Results of a national survey of science teachers are to be reported this November in response to an anonymous online questionnaire on K-12 climate science teaching.

An earth sciences teachers organization is surveying its teacher members and other earth science teachers about their experiences in teaching climate change in the classroom.

The National Earth Sciences Teachers Association, NESTA, is asking its members and other teachers to respond anonymously to a 71-question “Survey Monkey” online questionnaire. The survey seeks information on issues ranging from formal educational backgrounds and years of teaching experience to range of information sources used, challenges in keeping current in the field, and interactions with students, faculty members, parents, and other outside interests. The group says it will publish a report on results from the survey at its website in November.

Science magazine reported in its August 5 issue that “the U.S. political debate over climate change is seeping into K-12 science classrooms, and teachers are feeling the heat.” Reporter Sara Reardon wrote in that story of conflicts among secondary school science teachers, school boards, and sometimes parents and students over expectations to teach climate change science in a “balanced” way.

She characterized some teachers’ arguments: “Science courses should reflect the best scientific knowledge of the day, and offering opposing views amounts to teaching poor science.” Reardon reported that a spring survey of 800 NESTA members found climate science “second only to evolution” in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. Reardon wrote that climate science teachers, in contrast to biology teachers, “won’t have the protection of the First Amendment’s language about religion if climate change deniers decide to take their cause to court.”

Her article pointed to a law passed in 2008 in Louisiana listing climate change, along with evolution, as “‘controversial’ subjects that teachers and students alike can challenge in the classroom without fear of reprisal.”

The NESTA survey asks about the range of subjects taught by the respondents in their earth and space science classes; their own formal education on the issue and the kind of school they teach in; whether their climate change classes address issues such as uncertainty, disease impacts, energy choices, economics, glaciers, the sun, ocean acidification, droughts, controversy, and “Climategate”; their preferred sources of information for teaching their classes; the level of school administration and community support or discouragement; challenges they face in teaching climate change; and how they remain current on the issue.

In a series of 25 questions exploring respondents’ understanding of the climate issue, the science teachers group asks for information on:

  • Teachers’ yes or no response to whether they believe global warming is happening over the past 150 years, how sure they are in their opinions, and their thoughts on the causes of the warming;
  • Whether they believe most scientists think earth’s atmosphere is warming and whether human influences contribute to that warming;
  • How much global sea level rise they expect by 2100; and
  • Which among several sources of energy are fossil fuels, and more.

NESTA Executive Director Roberta Johnson told The Yale Forum she is aware of potential misuse of the anonymous survey by parties interested in skewering the results. She said she has arranged various “filters” to avoid deliberate stacking of the deck — in effect, a thumb on the scale, but acknowledged no system is entirely fool proof. She noted, for instance that she was surprised to find on Monday, August 22, that the total number of survey respondents had suddenly grown from the mid-400s to more than 1,100. She said that growth could be related to publicity around that time to members of the American Geophysical Union, but she said she will closely monitor such bursts of responses to help prevent a biasing of the survey results.