How will climate change be taught in Texas classrooms?

The battle between party lines on state school board of education, and why it comes down to one word

A nonprofit is advocating to have climate change fully taught in Texas classrooms, and the Texas State Board of Education is making steps to get that done.

SAN ANTONIO – Currently, there is some belief that very little is being taught about climate change in Texas classrooms.

Texas is one of six states that got an F on a national report card that examined how each state’s current science standards address climate change,” Carisa Lopez, the director of the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network said.

The nonprofit is a social justice, civil liberties advocacy and policy organization that advocates on all levels of government.

The nonprofit is advocating to have climate change fully taught in Texas classrooms, and the Texas State Board of Education is making steps to get that done.

“So now the state board of Education is in the process of rewriting the standards for kindergarten through eighth grade science,” Lopez said.

Last week, the SBOE met to review and make changes to those standards, however, they are currently only in the draft stages. Changes can be made again to those standards for the curriculum when they meet again in November and vote on the final amendments.

“This is really their chance to make significant, meaningful changes, Lopez said. “And so we are working with some board members, some experts, the National Center for Science Education. I know there are a lot of teachers who really want this. There’s a lot of young people that want to see climate addressed in schools because this is intimately impacting their lives.”

Lopez said she fears though come November some of those changes will be reversed due to influence by oil and gas lobbying groups.

“We would love for the board to take a holistic view of teaching climate and climate change in classrooms,” Lopez said. “And that’s not really the case. But they have made some improvements. Unfortunately, we’re seeing those improvements that were just made already be chipped away at due to influence by oil and gas. And so we are going to be making sure that those good changes stay in there.”

During a meeting District 11 (near the Fort Worth area) Republican board member Patricia Hardy requested to make changes to add the word “can” influence climate change. Here are the preliminary changes that were made by Hardy during that meeting:

“..use scientific evidence to describe how human activities over the past 150 years, including the release of greenhouse gases can influence climate change such as the release of greenhouse gases, deforestation, and urbanization.”

In a statement, Hardy explained the reasoning behind making the changes.

“I added deforestation and urbanization because those are easy to understand as human activities that effect climate. Actually easier to understand than greenhouse gases. If you are looking at climate change and you look through recorded history (even such things as tree rings) you will see periods of warming prior to industrialization so why not see the big picture. ‘Can’ fits better with our current scientific data. Our society is quick to say human activity causes global warming or climate change, but not everything does. Forest fires in the west are blamed on climate change, totally disregarding the recommendations that clearing out the underbrush would go a long way toward mitigating the fires. But it is easier just to say climate change is causing it. It is a misnomer that we have more and worse hurricanes than in years past. This really isn’t true, but one hears instantly that it is caused by climate change, caused by human activity. To use the word can is much safer, for one reason, we simply don’t know that the assertions are correct.”

Board member Marisa Perez of District 3 near San Antonio disagrees and said sent her own statement in response:

“The impact is palpable and ominous, and our young people are recognizing it more and more every day. It is our responsibility as education policy makers to: 1) provide our educators with the proper roadmap for engaging in these necessary and critical conversations; and 2) stand up learning expectations that speak to what our young scholars are observing and processing in their changing environments that challenge them to think about the very real and tangible impact human activity has on climate change (ie greenhouse emissions, sea and land contamination and the implications on animal and plant wildlife, etc.). There is absolutely no question about whether human beings play a role in our increasingly desolate environmental outlook, yet organizations such as the Texas Energy Council would rather direct the Board’s attention to the economic progress the oil and gas industry champions over the importance of the industry’s harmful impact on the environment, which is far more relevant for this TEKS review. Unfortunately, this sentiment landed and stuck with some of my colleagues on the Board who chose to remove proposed language that would speak directly to topics of greenhouse gas emissions, strategically conflated the use of the terms “renewable” and “non-renewable” with “natural resources,” and encourage language such as “the impact human activity can have…” suggesting that it is not always the case, sending a factually inaccurate message to our young scholars. Although some changes were made toward progress in the teaching and learning expectations of environmental science, the change was nominal, and we can and MUST do better come November. We’ve got a tremendous amount of work ahead of us…and this is only touching on our science standards.”

Lopez agrees with Perez and said they will be working with activists, scientists and board member to fight to undo some of the changes made during last week’s meeting or make amendments in regards for how climate change is taught in Texas. She hopes these changes can be made for the final meeting this November.

“This is happening,” Lopez said. “And we know that it’s human caused. And so we need to arm students in Texas classrooms so they can be better prepared to deal with this in their future and they can be better prepared to help us fix the problem.”

She said if people want to make a difference, you can also reach out directly to your state board of education member and let them know how important this is to you and why it’s so important and make sure that your voice is heard.

About the Author:

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.