Liv Ames for EdSource

As California Gov. Jerry Brown joins world leaders in Paris next week after several months of campaigning to curb climate change around the world, many middle schools in his state are using science textbooks that are inaccurate on the subject, asserted a new report from Stanford University this week.

In a review of 6th-grade earth science textbooks published nearly a decade ago, researchers found that four textbooks described climate change in uncertain terms, including “whether humans were causing it and what the effects will be,” said K.C. Busch, a doctoral candidate in science education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education who co-wrote the report.

The study comes amid the overwhelming consensus of scientists who agree that there is convincing evidence that humans are causing the planet to warm. The report also comes as schools across California are in the early stages of implementing new science standards, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, in the next three to five years.

To say that there is scientific debate about the causes of global warming is not an accurate statement given what scientists now know, Busch said, with research showing that less than 3 percent of scientists who are experts on climate analysis disagree about the causes of climate change.

As the new science standards come into practice, “publishers will be writing new textbooks that include climate change,” the report said. “This reworking of science textbooks provides a rare opportunity to reflect on how we can create texts that enhance science teaching and learning.”

Busch and Diego Román, a co-author of the report who is an assistant professor of education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, added in their report that “there must be a definitive effort to improve the text about climate change so it reflects scientifically accurate portrayals of uncertainty and includes specific agents.”

In their research of the state’s middle-school textbooks, Busch and Román analyzed nearly 3,000 words and nearly 300 clauses that were related to climate change.

Here are some examples of passages regarding climate change that are in middle-school science textbooks currently used in California:

  • A passage in “Focus on Earth Science,” published by Prentice Hall, says: “Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate.”
  • Another passage, from the textbook “Earth Science,” says: “Until recently, climatic changes were connected only to natural causes. However, studies indicate that human activities may have an influence on climate change.”
  • “Focus on Earth Science” also had this: “Global warming could have some positive effects. Farmers in some areas that are now cool could plant two crops a year instead of one. Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland. However, many effects of global warming are likely to be less positive.”

“A savvy teacher would read that and know it’s not based on scientific understanding,” with words such as ‘could,’ ‘may,’ or ‘likely,’” Busch told EdSource. “The text needs to have accurate science,” she added. “That’s the lowest bar.”

But the passage also provides an opportunity for science teachers to engage their students in discussions based on the coming science standards, which emphasize critical thinking skills and reasoning to answer questions.

Busch, who was a high school science teacher in Texas for 12 years before she pursued a graduate degree, said the growing awareness of climate change and what to do about it is a gold mine for science teachers.

If she were using the 6th-grade texts in California, she said, she would ask students to use the textbook’s hedging descriptions as opportunities for questions, such as, “Why is the textbook presenting climate change in this way?”

“It would be a great lesson,” she said.

EdSource contacted Gov. Brown’s office for comment about the climate change information in the textbooks. Gareth Lacy, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said it’s not likely that the governor’s office will weigh in on that issue.


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  1. Dawn Urbanek 8 months ago8 months ago

    I thought the reason that we were transitioning to electronic devices is because we could implement up to date information almost instantly without the cost of re-printing a book???

    So why are districts spending money on “outdated text books AND e-books? Was it to double the revenues of text book companies?

    Replies

    • Michael Collier 8 months ago8 months ago

      Districts in California bought the science text books in question a decade ago or longer. They are now out of date on climate change, particularly when considering the rapid pace of research on that front in the intervening years. Science teachers will be working without updated texts for a few more years during implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in California. In the meantime, the teachers are using state and federal grants to train … Read More

      Districts in California bought the science text books in question a decade ago or longer. They are now out of date on climate change, particularly when considering the rapid pace of research on that front in the intervening years. Science teachers will be working without updated texts for a few more years during implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in California. In the meantime, the teachers are using state and federal grants to train teachers how to use NGSS standards in teaching science, including the science of climate change.

  2. Fred Weller 8 months ago8 months ago

    Of course the textbooks do not reflect current conclusions on climate change or “global-warming.” My current 7th grade text was published in 2006 as are the other middle school textbooks. Between three math adoptions and the pending NGSS, California K-8 science has not be able to purchase new textbooks or supplemental material, and will not be able to until 2016-2017. Fortunately, USDOE, NGSS, STEM funds are allowing for good professional development.

  3. Trish Williams, Member, CA State Board of Education 8 months ago8 months ago

    The study you are referencing by Stanford was an examination of the old science text books aligned to CA's previous science standards adopted in 1997. In the fall of 2013 the California State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as CA's new K-12 science standards. NGSS includes current and accurate information, based upon considerable research and consensus in the scientific community, on the human impacts on climate change. As CA school … Read More

    The study you are referencing by Stanford was an examination of the old science text books aligned to CA’s previous science standards adopted in 1997. In the fall of 2013 the California State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as CA’s new K-12 science standards. NGSS includes current and accurate information, based upon considerable research and consensus in the scientific community, on the human impacts on climate change. As CA school districts and charters move to implement the NGSS, and as publishers and open source materials begin to align with NGSS, students will be getting evidence-based information on climate change.

    Replies

    • Louis Freedberg 8 months ago8 months ago

      Thanks for this clarification. It underscores the importance of moving as quickly as possible to full implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Extraordinary that some schools are still using textbooks aligned with old standards adopted in 1997.

      • Ann 8 months ago8 months ago

        Leaving aside the science standards approach to climate change Mr. Freedberg, do you honestly believe ELA Common Core standards are better (or substantially different ) from the world class standards California adopted in '98? It is my belief the CC math standards will be dropped or substantially revised within a few years. Actually the Next Generation science standards are going to be a risk as well. Adopting these broad changes without beta testing is irresponsible … Read More

        Leaving aside the science standards approach to climate change Mr. Freedberg, do you honestly believe ELA Common Core standards are better (or substantially different ) from the world class standards California adopted in ’98? It is my belief the CC math standards will be dropped or substantially revised within a few years. Actually the Next Generation science standards are going to be a risk as well. Adopting these broad changes without beta testing is irresponsible and wasteful. It’s frankly hard to hang our low achievement on standards at all. It’s much more likely that less than optimal teaching to poorly prepared students (raised by poorly educated parents) is our problem. But we will continue to throw billions into this highly dysfunctional system and hope for better outcomes.

        • Gary Ravani 8 months ago8 months ago

          In reality, there was no "beta testing" on the "world class standards" adopted previously either. They were just foisted upon the schools because of a misguided belief that "standards and accountability" were the silver bullets du jour to reform education. There was never shred of empirical evidence to suggest that model was likely to have positive outcomes, there was simply a faith-based confidence because such a model seems to mimic that icon of the faith-based … Read More

          In reality, there was no “beta testing” on the “world class standards” adopted previously either. They were just foisted upon the schools because of a misguided belief that “standards and accountability” were the silver bullets du jour to reform education. There was never shred of empirical evidence to suggest that model was likely to have positive outcomes, there was simply a faith-based confidence because such a model seems to mimic that icon of the faith-based mythology, the vaunted “market.” Currently there is not a shred of empirical evidence (funny how that comes up so often) to back the idea that “less than optimal teaching” is a problem in the schools/ That is, if you stay away from the press releases posing as “research” that come from conservative “think-tanks.” And “poorly educated” parents align with poor parents and minority parents. As Coleman said way back in the 1960s, “If you want to cure poor school performance you need to cure poverty.” CA has one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and, by far, the greatest percentage of students coming from homes where English is a second language. The “cure” to dealing with low school performance is to close the many gaps in children supports prior to them showing up to school and then providing the schools with adequate resources to deal with the disadvantaged population that they serve. The latter is impossible as CA continues to languish in the bottom ten of 50 states, in dollars adjusted for cost-of-living, in dollars spent per child for K12 education.

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