School Committee Meeting, Jan 13, 2020
Looking at the State frameworks for science (which is the subject area with the most obvious entry point for discussions about climate change), it’s not until 8th grade that teachers are expected to explicitly cover climate change. In fact, the Massachusetts science curriculum frameworks for Grade 3 require that students learn about climates around the world, but do not need to tie this to global warming: “An understanding of climate change is not expected in state assessment” (2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework).
As we all know, if a topic is not going to be on MCAS then it often moves to the bottom of the priorities list given how tight classroom learning time is. Therefore, any coverage of this extremely important issue before 8th grade or at the K-12 level in subject areas other than science happens primarily because a teacher brings the topic up on his/her own.
However, it doesn’t need to be this way – and it shouldn’t be. The attached document provides a quick look at some of the ways we can do a better job educating Newton students in climate science from kindergarten up through the end of high school. These are just a few of the possible entry points for discussing climate change – many more exist. Please note that these entry points are all directly tied to what teachers are already doing. This is not about putting aside what’s already in place to teach something new – it’s about refocusing the lens we use when implementing the curriculum standards.
In order to be successful with this, teachers will need support from the district. In a 2019 NPR/Ispos national poll, over 80% of parents support teaching about climate change; that number is even larger for teachers, with 86% of them in favor. So why doesn’t it happen?
The main reason cited by teachers is that climate change is their outside subject area. Yet our lives are not silos in which we only use one skill at one time. We tap into multiple bodies of knowledge simultaneously. Climate change is impacting all of us every day – it should be part of every subject area.
The second listed reason given by teachers for not teaching climate change is that students are too young. I challenge this assumption based on my own experiences working with young people. Feel free to ask my 4th grade Girl Scouts troop if they think they’re too young to learn about global warming and I will bet most of them already have strong opinions on this topic.
The 3rd and 4th barriers teacher list fall under the purview of the Newton School Committee and School Department: teachers don’t know enough about climate change and they don’t have sufficient materials and resources to teach about it effectively.
We are asking the school department to provide educators at the K-12 level with the materials, resources, and training to include climate science in their work with students. Teachers also need planning time with their peers to develop substantive lessons on this topic.
For this to be impactful, funds for curriculum development and teacher training will need to be allocated in the upcoming budget. I know the budget is tight but we need to stop making excuses for why we as a nation and a community are not confronting the climate emergency head on.