Two-Year Overhaul of Science Standards Saw Progress, but Pressure from Oil and Gas Interests Still Leaves Texas Far Behind Other States on Teaching about Climate Change
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AUSTIN, Texas – The State Board of Education’s two-year overhaul of science standards that ended today offered another distressing example of how politics continues to trump teaching about science — and especially climate change — in Texas, Texas Freedom Network President Val Benavidez said.
“The progress we made on getting the state board to ensure that Texas schools teach students the full truth about climate change has been important, but that progress is uneven, not nearly enough and largely ignores the urgency of the matter,” Benavidez said. “Texas will still lag far behind most states in teaching students about what scientists warn is a serious and growing crisis. Tragically, this is yet another example of the ways in which political agendas and corporate interests in Texas continue to undermine the importance of educating our kids about the challenges they will inherit.”
The Texas state board gave final approval to science standards for Grades K-8 today. The board had already approved new standards for high school courses last year and earlier this year.
The Republican-controlled board refused to make teaching about climate change a priority during the overhaul of the science standards. Even so, Democratic members succeeded in adding some new standards for high school courses that note the problem and its causes. And the eighth-grade standards adopted today explicitly note that the release of greenhouse gases influences climate.
But some of the progress was made in elective courses not all students will take, and not all required courses must address the issue. Moreover, last month a lawyer for Shell Oil who serves on the board passed a motion that blocked a proposal to teach students about efforts to mitigate the problem of climate change, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. That vote came as representatives of the oil and gas industry urged the board to water down what students would be taught about climate change.
The state board’s last major overhaul of the science standards was in 2009. Members of the state board that year dismissed climate change as “hooey.” The sole mention of the issue in those standards suggested that climate change might not be happening at all.
Last year, a panel of scientists found the Texas science standards were among the worst in the nation in how they address the issue. Texas was one of six states receiving a failing grade in that report (climategrades.org), which was released by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. Other states with important fossil fuel industries, like Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska, received top grades in the report. Last month more than 60 Texas scientists signed on to an open letter (tfn.org/climateletter) calling on the board to strengthen coverage of climate change in the state’s standards.
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.