Climate Change to Become Part of Core Curriculum in Public Schools

Updated September 30, 2017 |
Climate Change to Become Part of Core Curriculum in Public Schools
We report on a move to incorporate climate change into the core curriculum in public schools nationwide. What is the reasoning behind the move?
Climate change has never been a consistent part of school science curriculum. Some teachers have touched on the subject, but few have delved into the matter with the depth it requires for thorough understanding. Sometimes it is presented as a controversial theory, and at other times it is taught as irrefutable fact. Now, new national science standards are due out that could streamline the educational approach to the subject of climatic shift.
 
About the New Standards
 
The new science standards were created as a result of a partnership between the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and National Science Teachers Association. The non-profit group Achieve was also a part of the collaboration. Standards introduce the concept of climate change at a much younger grade, and continue to expand on the subject throughout middle and high school. Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director for the National Science Foundation, called the new standards “revolutionary.”
 
 
Until now, the only effort to establish national science standards was in 1996, when the National Science Education Standards were published by the National Research Council. However, few states did much to bring those standards into the classroom. In 2010, a new effort was launched to produce standards in science, and the National Research Council recruited the other entities to provide a collaborative approach to their creation. The new standards now present more comprehensive information about climate change that gives students a full picture of how it is impacting the world today.
 
The Need for Standards
 
McCaffrey told National Public Radio the new standards will fill a gap left by current science curriculum. McCaffrey noted that surveys show as many as two-thirds of all students in the U.S. do not learn much about the subject in school. He also stated that only one in five students feel they are receiving information that provides them with a “good handle” on the subject of climate change.
 
Even when the subject is broached in earth science classes, many students in biology and chemistry courses do not reap the benefits of learning more about climate change. A recent report on climate change recommends sweeping changes in science curriculum that would ensure students learn more about this subject in every applicable area of scientific study. The new standards also start early, with plans for fifth graders to develop an understanding that the earth is warming.
 
By the time a student enters middle school or junior high, the standards encourage the student to begin thinking about how human action impacts the environment, according to Take Part. The student then spends the middle school years learning more basic chemistry and biology that will help them embrace more complex principles of climate change by the time they are in high school. Middle school students should also begin to grasp the concept of how fossil fuel burning affects the overall temperature of the globe, according to the new standards.
 
States Adopting New Standards
 
Inside Climate News reports that the new nationwide science standards will be completely voluntary on a state-by-state basis. To date, 26 states have already adopted them, including 10 of the most populated states in the country. More than two dozen states are giving the guidelines serious consideration at this time, which would bring the grand total of states introducing these standards to more than 40.
 
 
Texas is one of the few states not jumping onboard with the standards, but it did not adopt the common core standards in English and mathematics either. Texas prefers to produce its own standards for the children in the state. DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency, told Inside Climate News, “It’s not that we don’t agree with the scientific information or the new standards. We just choose to write our own. That’s how we’ve always done it.”
 
In the past, refusal of a large state like Texas to adopt new standards could have impacted the ability to add the standards to revised textbooks. However, the advent of online publishing, and the ability of schools to access other digital resources has reduced the clout of the largest textbook buyers. This means new science standards can easily go into effect with or without the support of states like Texas.
 
Challenges Facing Climate Change Teaching
 
The inclusion of climate change in science teaching in public schools will not be without its share of challenges. Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council told National Public Radio the information regarding climate change can be “crushing depressing.” She explained that plenty of thought went into the new standards on how to present the material to students without “freaking them out.” For example, Schweingruber said the standards include facts about how humans can take action to have a positive impact on the global warming trend.
 
 
In addition, controversy surrounding the idea of climate change from many conservative groups could spell trouble for the teachers and schools adopting the new curriculum. Take Part reported on an informal 2011 survey by the National Science Teachers Association, which found the subject of climate change in the classroom received more protests from teachers and parents than any other subject, except evolution. Some teachers report they have even experienced pressure from other teachers when they tried to broach the subject in the classroom, as the subject has become a bit of a political hot potato.
 
The new standards will begin to be introduced into classrooms very soon, as textbook publishers are already adding the material to new editions. Time will tell whether this subject will become a core element of science curriculum in public schools across the country.  
 
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