SURVEY: Teachers Confused On Climate Change

Feb 14, 2016

Credit Alvin Trusty via Flickr Creative Commons

A national survey of middle and high school science teachers has found that educators’ confusion about climate change leads to misinformation in the classroom.

The National Center for Science Education and Penn State University surveyed 1,500 teachers across the country on their views about climate change—and how they present the topic to students. The average teacher spent one or two hours per year on the topic.

While more than 95 percent of climate scientists attribute recent global warming to humans, at least one in three teachers surveyed said they told students that many scientists believe climate change is not human-caused.

“And that’s a little concerning to see, because the science is really clear on this,” says Minda Berbecco, with the National Center for Science Education. “We know about the human causes of climate change, so that really needs to be at the front line of how teachers are approaching this.”

Climate change education generated controversy in Wyoming recently, when lawmakers attempted to block a set of science standards that required teaching about climate change. 

The survey shows most teachers do address climate change, even if their state standards don’t require it.

Less than 5 percent of teachers said they felt directly pressured to avoid teaching about climate change.

“It’s actually nice to see they’re not experiencing that,” says Berbecco. “But just because they’re not experiencing overt pressure doesn’t mean that there’s not pressure out in the community—in larger society—about how controversial, politically, climate change is. That can certainly have an affect too.”

Berbecco says the survey results show the need to connect teachers with more materials and training on the topic.