Making the Grade?  How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change

Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change

A Report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund

October 2020

Introduction

More than 11,000 scientists in late 2019, noting that they and their colleagues “have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat,” endorsed a report stating “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” In fact, virtually all climate scientists say overwhelming evidence shows that human-caused climate change is real. That consensus is evident in official statements from major scientific organizations, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We are more sure that greenhouse gas is causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer,” explains one NASA atmospheric scientist.

We can already see the effects of climate change today, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains. These effects include more extreme weather events such as severe droughts and destructive storms. Such weather extremes are putting increasing pressure on water supplies and on the farmers and ranchers who supply our food. Rising temperatures also lead to more heat stress and other health challenges, including poor air quality and more infectious disease. Rising ocean levels threaten coastal populations, and more acidic ocean waters threaten marine life. And the negative impacts of climate change are severe for especially vulnerable communities — including low-income communities, rural communities, and people of color — that lack the resources to recover and adapt and already experience disparate challenges in health and health care.

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, political debate over the reality of climate change and human responsibility for it rages on. This debate is shaping public policies, good and bad, that determine our society’s response to the emergency scientists warn about. But to what extent are public schools helping students understand what is happening and preparing them to responsibly engage in civic deliberation on the problem and possible solutions? To help answer this question, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) engaged in a comparative study of how each state’s science standards for public schools address climate change.

Explore the website and data.

Download the Report PDF