A national report says Virginia is failing in climate change education. State officials dispute that.

A national report says Virginia is failing in climate change education. State officials dispute that.
A lifeguard watches over the resort district in Virginia Beach. Coastal Virginia is among the most vulnerable places in the U.S. to sea level rise. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A report by two major educational nonprofits released last week on how states' science standards for public schools handle climate change gave Virginia a failing grade, citing  “abysmal scores across the board.”

“Humanity’s impact is downplayed in the standards and is obfuscated by saying ‘natural’ causes of climate change and ‘chemicals’ being released into the environment without stating what chemicals those are,” wrote one of three reviewers who evaluated state standards for the study.

However, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Education says the report misses the mark because it fails to capture what students are actually taught in Virginia public schools, overlooking more detailed guidance published by the state.

The report, entitled “Making the Grade?: How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change,” was issued by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

Both groups have been closely involved in advocating for science-based education on settled questions of science like climate change and evolution that have nonetheless become matters of public controversy.

“The primary recommendation to education policymakers is obvious: revise state science standards as far as necessary to reflect the scientific consensus on climate change,” the report concluded.

“That’s the more detailed version of the standards that actually drives curriculum development at the local level,” he added.

The curriculum framework, a more than 200-page document, outlines the lessons and “enduring standards” that students in different grade levels should grasp for a variety of scientific subjects. By fourth grade, for instance, students begin learning about climate. How “large-scale changes such as eutrophication, climate changes and catastrophic disturbances affect ecosystems” should be included as a key idea in the curriculum, according to the state’s framework.

The more detailed document also notes that “human activities have increased the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere” and that “legislation can promote change in human actions and reverse or stall the negative effects of their actions on the atmosphere.”

“If you want to do a review of what the commonwealth expects will be taught in science classes, then that review has to comprehend the details found in the Standards of Learning curriculum framework,” Pyle said.

Virginia last revised its science curriculum in 2018, a three-year process that gives educators the chance to review the new standards and incorporate them into lessons and student assessments, he added.

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