Climate Science vs Public Education

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By: Carmen Mann

The No Child Left Behind Act, a George W. Bush-era law that had been in place for the last 14 years, is currently being revised by the House and the Senate. This Act is the main law when considering K-12 education in the U.S., and efforts by Congress in the past to revise the Act have repeatedly failed. The House and the Senate recently passed their own perspective bills to revise No Child Left Behind, setting up a showdown between the two chambers of Congress once again and leaving the fate of a final revision in doubt.

During debate over legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, Edward Markey, a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, proposed a program that would encourage schools to teach more about climate change and climate science. The proposal by Senator Markey would include a competitive grant program for public schools to apply for that would provide federal funds to help teach about climate change. Arguably, this program would help equip the next generation to deal with the effects of climate change, through improved scientific education.

However, many concerns were voiced over the idea that the federal government would have power over what schools would be required to teach concerning climate change. The most prominent concern was that the curricula would be vulnerable to the shifting politics of the federal government. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the co-author of the main bill to replace No Child Left Behind, articulated this when he said “Just image what the curriculum on climate change would be if we shifted from President Obama to President Cruz and then back to President Sanders and then to President Trump.”

Imagine having to re-write or change textbooks every time there was a presidential election. It would be a waste of paper and, ironically, bad for the environment. The proposal was ultimately defeated by the Senate in a 53-44 vote this past Wednesday.

The failure of this program to pass the Senate does not mean that schools are not allowed to teach the science of climate change, it means that the federal government will not provide incentives or extra financial support for those that do. What public schools can and cannot teach is usually decided upon by the states themselves.

So far, 13 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), meant to develop greater interest and provide students with an internationally benchmarked science education. These standards recommend climate change education beginning in middle school. However, other states have resisted efforts to include climate science in public school curricula. For example, Wyoming rejected the NGSS after the Board of Education chairman for the state said he did not accept that climate change was a fact.

Including climate science in public education can help a younger upcoming generation better understand and address the impact of climate change. Education could be an avenue to encourage and change attitudes to help the next generation become more environmentally aware and involved in climate-change related trends. The inclusion of climate change in public education will continue to be a hot spot of debate when considering American education in the future.

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