Climate confusion among U.S. teachers


ILLUSTRATION: P. HUEY/SCIENCE
SCIENCE EDUCATION
Climate confusion among U.S. teachers
Teachers’ knowledge and values can hinder climate education
By Eric Plutzer,1 Mark McCaffrey,2
A. Lee Hannah,3 Joshua Rosenau,2
Minda Berbeco,2 Ann H. Reid2
Although more than 95% of active cli- mate scientists attribute recent global warming to human causes ( most of the general public accepts that climate change is occurring, only about half of U.S. adults believe that 1, 2) and
human activity is the predominant cause
(3), which is the lowest among 20 nations
polled in 2014 (4). We examine how this societal debate affects science
classrooms and find that,
whereas most U.S. science
teachers include climate science in their
courses, their insufficient grasp of the science may hinder effective teaching. Mirroring some actors in the societal debate over
climate change, many teachers repeat scientifically unsupported claims in class. Greater
attention to teachers’ knowledge, but also
values, is critical.
Prior surveys [e.g., (5, 6)] suggest that many
teachers devote class time to climate change.
Although these surveys are suggestive, their
use of nonprobability sampling undermines
the validity of their results. None quantified
the amount of class time or the specific topics covered in class. We undertook the first
nationally representative survey of science
teachers focused on climate change. Working from a commercial database of 3.9 million teachers, we drew a stratified probability
sample of 5000 names and implemented
a multiple-contact paper and Web survey
protocol during academic year 2014–15. We
collected data from 1500 public middle- and
high-school science teachers from all 50 U.S.
states, representative of the population of
science teachers in terms of school size, student socioeconomic status, and community
economic and political characteristics. See
supplemental materials (SM) for details

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