1 state got an ‘A’ for teaching climate change. It’s Wyo.

Source: By Avery Ellfeldt, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 12, 2020

In Pennsylvania, for instance, teachers for years have followed a decades-old framework that fails altogether to acknowledge climate change, the analysis said. Alabama’s standards, meanwhile, were found to “downplay the reality, significance, human causes, and immediacy of climate change.”

Both states — in addition to Texas, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia — were given F scores by three independent reviewers charged with examining how every state and Washington, D.C., handles climate change in the classroom.

The report card that resulted was released yesterday by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

The three reviewers included climate scientist Sarah Myhre, Ohio State University biology professor Steve Rissing and Casey Williams, an education researcher at the University of Kansas.

Working individually, the trio examined the United States’ patchwork of education standards to determine which frameworks explicitly and coherently teach students four key facts about climate change: “It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, there’s hope.”

The report concluded that “public education policymakers in many states are failing to ensure that science standards forthrightly and accurately address climate change. The scope and character of that failure are not uniform across the country, but they expose a serious deficit in the quality of science education in the United States.”

During a virtual event yesterday, Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund, said that has major implications for students because public schools are supposed to prepare them for higher education, future careers and civic participation.

But “if you don’t learn about [climate change], you don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it,” she added.

The three reviewers did identify 27 states they thought deserved a B+ or higher. Many of them, the report noted, have based their own standards on the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed in 2013 to improve research-based science education across the country.

Wyoming, which has not adopted the NGSS, was the only state that received an A from the three experts, while New York, Colorado, Alaska and North Dakota each received an A-. In general, the report said, these states received top marks because their standards are clearer than other states that climate change is both severe and human-caused.

These states also scored well because they had customized their standards beyond the common framework — in some cases integrating local examples of climate impacts to make the curriculum more relevant for students in a given region.

In some lower-scoring states, however, the standards were found to promote the “false narrative that the existence, cause, and seriousness of climate change are a matter of debate among climate scientists.” That includes West Virginia, where the framework requires students to debate those issues in class.

The reviewers also said some standards “muddle the science” by implying that climate information and evidence are not bulletproof, or that humans “may” have caused climate change. Other standards, they added, cover climate impacts but don’t connect them with global warming.

Ann Reid, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said rigorous climate education is essential to ensure students have the information they need to make decisions in the future. But she also underscored that comprehensive science education should teach students how to identify “misinformation tactics” such as conspiracy theories, fake experts, logical fallacies or cherry-picking.

“These are all things that the science standards can help teachers get across to their students so that when they get out of high school, they not only know the facts about climate change, but they also are armed to digest and evaluate scientific evidence for the rest of their lives,” Reid added. “We’ve certainly seen in the last year what an important skill that is.”