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Step Away From the Simile

Simile, analogy, and metaphor can be powerful analytic and writing tools, which is one reason pundits and policy wonks love 'em. But a recent post and tweet by Mike Petrilli on school closures illustrate the risks when policy wonks get too cute with the similes:


I don't necessarily agree with the broader point Petrilli is trying to make here about paternalism, but even if one does, the wheels quickly come off the moment you scratch below the surface of this comparison (and, yes, I realize that hideously mixed metaphor further illustrates the risks of overusing these devices!).

The primary problem and complaint with "stop, question, and frisk," is that it's indiscriminate--police can stop and question anyone they suspect might be up to no good, without any concrete evidence the person has done or intends to do anything wrong.

But closure of low-performing schools is not like that. As an authorizer, I've been involved in a number of school closure decisions and every one of those decisions--which are by far the most difficult thing we do--came only after deep analysis of available data and evidence on the school's performance--not just student test scores, but also analyses of growth, trends over time, and mobility, as well as a careful look at factors in the school that contributed to the performance. To make a school closure decision based on anything less than a full and careful consideration of the evidence on the school's performance and economic viability would be grossly irresponsible and callous to the deep impact of school closure on children, parents, and communities.

By comparing decisions made on very little information or evidence to those based on deep consideration and analysis of data, Petrilli is obscuring rather than clarifying the issue.

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