The Texas State Board of Education will vote Friday on which new science textbooks to approve for use in public schools. Some public education advocates worry that the Republican-controlled board will only sign off on materials that water down climate change information.
Emily Witt is the communications strategist at the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that advocates for textbooks that accurately address climate change. TFN and the National Center for Science Education issued a report in August assessing whether publishers of materials provided to the state board are adequately addressing climate change.
“We found that all but two met the scientific standards for teaching climate change, specifically that climate change is caused by human impact and greenhouse gases,” Witt said.
The two proposals that did not meet these scientific standards were withdrawn from consideration. But when the board met earlier this week, some Republican members called for changes to other materials that Witt said would also undermine accuracy. In one case, members raised concerns that the materials contained negative images of the oil and gas industry, Witt said.
“We know that greenhouse gases are caused by oil, gas and fossil fuels,” she said. “So it’s very troubling to hear board members talk about wanting to get these things out of the textbooks.”
One of Texas’ top oil and gas regulators has urged the State Board of Education to paint a rosier picture of the industry. Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian sent a letter to State Board of Education Chairman Kevin Ellis on Nov. 1 warning of books he described as promoting a “radical environmental agenda.” Christian writes that such training would be detrimental to students, the state, and the United States as a whole.
“I would encourage the board to select textbooks that promote the importance of fossil fuels for energy production and reject books that promote ‘green energy’ and the net zero agenda,” he wrote.
But Witt said efforts to distort factual information about the causes of climate change are hurting Texas students who are dealing with its effects.
“A lot of them went through Hurricane Harvey, the winter storm in Texas — we’re in the hottest year on record — they couldn’t go outside and play much of the summer. They know climate change is happening,” she said. “They deserve to be given the tools to deal with this challenge and this crisis that they have inherited.”
Publishers may make changes to materials that the State Council has not signed off on. Witt said that could lead publishers to include inaccurate information about climate change and evolution to win approval in one of the nation’s largest textbook markets.
But she said that if publishers don’t make the changes requested by some members, it could mean that almost none of that new material gets accepted. This will leave Texas students with textbooks that have not been updated since 2017 and do not include accurate information about climate change.
“Right now in our classrooms, kids are not being taught about climate change in a way that meets the standards of the scientific community at large,” she said.
Although Texas public schools don’t have to use the materials approved by the State Board of Education, Witt said many districts don’t have the bandwidth to identify other textbooks that still meet state standards.
“Especially for small schools that are understaffed and under-resourced, that just don’t have the capacity to review the textbooks and assess whether the textbooks meet the curriculum standards,” she said.
Friday’s State Board of Education meeting begins at 9:00 a.m. and will be streamed live.