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Climate Change Is a Thing. You Should Teach It, Science Teachers Group Says

The major group representing science educators is making this point crystal clear: The scientific consensus for climate change due to human activity is overwhelming, and the topic must be taught in K-12 classrooms.

The National Science Teachers Association says in its position statement, released this morning, that the science of climate change is as well established as other fields, like plate tectonics and planetary astronomy, and that the subject should be taught in K-12 education. 

"Given the solid scientific foundation on which climate change science rests, any controversies regarding climate change and human-caused contributions to climate change that are based on social, economic, or political arguments—rather than scientific arguments—should not be part of a science curriculum," it says. 

The four-page resolution, about a year in the drafting, also recommends support structures that should surround the teaching of climate change. For example, teachers need ongoing professional development to enhance their teaching and develop confidence to address the topic, while programs preparing teachers and licensing systems should include climate change content.

One of the most interesting pieces in the statement is its reference to the false debates that sometimes surround climate change. It notes that teachers often face pressure to eliminate or de-emphasize climate change through reasonable-sounding rhetorical tactics, such as "teach the controversy." That's also been one of the common strategies used by opponents of evolution.

The Context of Climate Change Teaching in Schools

To be clear, this isn't a new position for the NSTA; rather, it's a compilation and reiteration of its beliefs. The group has been a big supporter of the Framework for K-12 Science Education, the 2012 National Research Council publication that underpins efforts like the Next Generation Science standards. Both documents include climate change as a core theme that should be explored in their education programs. And the NSTA offers resources for the teaching of climate science on its website. 

So why put out a position statement now?

"We have found in the past that having an official statement is useful for teachers and principals to take to the next level up—to the curriculum supervisor, or to the school board—to say this is not just some fad; the largest organization of science teachers responsible for opinions and policy on science education feels strongly enough to outline it," said David Evans, the NSTA's executive director.  "This is really practical, on the ground stuff. And it's a very timely issue." 

He's got a point. New Mexico, West Virginia, and Idaho  have all faced controversies over the past two years over how they've revised their science standards on the topic of climate change.

And just in the past week Arizona, which was already facing blowback from language minimizing climate change in a draft version of its science standards, released a new draft that eliminates some pieces related to climate change. (It's not entirely clear what prompted this most recent change in the language.)

Research has also found that many teachers hold incomplete or incorrect ideas about climate change.

And the National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of climate change, too, recently wrote this Commentary for Education Week on the landscape of teacher beliefs on the topic and how to use the classroom narrow the gap between popular and scientific understanding of climate change.

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