Indiana Gets “D” for Climate Change Education Efforts, Education Department Seeks to Improve Curriculum

Report gives state’s public school science standards to address climate change a barely passing grade, but the state is making moves to address deficiencies.
November 18, 2020

The Indiana Department of Education said it is working to identify and correct deficiencies that led a national panel to award the state a “D” grade for its public school climate education standards.

“Regarding the National Center for Science Education’s report on Indiana’s science standards addressing climate change, we appreciated their assessment. Our goal is to ensure climate change can be taught efficiently and often,” the department told the Indiana Environmental Reporter.

A three-scientist panel recruited by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund reviewed the state of Indiana’s public school science standards to address climate change, giving it an overall “D” grade and called the state’s approach to climate change education “abysmal.”

The state received individual failing marks for its approaches to teaching basic principles of climate change like the fact that climate change is actually happening, climate change is affecting nature and society and human activity is largely responsible for the change.

Only six states received a lower grade than Indiana.

A three-scientist panel gave Indiana's public school science standards an overall "D" grade.

“I must say [the standards do] not meet the needs of Indiana students in the process of learning their foundational understanding of the world they are inheriting and the promising careers and opportunities available to them; this is a disservice to them,” one reviewer said in the report.

Climate change is happening now, driven by massive amounts of human-produced greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere, and is rapidly altering the way people all around the world live and work.

Over the last century, global average temperatures have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit and sea levels have risen 3.3 millimeters per year. The ocean has increased in acidity by 30%. Extreme weather events have increased worldwide since the 1950s. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has been the most active ever, with official records dating back to 1851.

Climate change effects are not just happening “somewhere else.” Its effects are being felt here at home in Indiana.

Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center led an effort to find out the effect of climate change in the state now and in the future in a series of reports collectively called the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment.

Their team of experts found that climate change has already modified the weather in Indiana. The average annual temperature in the state has risen 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, and the average annual precipitation has increased by 5.6 inches.

Observed and projected temperature change in Indiana since 1900. NOAA

Those changes will affect the health of Hoosiers in every part of the state.

Temperature-related deaths are expected to double by mid-century, with children, the elderly and low-income households being most at risk. Higher temperatures will contribute to ground-level ozone production, which reduces air quality and can trigger asthma attacks and heart attacks or trigger other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Then there are increased flood risks and their effects, more mosquitoes and more disease, longer allergy seasons, changes in agricultural productivity, changes to aquatic and forest ecosystems, and many more changes that are just now being studied.

Statewide annual total precipitation for Indiana from 1895 to 2020. NOAA

Most of the climate change effects are expected to worsen in the future, and today’s students will most likely live in a world much more different than past generations have experienced.

That likelihood is what drove the NCSE to find out to what extent public schools are helping students understand what is happening, and preparing them to deliberate the problem and possible solutions.

The panel gave 40 states and the District of Columbia a “C” or higher for their climate change education efforts. Indiana, along with Florida, Ohio and West Virginia, received a “D.” The remaining states received an “F.”

The Indiana Department of Education did not dispute the report’s grade. Instead the DOE is actively looking to find its deficiencies and said it is working to address them.

The IDOE recently partnered with the Purdue Climate Change Research Center and Purdue College of Science’s K-12 Outreach program to design a climate change framework that helps educators teach climate change while intersecting with the Indiana Academic Standards for science and social studies.

“Our recent partnership with Purdue University is specifically geared towards studying current standards in an effort to better promote those that have a natural fit with and are extremely explicit about climate change- as well as develop expanded education learning opportunities,” the IDOE said.

The IDOE said the partnership has identified 113 Indiana science academic standards and courses across all grade levels that intersect with climate change and climate change concepts, including chemistry, integrated chemistry-physics and environmental science.

“When this work is completed, it will live within the state’s Science Framework, allowing educators to more easily connect learning opportunities to science standards. Further, in the future, this work will be expandable into other content areas, as well,” the DOE said. “Clearly, there is more work to be done, and it is not only work we are already undertaking, but work we too believe is necessary.”

The IDOE began its efforts to improve its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2017 when it began creating a six-year STEM strategic plan introduced November 2018.

The plan established a STEM advisory council to think up a plan to ensure that Indiana teachers would be prepared to provide every student between kindergarten and 12th grade with an “evidence-based, effective STEM education” by 2025.

The plan involves delivering STEM-focused professional development to 16,000 Indiana educators, and various other STEM-based improvements to curriculum that are measured yearly.

The plan is paying dividends in some capacities. The state was recently recognized by Advocacy Coalition, the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance for its computer science education.

Indiana Gets “D” for Climate Change Education Efforts, Education Department Seeks to Improve Curriculum