Who Is Learning About Climate Change in American Schools? An Analysis of Climate Change in Curriculum Standards

Monday, 15 December 2014
Barry W Golden and T.K. Francis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, United States
This work attempts to answer the question “how much, if any, climate change, exists in middle and high school curricula in the United States?” A necessary first step towards this answer involves an examination of Global Climate Change (GCC) coverage in the requisite standards documents. Until recently, each state had its own science framework, with four states (at the time of writing) having already adopted the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, Inc, 2013). This work reports on an analysis of the extent to which GCC exists within the content frameworks of each state, including the NGSS. The analysis began with a word search for such content as “climate change”, “greenhouse effect”, and “global warming”. We then searched through the remainder of the documents in question to understand the nuance of each framework. Each framework was then scored on a scale form zero (no mention of climate change) to four (climate change is explicit, an anthropogenic potential cause is emphasized, and GCC appears within at least one standard of its own). Eighteen states scored a zero, while only five states scored a four. This is particularly troubling, in light of recent statements of scientific consensus (AAAS, 2006; 2009; AGU, 2013; IPCC, 2007). While the NGSS scored well, it is unclear what this means in terms of actual students encountering the subject of climate change in actual classroom. Attention is given to some still-problematic aspects of GCC content are addressed, including its focus largely within courses not required for graduation, as well as the murky details of the yet-to-be determined processes by which individual states will choose to test, or not to test, the subject matter. The authors conclude that as of 2013, there is little evidence that students in most states are required to take courses which include significant aspects of GCC in their curricula.