Indiana climate change education ‘abysmal.’ It’s not political.
This time of year, many of Indiana’s educators are working to grade their students’ academic performance. But this time it’s the Indiana educational system receiving a grade.
And the news isn’t good. We just barely squeaked by, with a “D.”
A recent report by the National Center for Science Education, one of the nation’s leading science education organizations, has evaluated each state’s science standards and considered the treatment of climate change science, considering key points that draw from scientific consensus on the issue.
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The report, entitled “Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change,” evaluated the characteristics of each state’s educational standards — which are used to guide day-to-day curriculum decisions in classrooms around the country.
The report indicated that “Indiana earned a D, just barely escaping an overall failing grade. The state’s approach to educating Hoosier students about the reality and severity of climate change is abysmal.”
As with our grading of students’ academic performance, the NCSE assessed 10 different criteria to come to its overall summary of our state’s standards. Sadly, they came to the conclusion that Indiana deserves a failing grade in at least seven of the 10 categories, and barely squeaked by with a passing grade in the other three.
One reviewer stated, “I must say the standards do not meet the needs of Indiana students in the process of learning their foundational understanding of the world they are inheriting and the promising careers and opportunities that are available to them; this is a disservice to them.”
The reasons for this grade? One was a choice that Indiana made several years ago — in contrast to nearly half of the country — to take a pass on adopting the national “Next Generation Science Standards”, which explicitly addresses climate change.
Indiana’s grade sharply contrasts with the grades of our bordering states of Kentucky (B+), Michigan (B+), and Illinois (B+), all of which adopted those standards.
One might assume that this is a classic “blue-state/red-state” problem, with left-leaning states garnering the good grades and right-leaning states left out in the cold. Yet there were seven states in the NCSE report that scored even better than states that adopted the NGSS — including dark-red Wyoming (A), Alaska (A-), and North Dakota (A-).
This pattern demonstrates that this is not a political problem, but an educational one.
Indiana’s failing grade is clearly a cause for concern. Our students are being left behind in science education.
This lack of preparedness will ultimately impact our state’s ability to adapt to
a changing climate, our students’ ability to capitalize on career and higher education opportunities — and ultimately, our state’s economic future.
We view the NCSE report as a call to action and an opportunity to collaborate to revise Indiana’s standards. Given the results of a recent study showing that 72% of Hoosiers — across the political spectrum — agree that our schools should teach the causes, consequences and potential solutions to climate change, we owe it to our students to improve our standards to reflect our state’s support and serve as a model for the rest of the country.
We believe Indiana can, and indeed must, rise to this challenge. It is time for us to make explicit in our standards that climate change is a genuine phenomenon that will continue to affect us and that humans are primarily responsible for it.
And here’s the good news. Indiana is home to some of the nation’s leading scientists and educators working on climate change and related issues in environmental education.
Purdue University’s Climate Change Impacts Assessment program and Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute are leading the charge. They and dozens of other scientists and educators around the state are providing resources for Hoosier teachers and are prepared to work with the Indiana Department of Education to improve Indiana’s near-failing grade.
State science standards are not some sort of fixed monument to the history of science. They are dynamic documents that should reflect our growing understanding of the natural world around us and its implications for addressing the world’s great challenges.
Our state’s science standards must adapt to acknowledge the state of the science—and to meet our students’ need to understand climate change and to build a climate-resilient future.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has just named Indiana’s first secretary of education. We join educators across the state in welcoming Katie Jenner to that post and stand ready to help her meet the governor’s challenge to “cultivate a future-ready education system.”
Our science standards play a critical role in helping educate Hoosier students to create a more prosperous and sustainable future for all. We call on the Indiana Department of Education to work with Hoosier scientists and educators to make that vision a reality.
Hamburger is professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at IU-Bloomington. Scribner is the director of STEM education initiatives for IU’s School of Education.
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