Should Texas Science Textbooks Cover Climate Change?

Kids are affected by it but can't learn about it


An elementary school student attends a climate change protest in September at Republic Square (photo by Emily Engelbart)

Former eighth-grade science teacher Geoff Carlisle taught his students in Austin about climate change and its human drivers for a decade, even though it wasn't required by Texas' education standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Events like the Halloween floods in 2013 or Winter Storm Uri in 2021 made climate change a reality for some of his students, so teaching them about it seemed necessary.

"They woke up to water rising up to their beds and having to go onto the roof of their home," Carlisle said about the floods that affected some of his KIPP public charter school students living in Southeast Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. "I felt like it was really unethical to have a science class where your students are being directly impacted by climate change, and to not give them the tools for understanding why it was that these things were happening, and how this world works."

According to the state's standards adopted two years ago, educators will be required to teach their eighth-graders that human activity "can influence climate" starting next year, but the depth of those lessons will depend on which textbooks and other materials the Texas State Board of Education adopts in November. These decisions will influence how students learn about climate change for the next decade or so, and their coverage of the topic leaves something to be desired.

“I felt like it was really unethical to have a science class where your students are being directly impacted by climate change, and to not give them the tools for understanding why it was that these things were happening.”   – Austin science teacher Geoff Carlisle

Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based watchdog group, appointed a panel of scientists and educators to review the proposed textbooks and other materials. Accord­ing to the network's press release, the reviewers expressed overall satisfaction on most of the submissions for eighth-grade science; some thought that more credence should be given to humans' role in climate change, though, and how humans can also combat the crisis, among other recommendations. While two of the 13 submissions for eighth-grade science earned a "superior" score, one did not cover climate change at all, according to the press release.

"Public school will be the last educational opportunity for many students, and it is the logical arena to inform them about realities they will need to understand for the rest of their lives," said Judy Dickey, a textbook reviewer who taught science in a Florida public school and now lectures at Texas A&M.

An Austin ISD spokesperson confirmed that the district will adhere to textbooks adopted by the state, as they have been doing. As Carlisle did while teaching science at a KIPP school, some teachers will go beyond curriculum requirements, but not all have the resources to do so.

"Teachers are underpaid; there is a lot they're required to teach in a very limited time," said Carisa Lopez, a legal expert at Texas Freedom Network. "The best way to make sure we're teaching good information is to just require that all students learn it."

If you wish to submit a comment about any of the proposed textbooks, you can contact an SBOE member through tea.texas.gov before votes are made at the Nov. 14-17 meetings.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

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