N.J. becomes 1st state in U.S. to integrate climate change education in K-12 standards

Instead of debating the impact of climate change, New Jersey students will instead learn of its impact — and, hopefully, learn how to combat it moving forward. Starting in kindergarten.

That’s the goal, starting this fall, as New Jersey becomes the first state in the country to integrate climate change education into all aspects of the K-12 system.

The New Jersey Student Learning Standards, which outline what is taught in New Jersey’s public schools and set the foundation for school districts to craft instruction and curricula, adopted climate change education in 2020. The climate change aspects of the NJSLS are designed to prepare students to understand how and why climate change happens and the impact it has on our local and global communities, as well as to act in informed and sustainable ways.

These standards will be incorporated across seven content areas: 

  • 21st century life and careers
  • Comprehensive health and physical education
  • Science
  • Social studies
  • Technology
  • Visual and performing arts
  • World languages

Climate change standards also have been added to the appendices of the mathematics and English language arts guidelines, which are up for review this year.

The initiative, sponsored by first lady Tammy Murphy, has moved quickly since it was announced in June 2020 that the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted her initiative to make New Jersey the first state in the nation to incorporate climate change education across its K-12 academic standards.

“I cannot be more thrilled about the future for our students and for our state,” Murphy said. “New Jersey will be on the forefront of the climate movement, and these new standards will give our children the tools necessary to combat the effects of climate change.

Tammy Murphy. (File photo)

“We are building the world’s next generation of climate-literate leaders, including policymakers, historians, teachers and more, who will discover new ways to address the climate crisis.”

State officials hope the lessons will provide one other benefit: access to jobs.

This first-of-its-kind curriculum will prepare and propel New Jersey students to the top of the ranks for the thousands of green economy jobs that will be made available in the future, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

“New Jersey has the No. 1 public education system in the nation, and our teachers and school administrators are well equipped to prepare our future climate change leaders to take on the climate crisis,” he said. 

“Our children are our future, and the lessons New Jersey students will learn with this new curriculum will bring us one step closer to building our green economy and reaching and sustaining 100% clean energy in New Jersey by 2050.” 

Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, said the initiative will have many benefits.

“New Jersey will continue to be a national leader in preparing students to address issues related to climate change in the next decade,” she said. “Our standards provide students with the tools to learn how climate change impacts our society, but how to also work collaboratively with peers and communities to address the issue of climate change.”

New Jersey Education Association President Sean Spiller said the teachers union is fully onboard.

“Once again, New Jersey is setting an example for the nation when it comes to preparing students to be informed, engaged citizens because of our diverse and inclusive standards and curriculum,” he said. “Few issues will have more impact on this generation of students throughout their lives than climate change.

“What they learn in school starting this year will help prepare them to address this challenging issue now and in the future.”

“A key part of public education is to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to be effective participants in shaping the future,” he said. “The new school year marks a sea change in how we address climate change and sets New Jersey as a national example in efforts to prevent and adapt to climate change.”