Open Letter Comes as Board Nears Final Vote on First Major Overhaul of Science Standards in 12 Years
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 4, 2021
AUSTIN, Texas – Dozens of Texas scientists who study and teach about climate change have signed on to an open letter calling on the State Board of Education to improve on the abysmal coverage of climate change in science standards that guide what 5.5 million public school students learn in the state’s classrooms yearly.
The state board has a responsibility to ensure that public schools equip students with the information they need to understand a serious problem they will inherit, said Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Reta A. Haynes Chair in Geosciences at Texas A&M University, who was one of 67 signers of the letter.
“The scientific evidence is overwhelming that, thanks to human activity, our world is experiencing rapid and severe climate change, with increasingly volatile and destructive weather events all over the globe,” Dessler said. “Teaching about climate change doesn’t just prepare students to succeed in college-level work if they choose to further their education after high school. It also helps students become informed voters who understand the stakes and can make responsible decisions as we work together to find real solutions to the problem.”
Leading researchers in the field who have joined Dessler in endorsing the letter to the state board include André Droxler at Rice, Gerald R. North at Texas A&M, and Kerry Cook at the University of Texas at Austin.
TFN President Val Benavidez pointed out that extreme weather events, like the catastrophic winter storm in February that left millions of people freezing across the state, are already bringing climate change into Texans’ homes.
“The call from climate scientists is as clear as our public school science standards should be,” Benavidez said. “It’s past time to put politics aside and make sure science classes in Texas schools teach students the truth about this global emergency. This board must not fail the next generation of Texas kids as the politicians who served on this board 12 years ago did.”
Texas’s current science standards, adopted in 2009, are among the worst in the nation when it comes to addressing climate change, said National Center for Science Education Deputy Director Glenn Branch. “In a national report card last year released by NCSE and the TFN Education Fund, Texas’ state science standards received a failing grade for their treatment of climate change,” Branch commented, alluding to “Making the Grade?” (climategrades.org). “Small wonder, when one standard demanded that students examine ‘different views’ on whether climate change occurs at all.”
When the Texas board adopted new science standards in 2009, the board chair at the time dismissed climate change as “a bunch of hooey.” But the current board made modest improvements on standards addressing climate change for high school courses in late 2020 and earlier this year.
Now under consideration are the K-8 standards. In September the board made several changes for grade 8 that required students to learn about the reality and cause of climate change as well as ways to mitigate and adapt to the problem. But two days later, the board moved to weaken those changes, following recommendations from representatives of the fossil fuel industry in Texas.
The board is set to debate changes to the K-8 draft and take a final vote on its adoption November 16-19 in Austin. Because the Texas market is so large, publishers often write new textbooks to meet the Texas standards and then sell those textbooks in other states as well. Because of this, the board’s actions have national importance.
The climate scientists’ letter to the board is available at tfn.org/climateletter.
The Texas Freedom Network (tfn.org) is a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders and young Texans building an informed and effective movement for equality and social justice.
The National Center for Science Education (ncse.ngo) works to ensure that socially controversial topics in science, including evolution and climate change, are taught accurately, honestly, and confidently.