AAAS Decries “Controversial Issue” Approach to Climate Change Instruction in Los Alamitos Schools

In a letter dated 1 June 2011, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner expressed concern about plans to treat climate change as a “controversial issue” in advancement placement (AP) environmental science classes within the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Under a newly revised “controversial issue” policy—unanimously approved by the district’s school board—teachers must annually detail their plans for presenting “multiple perspectives” on issues deemed controversial, including climate change. Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of Science, urged the school board to remove advanced environmental science from its list of controversial topics.

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver,” he wrote. “These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence.”

Alan I. Leshner

Alan I. Leshner

Leshner noted that a sound understanding of science and technology will be critical to students’ ability to compete for high-skill jobs in an increasingly high-tech world economy. He further cited countless scientific peer-reviewed papers, assessments by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a consensus letter sent 21 October 2009 to Members of Congress by the leaders of 18 premier scientific societies.

That letter stressed that climate change is real and “contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.”

The Los Alamitos Unified School District includes six elementary schools, two middle schools, one comprehensive high school, and one continuation high school in a community east of Long Beach in Southern California.

The Orange County Register, citing Tom Adams, a director with the California Department of Education, has reported that more than 15,000 California students took the AP environmental science class during the 2008-2009 school year. “The state provides the standards and the instructional materials and leaves it up to the districts how the course is taught,” the Register reported.

Los Alamitos Unified School District policy describes a controversial issue as “a topic on which opposing points of view have been promulgated.”