Texas is failing to properly educate students on the realities of climate change and global warming, according to a new report by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.
The report gave Texas and five other states an “F” grade in terms of how well their schools addressed the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity, as well as the consensus that there are ways to mitigate its impact.
“A failing grade on this topic is simply not acceptable,” said Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund, in a press conference.
The report comes as the Texas State Board of Education prepares to overhaul public school science standards this fall. Representatives from the National Center for Science Education and TFN recommended that Texas reassess how climate change is taught during that overhaul.
A lack of proper science education leaves students poorly prepared for higher education later on, officials from the groups said. Students also leave the public school system without being taught the critical thinking and inquiry skills necessary to participate in civic discourse about science and its impact on society, they said.
“Climate change is a topic that’s had so much misinformation spread across our information landscape that it’s a very powerful topic to use, not only to give students the information they need to make decisions going forward, but to learn how to think critically about science,” said Ann Reid, NCSE’s executive director.
She added that proper science education can help students learn how to identify misinformation tactics, debunk conspiracy thinking, and identify logical fallacies in scientific matters.
“We’ve certainly seen in the last year what an important skill that is,” Reid said.
The report was compiled from the findings of scientists who reviewed current science standards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said states should teach students that climate change is a serious problem worsened by human behavior and that it can be mitigated through changes in that behavior.
Texas and other states fall short by framing the issue of climate change as a matter of debate rather than one of fact, Branch said.
“This was especially sad to see in states where disruptions due to climate change are and will continue to be challenging,” Branch said. “That includes Texas, which faces rising sea levels, increased extreme weather events and wildfires, and pressure on water resources, all as a result of climate change.”
Only 26 states and the District of Columbia received a grade of B+ or higher. Twenty received no better than a C+, and four received a D. Other states that received an F include Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Steve Rissing, a professor at Ohio State University’s department of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology who reviewed what was being taught across states, said that another problem is that the language used to discuss climate change is made to be inoffensive and often obscures the severity of the problem.
In contrast, high-scoring states not only make the dangers of climate change clear to students, but include examples of local relevance, including how climate change affects Indigenous peoples or other marginalized populations, he said.
Those states also emphasize the “hope” factor, something the panelists said is a critical aspect of climate education.
“If you don’t learn about it, you don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it, and frankly, the hope lies in what you do about it,” Miller said.
Texas’ State Board of Education members have clashed over the years over how to include various scientific lessons, including on global warming. At a meeting last month, various individuals from across the state spoke to the board for nearly two hours about the importance of including climate change in science standards.
SBOE chairwoman Barbara Cargill told those speaking that the subject is taught in Texas’ courses about the environment as well as those covering earth and space.
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