What do Florida public school students learn about climate change in their science classes? According to a report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund our students may not be learning very much. The report is an analysis of how each state’s public school science education standards address climate change. Each state was awarded a grade depending on how the science education standards incorporate various aspects of teaching about climate change. Florida earned a dismal D. Unfortunately, I believe that D was too kind.
The report explains that standards “identify the basic information and skills students are expected to master in their courses of study. These standards guide the content of statewide testing and assessment, textbooks and other instructional materials, and classroom instruction.” You can find Florida’s education standards at the website https://www.cpalms.org/Public/. The science standards were approved by the state board of education in 2008 and have not undergone any significant revision or updates since then.
What are the Florida science standards that directly address climate change or global warming? There are only five.
SC.912.E.7.7: Identify, analyze, and relate the internal (Earth system) and external (astronomical) conditions that contribute to global climate change.
This is a standard typically included in earth/space and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is on the variety of things that can cause global changes in climate. Notice that the standard seems to suggest only natural, not man-made, causes be covered.
SC.912.E.7.9: Cite evidence that the ocean has had a significant influence on climate change by absorbing, storing, and moving heat, carbon, and water.
This standard is typically included in marine science and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is how oceans influence changes in climate. It doesn’t say anything about human influences. The CPALMS website includes lesson resources that can be used to teach each standard. The resources for this standard include lessons on El Nino/La Nina, ocean currents, comparison of ice melting in freshwater and saltwater, etc. There are some lesson resources that explicitly state or at least point to human influences, but not many.
SC.912.L.17.4: Describe changes in ecosystems resulting from seasonal variations, climate change and succession.
This standard is typically included in biology, marine science, and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is how ecosystems change. Climate change is just one item on a list of ecosystem change causes and human influences are not mentioned.
SC.912.L.17.8: Recognize the consequences of the losses of biodiversity due to catastrophic events, climate changes, human activity, and the introduction of invasive, non-native species.
This standard is typically included in biology, marine science, and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is biodiversity loss, not climate change. Climate change is just one item on a list of biodiversity loss causes.
SC.912.L.17.16: Discuss the large-scale environmental impacts resulting from human activity, including waste spills, oil spills, runoff, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and surface and groundwater pollution.
This standard is typically included in marine science and environmental science courses. The focus of this standard is broad: what human activities are doing to the environment. Greenhouse gases are just one item on a list of human activities here.
There are other standards that don’t directly mention climate change or global warming but can be incorporated into lessons on the topic.
- SC.912.E.7.4: Summarize the conditions that contribute to the climate of a geographic area, including the relationships to lakes and oceans.
- SC.912.E.7.8: Explain how various atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic conditions in Florida have influenced and can influence human behavior, both individually and collectively.
- SC.912.L.17.11: Evaluate the costs and benefits of renewable and nonrenewable resources, such as water, energy, fossil fuels, wildlife, and forests.
- SC.912.L.17.13: Discuss the need for adequate monitoring of environmental parameters when making policy decisions.
- SC.912.L.17.15: Discuss the effects of technology on environmental quality.
- SC.912.L.17.17: Assess the effectiveness of innovative methods of protecting the environment.
- SC.912.L.17.18: Describe how human population size and resource use relate to environmental quality.
- SC.912.L.17.20: Predict the impact of individuals on environmental systems and examine how human lifestyles affect sustainability.
- SC.912.E.6.6: Analyze past, present, and potential future consequences to the environment resulting from various energy production technologies.
- SC.912.N.4.2: Weigh the merits of alternative strategies for solving a specific societal problem by comparing a number of different costs and benefits such as human, economic and environmental.
An important thing to note is that each of the standards listed here so far start with “SC.912.” The 912 means it’s a standard for grades 9 through 12, in other words high school. There are no climate change standards at all for the elementary or middle school levels in Florida.
Can a thorough examination of climate change be built around the five main climate change standards and the other supporting standards? If the teacher is well versed in climate change, then definitely. But any science teacher not familiar with climate change will likely completely miss the opportunity to provide students even a basic foundation on it based on the standards alone.
Sadly, there is a high chance that many biology, earth/space, environmental science, and marine science teachers don’t have a good working knowledge of the climate change topic. For instance, my state teacher certification is in biology. The certification qualifies me to teach environmental science, which I have been doing for about six years. I didn’t learn anything about climate change in my college courses and I haven’t received any professional development training on it. I had to learn about climate change on my own. How many other teachers are in the same situation? And how many of them might be using unreliable Internet sources?
I’m skeptical of the D grade the report’s reviewers gave Florida. I believe it should have been lower. Here are the criteria the reviewers used and the grade for each that Florida received.
- (D) It’s real: Recent climate change is a genuine phenomenon.
- (D) It’s us: Human activity is responsible for the global change in climate.
- (C-) It’s bad: Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect nature and society.
- (F) There’s hope: It is possible to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
- (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards helpful in permitting students to reach these conclusions?
- (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards appropriately explicit?
- (D) To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards integrated in a coherent learning progression?
- (D) To what extent do the standards make it clear to teachers what knowledge and skills students are expected to attain?
- (D) To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for further study in higher education?
- (D) To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for responsible participation in civic deliberation about climate change?
Based on the five standards explicitly about climate change, I don’t see how Florida didn’t get straight Fs.
Will Florida public school students encounter quality climate change lessons by the time they graduate? That will all depend on what science courses they take and how knowledgeable the science teachers are on the topic. Students need three science credits to graduate high school. One of those courses is mandatory for all students: biology. Climate change might be briefly mentioned in biology but there is unlikely to be a comprehensive lesson on the subject in that course. What if a student takes biology, chemistry and physics as their three science credits? Then it’s possible the student will never receive a lesson on climate change.
Why is teaching climate change important? The report’s section on Florida states: “How can students and teachers hope [one of the grading criteria] if there is no connection to how bad the problem is? Specifically, for the state of Florida, sea level rise and hurricanes should at the very least be discussed.” How can we hope to solve Florida’s climate change related issues if our students know little to nothing about it? Our 12-year-old state science education standards clearly need an update. But in today’s Florida political climate, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.