Oregon Considering Mandatory Climate Change Curriculum

Oregon is looking to become the second state in the nation to mandate climate change lessons for K-12 public school students. Many high schoolers have voiced their support for the bill, arguing that they care about climate change and want to be better equipped to tackle the issue.

Some teachers and parents have also backed the bill, saying that teaching climate change will help the next generation confront the issue. However, others have raised concerns, arguing that schools should focus on reading, writing, and math, especially after test scores plummeted following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools across the U.S. are currently at the center of a politically charged battle over curriculum and how subjects such as gender, sex education and race should be taught. Climate change has now been added as yet another topic of controversy in education policy.

Oregon state Sen. James Manning (D), the bill’s chief sponsor, has said that even elementary school students have told him that climate change is crucial to them. The bill would require every Oregon school district to develop a climate change curriculum within three years, addressing climate change’s ecological, societal, cultural, political, and mental health aspects.

However, it remains to be seen how Oregon will enforce the law. Manning has said that he plans to remove an unpopular proposal for financial penalties against school districts that don’t comply but did not specify whether another plan was coming. In addition, the bill does not state how many hours of instruction are needed for the state’s education department to approve a district’s curriculum.

Connecticut is the only U.S. state with a law explicitly requiring climate change instruction. Lawmakers in California and New York are also considering similar bills.

Most states have learning standards that include climate change, but their extent varies by state. Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have expressly adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which call for middle schoolers to learn about climate science and high schoolers to receive lessons on how human activity affects the climate.

New Jersey has the most wide-ranging education standards in the country, with climate change being part of science instruction and all subjects, including art, English, and even physical education.

Several teens testified in favor of the bill at the Oregon state Capitol, with no students submitting opposition testimony. High school sophomore Gabriel Burke said, “My generation needs to learn about climate change from a young age for our survival.”

Some teachers testified against the bill, arguing that they are struggling to address pandemic-related learning losses. Adding climate change on top of existing subjects would burden teachers more. Moreover, climate change is still seen as a politically divisive issue, and mandating its instruction could add more tension in schools.