South Dakota to require climate-change lessons in school

Students in South Dakota, like those in 13 other states and the District of Columbia, will be taught about climate change in public schools subsequent to a unanimous vote by the state’s board of education this week.

The South Dakota Board of Education on Monday adopted several curriculum changes including science standards that are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. A couple of those standards pertain to the science of climate change.

And starting in 2018, students will be required to answer questions about climate science on a statewide standardized test.

John Friedrich, a senior campaigner for the non-profit Climate Parents, put the policy change into perspective.

“For first time, every student in middle and high school will be expected to learn the basic facts about climate change — and that’s a sea change. Before NextGen, it would typically be only kids in earth-science class, or kids in an elective. Most kids would learn nothing about it in school.”

“Clearly,” he continued, “we have a big gap in our society in scientific literacy. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree on human-caused climate change, and it’s maybe only half of that in the general public. Hopefully this will elevate that to a higher overall level of public understanding of that science.”

The NextGen requirements were were developed in 2013 by the National Research Council and educators and other representatives from 26 states. The standards cover a broad range of science issues, including a couple of topics that tend to provoke a lot of debate: evolution and climate change.

“Because climate change is politically controversial, they’ve met with some political resistance,” said Minda Berbeco, the programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education. The South Dakota board bowed to the opposition by passing an amendment encouraging parents to weigh in with their children on the matter of climate change.

School boards in three states – Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming – considered the standards and so far have chosen to eschew them. However, Berbeco added, the new standards are not about persuasion or political agendas.

“We promote good science standards, and these are good science standards. We absolutely support them.”

Two Midwest states – Illinois and Kansas – are among the 13 that have embraced the NextGen program. The standards are under consideration in several other states including Iowa, which is close to voting on the matter, Friedrich said.

Carrying the banner in South Dakota for more instruction about climate change was Sherry Korthals, a Sioux Falls mother and a member of Climate Parents. She gathered about 1,100 signatures on a petition that was brought before the board of education.

On the petition, Korthals said: “Our children deserve the highest quality education we can give them, one that prepares them for a bright future on a thriving planet. The vast majority of parents in the Mount Rushmore State strongly support an advanced, evidence-based science education that includes climate science.”

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