BREAKING NEWS: KUOW Censors a UW Voice of Reason

A UW Professor’s Efforts to Speak Out on Science and Education Are Censored

Ironically, I had just asked Cliff for permission to crosspost his effort to get Seattle Public Schools to raise their math standards.  That post just went up on The AVE.

The shocking part of this story is how I learned about what KUOW had done. The UW, as usual, will say nothing and the much decayed Seattle media .. they will say nothing about an important public issue raised by a UW professor. Sound Politics, a conservative website, ran the news this AM.

Read more about what happened to Professor Mass.

from his  Blog: on Thursday, May 19, 2011

For over 15 years, I have talked about Northwest weather, the weekend forecast, and education-related topics on KUOW during Friday’s morning’s Weekday program.

I have done so as my attempt at educational outreach, to go beyond the basic forecasts given on other media, providing the why behind the weather and to allow local residents a chance to appreciate the grand complexity of the weather of this beautiful area of the world. And occasionally to talk about related educational issues.

Starting tomorrow, I will not have the opportunity to do so anymore on KUOW. On Monday I received an email from Weekday host Steve Scher informing me that the regular weather segments on Weekday will be discontinued.

Now if this was a simple issue of the weather program getting stale, of a need for a new format on Weekday, or of listeners wishing a change, I would not complain. I would have thanked Steve for the opportunity to talk about local weather all these years and moved on.

But that is not what happened.

And the real reasons for the termination of the my segment are more ominous and disturbing. And as I will explain, it has much in common with the recent termination of Principal Martin Floe by Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield.

My involvement with KUOW began in the mid 90s when I was contacted by them to replace the previous weather person, Art Rangno. I told them that I was not interested in just giving the forecast, but wanted to do scientific outreach, trying to follow (in a modest way) the footsteps of one of my mentors, Carl Sagan, who convinced me that scientists had to communicate directly with the public. I offered KUOW a hybrid: a weather forecast/weather 101 combination and that was accepted.

For over ten years I followed that route, first starting with Dave Beck, Marci Sillman, and Steve Scher and then later only Steve. Many of you seemed to enjoy the material and increasingly I heard from you over the phone and then emails (now several dozen a week). I also started talking about other topics. First, the need for a coastal radar–and the letters and efforts of many of you helped make that happen. But by the early 2000s I started talking about my concerns in education. I am just not a scientist, I am an educator as well–by now having instructed many thousands of students at all levels. I started seeing degradations in math skills and a few times a year I began talking about it and my concerns for the future of our nation.

Sometimes I talked about science education, such as issues with the Seattle Science Center (to their credit, after a discussion on air about it, Bryce Seidel, the director, invited me down to talk about my concerns. And I note that he was responsive in many ways to my concerns–such as the need to entrain more regional scientists in Science Center programs).

But things changed a few years ago. A new producer for Weekday was taken on–Katy Sewall–and on a program I remember well, I talked not only about the problem of declining math skills, but what I thought was the reason–the proliferation of discovery (“fuzzy”) math books and the poor instruction by the Schools of Education, including the UW.

A short while later Katy contacted me, telling me I was no longer allowed to talk about math and that Steve concurred. I asked why–she said there were several complaints from the UW Education folks and that it was against “journalistic ethics” to allow me talk about such issues. This went back and forth for a while and I asked to see both Steve and Katy to talk it out.

Their argument–that as a “regular” I was essentially part of KUOW news and thus I could not give my opinion without someone else providing the other side. I noted that I am hardly part of the KUOW news team, clearly indicated my opinions were my own, and they let other “regulars” give their opinions on all sorts of societal issues.

Case in point: Rick Steves. He is the travel guy who is on KUOW all the time. On virtually every recent KUOW visit, he talked about his “passion”–the legalization of pot. They didn’t seem to need the other side after he talked about that! So pushing pot legalization is ok, but pushing good math books is not. I just did not follow their logic. And why wasn’t my talking about math issues a problem for the previous decade? What had suddenly changed? Were they just giving in to internal UW pressure from the UW Ed School? Was is the fact the UW College of Education was a major contributor to KUOW? I just did not know.

But they remained adamant–if I talked about education topics there was no place for me on KUOW. Remember that I had never talked about non-meteorological issues more than a few times a year at most and I AM a scientist-educator. I regretfully agreed to pull back on talking about math, with their promise there would be some dedicated programs on math. Those programs never materialized.

So we had somewhat of a truce for a year or so, until a few weeks ago.

The Seattle Times had a front page article about UW rejecting strong “straight A” students. And there was more talk about how the UW was rejecting great in-state students so that inferior out of state students could be accepted for big bucks. Joni Balter of the Seattle Times had a big op-ed piece in the paper a few days later saying many of the same things, and during the previous week this issue had been discussed during the second hour of Friday Weekday.

The problem was that I knew from first-hand knowledge that the ST article was highly deceptive and in many ways wrong. The UW does not reject strong straight A students–if someone with an A average gets rejected it is because there was an issue–easy classes, poor SATs scores, or the like. And the truth is that out of state students are generally stronger than in-state applicants. And do you know that the average UW freshman had a high school GPA of 3.75! That is pretty much an A. Grade inflation is a huge issue.

I know all this from first-hand knowledge as the undergraduate adviser for my department, with access to the admissions info, and having talked to the UW Dean of Admissions.

Anyway, because they ran out of time in the first segment, they moved me to right after the 10 AM news–during the “week in review” segment. After giving the weather I then mentioned a few of the facts noted above and had a discussion with Joni and the rest.

That conversation–trying to insure that KUOW listeners had accurate information about UW admissions— sealed my doom on KUOW. Shortly later, I got a threatening note from Katy:

Talking about other issues in this context is not acceptable. It does not fit the segment we are offering listeners. If it happens again, we will cancel your weekly appearance.”

And her email went downhill from there. I told her that after such a provocative email I would wait a while before responding.

Last weekend I wrote an email to Steve, saying that I would try to work with them, but I could not guarantee that I would never talk about any other subject but the weather forecast. Remember–this is public radio.

A day later I got an email from Steve where he said that the regular weather segments would be terminated.

So that is the story. Not a pretty one.

For me the essence of local public radio is to serve as a focus for the discussion of local issues. You would think there would be room for a scientist-educator, someone interested in talking not only about science, but about the interface between science and how we educate our youth in technical subjects. You would think that Steve and Katy would consider their viewers who have enjoyed learning about local weather. But something else was more important–their wish that I remain “the weekend forecast guy”. In fact, during the past year, the time they allowed for my segment has progressively decreased, so that I rarely had enough time to coherently complete even my local weather explanations.

So does my situation parallel the Enfield-Floe case? I got into trouble for criticizing the local education orthodoxy (at the UW)—it appears he did the same thing (with the Seattle School District bureaucracy). He was dropped with little apparent reason. I was dropped for reasons that I believe are without merit.

The question is what will happen now. If you have enjoyed what I have done in the past and wish it to continue, perhaps this can be turned around. Perhaps if enough of you—listeners to KUOW, contributors to KUOW, and those interested in public radio can contact the folks at KUOW they might change their mind…in the same way Superintendent Enfield changed her mind when the teachers and students at their school learned of the firing of their principal (some KUOW emails are found below)

My other option is to try other approaches: perhaps a podcast on my blog or moving to another radio station. Anyway, thanks for listening. Whatever happens, I have enjoyed the interactions with many of you over the years.

And I promise to get back to weather on my next blog!


KUOW Weekday:

Steve Scher

Katy Sewall

KUOW News Director:
Guy Nelson:

Chair of UW Board:
Allen Steinman:

Wayne Roth, KUOW President and CEO

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    This has a bad smell to it and it needs more explanation from folks in authority. SDD

  2. Karl J. Kaiyala, PhD #

    I have been wondering when this would happen, given the predictability of intense behind-the-scenes pressure to muzzle Cliff on the issue of math education. A collusion of profit motive and political Machiavellianism seems evident here.

    I have a young daughter in a public school (thankfully and intentionally not in the Seattle school system) and the math education paradigm du jour routinely impels me to fulminant expressions of disdain learned and honed as a young choker setter for Clevenger Logging; it seems cunningly formulated to funnel a broad spectrum of math potentialities into its bowels and then churn and compress that distribution into a homogeneously sub-competent set of math beings.

    There are two ways to narrow the wide racial disparity gap in math and science performance: bring the bottom up, or bring the top down. In my jaded view, the adoption of the “discovery” emphasis in math education is perversely, if not intentionally, construed to accomplish the latter.


  3. Dr.Neuron #

    This is disturbing and moves me to consider discontinuing my support for KUOW. First, I have really enjoyed Cliff’s comments on Steve Scher’s program. Second, I think there is far too little science and mathematics on public radio. Third, I think there is perhaps a little too much confusion among people, including those who teach education, about what constitutes good K-12 mathematics teaching; I would not entrust mathematics education solely to the Education Department of any university. Moreover, I am less than excited about the “discovery” math books. This is not to say that mathematicians know more about how to educate public school students; only to say that they need to be heard on the subject of what exactly mathematics is all about, arguably an important decideratum in any approach to mathematics education. In the context of the foregoing statements, I think Cliff’s comments on public radio have been an important alternative to the media muddle over mathematics education in Washington in recent years.

  4. Clarence Spigner #

    At first, I thought Steve’s headline was an unfunny joke. I then read the entire post from Cliff Mass. I’ve never been that wild about KUOW anyway. Some of their incredibly fluff pieces waste the public airwaves and could be better served by the intense, hard-hitting and very relevant issues about education Cliff Mass has always articulated.

    As an African American professor in UW’s School of Public Health with a 15 year-old daughter and an 11 year-old son matriculating through the Seattle School system, I applaud Cliff for speaking out about this important issue. He has been very clear to point out that his reflections do not single-out any race, ethnicity or class. Even if he did, it should be welcome. Ironically, I have had a similar problem within the UW about their recruitment of academically ill-prepared student-athletes into the big-money sports programs who happen to be disproportionately represented among low-income racial minorities.

    I wish Cliff would take his story to the SEATTLE TIMES and hopefully the national news media will pick it up. As a fellow UW professor, he has my support.

  5. theaveeditor #

    Let me add to Clarence comments.

    If what Cliff is saying is correct, then someone in the Ed School and someone at KUOW is limitting academic frtee speech and THAT is a violation of the Faculty Code.

    As for the SPS, it is now 20 years since my kids were there, but Cliff’s and Clarence’s comments echo my experiences. The District’s views on race seem to be persistently patronizing to everyone but especially to kids who the District regards as being part of any minority group that it stereotypes as underachieving. Parents of any ethnicity who want THEIR kids to work hard in an academic sense are rewarded with charges of elitism until, all too often, these parents take their kids to private schools or move out of Seattle. When SPS kids do excel in academics, esp. at Garfield, these achievements are given no recognition and no pubicity for fear that rewarding success will diminish the efforts of all the other kids .

    This contrast beween the celebration of stsudent athletes vs. the lack of concern for student scholars was made all to clear by Garfield’s recent decision to spend SPS money for remedial class for three atheletes while cancelling oversubcribed advanced math classes at Garfield because of a shortfall in funding.

  6. theaveeditor #

    The idea that mathematically illiterate people … as I suspect most educators are, can decide what is good for K-12 math is based on a claim that educational research has born fruit that is more valuable than the practical knowledge of math itself.

    I am all for the application of science to education, but as a scientist I am skeptical that the “research” going into today’s class room. About three years ago I read with horror a report the SPS paid “experts” to do of a Seattle program I am interested in. I read the report because the conclusions were frightening. The report itself, written by a national expert in education, was itself nonsense. Most of the data collection was anecdotal and the statistical methods used would have failed any introductory stats class. This piece of edcutional research was more a political statement than an objective report.

    I recently reviewed another ed school document, a PhD thesis that had gotten some acclaim. Again, there instead of research, there was jargon and assertions of opinion.

    So, until someone can convince me that the authors of the Discovery curriculum have some new expertise in how to teach, I want to know what expertise they have in what to teach. Math has changed hugely since the teachers writing these books went to school. Areas of math that are critical in the business and academic worlds .. logic, programming, statistics, economics did not exist when most educators were themselves educated. The higher level, hard stuff these teachers likely could not themselves learn in high school to learn .. geometry, analytical geometry, trig, and calculus still exist BUT today’s kids may have to learn equally hard stuff …graphic analysis, Boolean logic, probability .. thatd did not exist when these teacher-authors went to school.

  7. Karl J. Kaiyala, PhD #

    Cliff Mass today posted a clarification on the AAUP website indicating that it was not his math activism that got him booted. Rather Cliff stated: “What inspired Steve Scher to fire me was when I defended the UW admissions policy after the inflammatory and highly deceptive front-page article in the Seattle Times. This is after I confirmed my facts with Phil B., our Dean of Admissions. After my weather segment I mentioned that the UW does not reject strong straight-A students and that if someone with straight-A’s are rejected there is another issue (e.g., cream-puff classes or poor SATs). That comment inspired the termination. So I got canned on the UW public radio station for coming to the defense of our institution.”

    This seemingly jarring instantiation of the axiom “No good deed goes unpunished” raises the hypothesis that Cliff’s message may have been contrary to a narrative the UW (in part via KUOW) wished to nurture; here is my attempt to give it voice:

    “When the UW does not get the public outcry for the funding support it deserves in these hard economic times, we are forced (forced we tell you!) to turn away your highly qualified sons and daughters in favor of wealthy out-of-state applicants who can help offset some of the financial shortfall. So keep this in mind when we next desire your advocacy.”

    Asserting, as Cliff did, that no genuinely qualified high-GPA in-state applicants were turned away runs counter to that narrative.

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