Climate

White House Announces Initiative To Improve Climate Education In The U.S.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama removes his jacket before speaking about climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington.

The White House is hoping to make climate education more of a priority in the U.S. through a new initiative announced this week.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on Wednesday launched its Climate Education and Literacy Initiative, a plan that the Obama administration hopes will help American students gain access to science-based education about climate change. According to the White House, the initiative will start out with a roundtable discussion in which government officials, educators, and leaders from nonprofits and the private sector will discuss ways to improve climate education the U.S. through improving teachers’ access to educational resources and other methods.

The initiative also includes several other White House commitments, such as working climate change education into the information National Park Service employees share with park visitors, launching NOAA-sponsored regional workshops for educators on strategies for teaching climate change, and providing courses on climate change for upper-level employees of the Federal government. In addition, the initiative is launching a competition for games that incorporate climate education, with the most innovative games to potentially be made available for use in classrooms around the country. As part of the initiative, the Department of Energy also released four videos — and is planning to release three more next year — as education tools for that schools can use when teaching students about energy.

The National Center for Science Education, a non-profit group that helped create the energy videos and is an advocate for improved and increased climate change education in schools, praised the initiative.

“Education, training, and public awareness about the risks and possible responses to climate change is vital,” Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director for NCSE said in a statement. “The Climate Education and Literacy Initiative helps to amplify existing efforts, builds support for new ones, and provides a solid foundation for further efforts.”

Climate education has been in the spotlight over the last few years as states begin to adopt and reject the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, which were developed by 26 states as well as science and education organizations, are meant to serve as a framework for science education in public schools across the U.S., so that students in one state are learning the same science-based theories on climate change and other science topics as students in another state. McCaffrey said in a press call in July that these standards help teachers incorporate climate change into their lessons, something he said many teachers don’t know how to do, because they haven’t had access to resources that teach them how to do it. The standards could also make it less likely for teachers to feel pressure to teach “both sides of the story” on climate change, since the standards provide guidelines for how to talk about the science behind climate change.

So far, twelve states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. But the standards — along with the prospect of teaching climate science in the classroom in general — have been met with hostility in some states. Wyoming became the first state in March to reject the standards outright, based in part on some state lawmakers’ concerns that the standards teach climate change as “settled science.” And officials in Texas, which is the nation’s largest textbook market, have been debating proposed updates to textbooks over the last several months, some of which, if adopted, would have meant the new textbooks included passages that cast doubt on climate science. Two major textbook companies removed some of these key climate denying passages from their books last month, about a week before Texas voted to approve the new textbooks.