A draft of the new Next Generation Science Standards, released on May 1, seeks to include anthropogenic climate change topics for the first time in the guidelines used by states to write core k-12 science curriculums. Achieve, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization, partnered with the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and critical stakeholders, including states, to devise the new standards. The standards are written to follow the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council’s 2011 Framework for K-12 Science Education, which is based on current scientific research and evidence.
The Next Generation Science Standards expect students to learn that "Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature ('global warming')."
Fourth and fifth grade students will analyze evidence of earth’s changing climate, such as ice cores and tree ring data, to show that human activity can affect earth systems and to understand that rising temperatures will affect humans and other organisms. Middle school students will learn "...how energy from the sun is absorbed and retained by various greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, thereby regulating Earth's average surface temperature and keeping Earth habitable." High school Earth and Space Sciences topics include "Climate Change" and "Human Sustainability."
The Next Generation Science Standards will help states update standards that are currently based on the NRC’s 1996 National Science Education Standards and the AAAS’s 1993 Benchmarks for Science Literacy. States will need to individually approve the new standards once they have been finalized. Twenty-six states, including New York, California, Maryland, and Kentucky have committed to giving serious consideration to implementing the standards and are providing leadership in the writing process as “lead state partners.”
Climate change is expected to be a contested and politicized topic in finalizing the standards and during the subsequent state adoption process. "Evolution and climate change are two hot-button issues. It could absolutely complicate matters," commented Kathleen Porter-Magee, a senior director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank. Opposition from parents, state Boards of Education and politicians could prevent the adoption of the standards, especially in states such as Texas and Louisiana, which require educators to present "climate change skepticism" as scientifically valid. Achieve Vice President Stephen Pruitt emphasized the role of the science-based NRC framework as the basis for the new standards, saying, "The scientific community identified the science before we ever started. The framework is really the foundation for all of this, so we’re not here to re-litigate that."
The Next Generation Science Standards are open to public comment until June 11. The final standards will be released in Fall 2012.