Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Did UW Violate the Law?........by Lobbying their favored position with public funds.

Representative Glenn Anderson
5th Legislative District

February 4, 2008

Bill Brumsickle
Commissioner, Public Disclosure Commission
711 Capitol Way #206
P.O. Box 40908
Olympia, Washington 98504-0908

Dear Commissioner Brumsickle,

The purpose of this letter is to request an investigation of a violation of RCW 42.17.190, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for lobbying unless such lobbying is to provide information pertaining to official agency business or is advocating the official position of the agency.

I believe the creation, publication, and distribution to all members of the Legislature, and others, of a brochure entitled “Taking Measure: Does Modern Math Education Add Up?” by the College of Education of the University of Washington constitutes expenditure of public funds for lobbying and is neither official business of the University of Washington nor is it advocating an official position of the agency on a matter that affects it directly.

On the surface, this document appears to be an item of research distributed to all members of the Legislature merely as information. This first impression is misleading. In fact, the document is an attempt by a publicly-funded agency to influence the members of the Legislature, and others, as they consider taking action on a sensitive matter during the 2008 Legislative Session. The evidence for this attempt lies in the timing of the distribution of the document and its content.

The 2007 Legislature, in Substitute House Bill 1906, directed the State Board of Education and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to revise the state’s mathematics learning standards and submit them for legislative review by January 31, 2008. The standards only take effect if the 2008 Legislature takes no additional action. This juncture is critical for policymakers. Our state’s mathematics learning standards drive instruction, curriculum, and assessment. As policymakers, we are considering these matters with all seriousness and with great concern. The revision of the mathematics standards is a very important and also very volatile issue.

The University of Washington’s College of Education document was mailed to all members of the Legislature, and others, during the last week of January, exactly when the legislative review of the standards is set to occur. Clearly this timing is intended to influence a political decision, which constitutes lobbying.

Second, the content of the document is not objective, unbiased research. It advocates one position and supports a particular perspective in the teaching of mathematics, and hence is lobbying legislators to support one set of mathematics standards over another. Those who are unfamiliar with the issues at hand might miss this clear bias, but the faculty of the University of Washington’s College of Education know very well what is at stake. Two of the faculty members listed in the document (Elham Kazemi and Catherine Taylor) have been active participants in the discussions about the state’s mathematics standards.

Examples of bias and advocacy are present throughout the document. In her introduction, Dean Patricia Wasley states “these math wars are divisive and counterproductive.” The document then goes on to support and explain, and thus lobby the Legislature to endorse, one position: that the top priority for teachers should be to develop children’s mathematical thinking. One glossy headline reads: “If you spend a month with architects, you’ll never once see them write an equation.” This headline is a blatant example of advocating for use of calculators and computers instead of requiring students to know basic math facts.

Are these trivial matters? No. Ask any school board attempting to adopt a new curriculum. Ask any parent struggling to understand why her 5th grader hasn’t been taught fractions. Ask members of the Legislature who have been receiving communications from concerned citizens asking them to reject the proposed revised math standards. These are pivotal education and public policy issues. They are also political issues being debated right now before the legislature. The University of Washington’s College of Education is using public funds to lobby one position.

I would be happy to discuss these issues with you further, and look forward to the results of your investigation.

Glenn Anderson
Washington State Representative
5th Legislative District
Ranking Minority Member, Higher Education Committee
K-12 Education Committee
Appropriations Committee

No comments: