirely about values and preferences.

Have you seen analogies you particularly like (or dislike) in education debates? Please share them in the comments.