Climate compromised in West Virginia

12.29.2014

"At the request of a West Virginia Board of Education member who said he doesn't believe human-influenced climate change is a 'foregone conclusion,' new state science standards on the topic were altered before the state school board adopted them," reported the Charleston Gazette (December 28, 2014), in a detailed story.

Where the NGSS called for high school students to "[a]nalyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems," for example, the revised standard asks them to assess the "creditability" (sic) of such data.

Even more strikingly, where the NGSS called for middle school students to "ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperature over the past century" — which would include the burning of fossil fuels — the revised standard asks them about "the rise and fall in global temperature."

West Virginia adopted the Next Generation Science Standards in December 2014, becoming the thirteenth state to do so and joining California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

But before the standards were offered for public comment in the state, Wade Linger, a member of the state board of education, asked for changes to downplay climate change. He told the Gazette, "We're on this global warming binge going on here," adding,  "We need to look at all the theories about it rather than just the human changes in greenhouse gases."

Tom Campbell, a member of the board who expressed his agreement with Linger, told the newspaper, "Let's not use unproven theories." Asked why he was concerned especially with the "unproven theory" of climate change, he responded, "West Virginia coal in particular has been taking on unfair negativity from certain groups."

A staffer in the state department of education noted that before the adoption of the new standards, students were not required to learn about the evidence for climate change, and described the "and fall" addition as "fabulous." A colleague claimed that the changes were vetted by departmental staff and were consistent with the intentions of the NGSS.

Stephen Pruitt of Achieve, the non-profit organization coordinating the NGSS, commented that "the science is showing that we are seeing a rise in the mean global temperatures." But he also downplayed the significance of human-caused climate change in the standards, and a  colleague added that states are free to modify the NGSS without penalty.

NCSE's Mark McCaffrey was dismayed by the changes. "While the new standards are a vast improvement over West Virginia's old standards," he explained, "it's disappointing to see that the whims of a few board members have been allowed to ride roughshod over the scientific consensus on climate reflected in the NGSS."

"When asked how the state Department of Education would ensure that teachers instructing students on the climate change standards actually foster fair debate backed up by solid evidence," the Gazette reported, "school officials argued they have little control over local curricula or ability to monitor it."