Episode 453: What Causes What?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

On today’s show we dive deep into correlation and causation with Charles Wheelan, author of the book, Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.

The most important metric in analyzing a schools is value added. Many private and charter schools start with more affluent and motivated students.

Why it was so easy for ‘60 Minutes’ to rebut Betsy DeVos’s charter-school arguments

“In places where there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced,” DeVos told CBS’s Lesley Stahl, “Florida, for example, studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better as well.”

This is DeVos’s core case. Introducing charter schools forces public schools into the sort of competition you see in the free market, forcing the public institutions to improve. It’s a market-based proposal for solving the endemic problem of low-performing schools. Florida, DeVos argues, is an example of where it works.

But Stahl was prepared for this.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl asked. Michigan is a key litmus test because it’s the place where DeVos’s pre-government advocacy was centered. DeVos stumbled over a response.

“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan,” Stahl said. “Where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.” She later added, “The public schools here are doing worse than they did.”

DeVos didn’t have much of a response except to point to “pockets” where schools had improved (without identifying any).

.. A 2009 study from the Rand Corp. found “little evidence that the presence of charter schools affects the achievement scores of students in nearby traditional public schools either positively or negatively.”

NYTimes: Betsy DeVos Editorial

her hard-line opposition to any real accountability for these publicly funded, privately run schools undermined their founding principle as well as her support. Even champions of charters, like the philanthropist Eli Broad and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, opposed her nomination.

.. The charter school movement started in the United States two decades ago with the promise that independently run, publicly funded schools would outperform traditional public schools if they were exempted from some state regulations. Charter pioneers also promised that, unlike traditional schools, which they said were allowed to perform disastrously without consequence, charters would be held accountable for improving student performance, and shut down if they failed.

.. She indicated that she was skeptical of Education Department policies to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges — a position favored, no doubt, by Mr. Trump, who just settled a fraud case against his so-called Trump University for $25 million. It was not clear that she understood how various student loan and aid programs worked, or could distinguish between them.

.. Maybe they couldn’t ignore the $200 million the DeVos family has funneled to Republicans, including campaigns of 10 of the 12 Republican senators on the committee that vetted her.