For the past 25 years, the Texas Freedom Network has made defending sound science in our state’s public schools a major focus of our work. It hasn’t been easy — the Texas State Board of Education has a well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of anti-science extremism. But we have built strong partnerships to succeed here.
So when the board announced that it would undertake a major revision of science standards for Texas public schools in 2020, the first call we made was to the National Center for Science Education.
NCSE has long been a valuable and trusted partner in battles over science education in Texas. The organization’s top staff were with us in 2009, when the board’s creationist chair tried to use the last major science standards revision in Texas to undermine the teaching of evolution. “Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts,” the chair thundered at one meeting.
He and other creationists on the board tried over the course of several meetings to rewrite fact-based science standards that educators, scientists, and other experts had spent months drafting. They listened raptly as a representative of the Discovery Institute testified, peddling long-ago-debunked claims about the Cambrian Explosion as a problem for evolution.
But we worked with NCSE, which brought important knowledge and experience in battling anti-science creationists in state after state. Together, we successfully shaped the media narrative around the debate and educated board members about the importance of rejecting efforts to undermine sound science with creationist buzzwords and arguments in our state’s public schools.
We didn’t persuade the creationists on the board, of course. But today Texas science standards don’t promote those arguments or require students to learn about the so-called weaknesses of evolution.
Still, the battle over science education is far from over in Texas. Creationists are still a united faction on the state board. Worse still, the science standards do a terrible job when it comes to climate change. The same creationist board chair who wanted to “stand up to experts” in 2009 also called the overwhelming evidence on climate change “hooey.” Others insisted that teaching students about it amounted to pushing a "political agenda."
So this year the TFN Education Fund worked with NCSE to conceive a research project examining how well science standards in every state across the country address the overwhelming evidence that human-caused climate change is a global crisis. Our two research teams worked together over the course of nearly a year to plan the project, recruit scientists to evaluate state standards, and then write and release the report in a national press conference in September 2020.
Our investment of resources in this project was well worth it. The final report, “Making the Grade: How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change” (check out this write up of the report by NCSE's Glenn Branch and this perspective from three of NCSE's Teacher Ambassadors), highlights where science standards fall short both in Texas and across the country.
In fact, the Texas science standards barely mention climate change. In one of the brief instances in which they do, the standards actually suggest — falsely — that scientists are debating whether climate change is even happening. We are using that information in our efforts to mobilize grassroots activists, scientists, and educators to put pressure on the board to ensure that the next generation of Texas students learn the facts about climate change.
This work will also have an impact on science education across the country. The report will be useful as NCSE rallies support for improved treatment of climate change in state science standards in other states in coming years. (Pennsylvania and South Carolina are in the midst of such revisions now, with improvements expected.)
All of this work — and our valued partnership with NCSE — is an important part of our efforts to build a grassroots network and promote an informed policy agenda to bring important change to Texas. And that change begins in our public school classrooms.
This article has been modified slightly from its original print format.