By his own admission, 38-year old Nate Silver is a nerd. One who just happens to be both a statistician and writer. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he has been awarded four honorary doctorate degrees. He has been both a TED presenter and a professional poker player.
Oddly enough, he is renowned for his work in baseball and politics–an odd mix.. He discovered baseball when he was six and later combined this with his skill in math and developed systems to analyze baseball inside and out. From forecasting the performance of players to economics of the sport.
But today he is best known for his political forecasting which one can find at FiveThirtyEight.com. (The web site gets its name from the fact there are 538 electors in the electoral college.) In 2012 Silver correctly picked with winner of the Presidential election in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Which brings us to the point of this post.
You will see a U.S. map on the home page of the web site above. Put your cursor over any state and you will see the prediction of whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will win the state.
Trump has a 99.8 percent chance of winning Alabama. At the other end of spectrum, Clinton has a 99.8 percent chance of winning Massachusetts.
Two states with totally different mindsets, two totally different cultures. One believes in education and supports it financially. The other doesn’t. In FY 2014 Alabama spent $9,028 per pupil, Massachusetts spent $15,087. The Tax Foundation says Alabama property tax is 49th in the country, while the Bay State is 18th.
Yet our governor ignores reality and wants us to believe that just because he helped hire someone from Massachusetts to run our schools, we can be just like they are.
It would have been just as logical for him to claim he was going to make water run uphill.
Of course we will always need to improve our schools. And of course we can learn from others. But let’s be logical and reasonable and not try to make the good people of Alabama believe in a fairy tale.
So let’s go back to Nate Silver’s map and apply some common sense, which is rare for anyone dealing with education policy in Alabama.. Let’s confine our search to states across the southeast where we have somewhat common history and common culture and common ways. Then let’s sort these states politically, where the “liberal” vs. “conservative” mindset is comparable. Use a 90 percent chance of Donald Trump winning as a screen. This narrows us to Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. (South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida did not make the Trump cut.)
Now let’s look at the rankings of state schools done recently by WalletHub. They say Alabama is No. 42. But this is better then the above choices of West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana. Of those ranked above us, the highest is Kentucky at No. 17. And they only spend $284 more dollars per pupil a year than we do.
Alabama is not Massachusetts. Never has been and never will be. To think otherwise is foolhardy. But we perhaps could one day be Kentucky. However, only if we are honest with the people of Alabama.
(Editor’s note: In the WalletHub ranking of schools, the top 10 states will all vote for Hillary Clinton according to Nate Silver. Of the bottom ten, seven will vote for Donald Trump.)