Teaching climate change: Idaho educators take a second shot at state science standards

Finding ways to learn about climate change

While Idaho lawmakers question standards for teaching climate change, many Idaho students are already learning about it.
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While Idaho lawmakers question standards for teaching climate change, many Idaho students are already learning about it.

A state education committee is proposing to reinsert climate change into science standards for public schools, but with one difference: more emphasis on students discovering issues causing climate change and less on teachers telling them how humans are causing it.

Lawmakers approved preliminary science standards this year, the first major update to the state’s science standards since 2001. But they removed five sections on climate change, complaining that the proposed standards did not give a balanced view on the human impact on changing climate.

But during hearings on the standards in the legislative session and hearings with the State Department of Education across the state this spring, Idahoans overwhelmingly said climate change must be a part of what students are expected to know.

The new proposed standards encourage “students to go and look at the evidence” and draw their conclusions, said Micah Lauer, a life science teacher at Heritage Middle School in West Ada School District who was a member of the committee writing the standards.

Proposed climate change science standards still have to go before the Idaho State Board of Education, likely in August. If the board OKs them, they’ll go out for more hearings, back to the State Board and then to the Legislature in January.

Removing climate change standards last legislative session brought strong criticism against the Legislature and prompted Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, to organize a hearing on climate change that was the largest meeting of the session with 650 people.

“Clearly, climate change is a topic our kids need to know about,” Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, said in February.

Some lawmakers left the door open to reconsidering standards that addresses climate change when they return in 2018.

“I don’t think there is anyone in the Legislature that doesn’t want to have that discussion,” said State Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.

Climate change needs to be part of the science standards if students are to undergo statewide testing on the subject. But it doesn’t need to be in the standards for schools to teach it, and most district do already, according an informal Statesman survey earlier this year.

“Districts still have local control,” said Rob Winslow, Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director. “That is why districts are going to do what they want to do with this.”

District such as Boise and Kuna say they don’t tell students what to believe about climate change, but encourage them to go out on their own, experiment and make up their own minds.

“I have to give you all the information and let you decide,” said Brian Deatherage, a Kuna science teacher.