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Will new science textbooks in Texas accurately depict climate change? Some worry they won’t.

Science teacher Tracee Cummins' hand is seen pointing to an equation on a white board as she instructs students at New Tech Middle School in Manor in 2017.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Science teacher Tracee Cummins instructs students at New Tech Middle School in Manor in 2017.

The Texas State Board of Education is slated to vote Friday on which new science textbooks to approve for use in public schools. Some public education advocates are worried the Republican-controlled board will only sign off on materials that water down information about climate change.

Emily Witt is the communications strategist with the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that has been advocating for textbooks that accurately address climate change. The TFN and the National Center for Science Education released a report in August evaluating whether the materials publishers submitted to the state board adequately addressed the issue.

“We found that all but two conformed with the science standards on teaching about climate change, particularly that climate change is caused by human impact and greenhouse gasses,” Witt said.

The two submissions that did not comply with those scientific standards have since been withdrawn from consideration. But when the board met earlier this week, some Republican members called for changes to the remaining materials that Witt said would also undermine accuracy. For example, members raised concerns materials had negative depictions of the oil and gas industry, Witt said.

“We know that greenhouse gasses are caused by oil and gas and fossil fuels,” she said. “So it’s very worrying to hear board members talk about wanting to strike those things from the textbooks.”

One of the top oil and gas regulators in Texas 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 Chair Keven Ellis on Nov. 1 cautioning against books he described as promoting a “radical environmentalist agenda.” Christian wrote that such instruction would be detrimental to students, the state and the U.S. as a whole.

“I’d encourage the board to choose textbooks that promote the importance of fossil fuels for energy production and reject books that promote a ‘green energy’ and net zero agenda,” he wrote.

But Witt said any efforts to distort factual information about what causes climate change will hurt Texas students who are dealing with its effects.

“A lot of them lived through Hurricane Harvey, the Texas winter storm — we are in the hottest year on record — they couldn’t go outside and play a lot of their summer. They know climate change is happening,” she said. “They deserve to be given the tools to meet this challenge and this crisis that they have inherited.”

Publishers can make changes to materials the state board has not signed off on. Witt said that could lead publishers to include inaccurate information about climate change to win approval in one of the largest textbook markets in the country.

But she said if publishers don’t make the changes some members requested, it could mean almost none of these new materials get adopted. And according to TFN, the materials the board approved years ago don't accurately address climate change.

“Right now in our classrooms, kids are not being taught climate change in a way that meets the standards of the scientific community at large,” she said.

While Texas public schools do not need to use the materials the State Board of Education approves, Witt said many districts do not have the bandwidth to identify other textbooks that still comply with state standards.

“Especially for small schools that are understaffed and under-resourced that just don’t have the capacity to look through textbooks and assess whether the textbooks meet the curriculum standards,” she said.

Friday’s State Board of Education meeting begins at 9 a.m. and will be livestreamed.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that if new textbooks are not approved, children would only have access to textbooks from 2017. In fact, individual school districts can choose textbooks and are not required to use only those approved by the state.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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