Nov. 30, 2006
Last updated Sep. 5, 2007
Over the past few days, NSTA and film producer Laurie David have been discussing her offer to provide NSTA with copies of the DVD "An Inconvenient Truth" to mass distribute to our members. On November 29, 2006, NSTA's Board of Directors held a telephone conference to review Ms. David's request. In an effort to accommodate her request without violating the Board's 2001 policy prohibiting product endorsement, and to provide science educators with the opportunity to take advantage of the educational opportunities presented by films such as this, NSTA has offered to greatly expand the scope of the potential target audience identified in her initial request.
NSTA established its non-endorsement policy to formalize our position that the association would not send third-party materials to our members without their consent or request. NSTA looks forward to working with Ms. David to ensure that there are many options for publicizing the availability of the DVD to the national science education community, and to broaden the conversation on the important topic of global warming.
NSTA Statement on Nov. 26 Washington Post Op-ed "Science à la Joe Camel"
Nov. 28, 2006
On November 26, the Washington Post printed an opinion piece from environmental activist Laurie David, a producer of the film "An Inconvenient Truth." In her op-ed Ms. David reports that NSTA rejected the opportunity to distribute 50,000 copies of the DVD to NSTA members.
During conversations with Ms. David's representative we suggested making the DVD available via alternative means of distribution (e.g. by providing a mailing list of our members to producers, announcing its availability in our publications, etc.). It appears that these alternative distribution mechanisms were unsatisfactory.
It was not the intent of the NSTA to restrict "An Inconvenient Truth" from its members and we are currently pursuing options to make the DVD available to teachers.
In the op-ed Ms. David goes on to characterize NSTA as a willing corporate America partner that eagerly pushes corporate messages about the environment.
This is not true.
The perception created by the op-ed that NSTA has a conflict of interest in dealing with corporate America is misleading. This is a very serious issue to NSTA and science education. Like many organizations, NSTA does receive support from corporate America and other organizations (in FY06 total corporate support received by NSTA was 16.4% and total support from energy companies was 3.77%). Before we accept any funds from outside groups (corporate or otherwise), and as a condition of any support, we make it clear that NSTA is solely responsible for developing, directing, and implementing the programs we offer to teachers.
Let me specifically address the programs outlined in the op-ed: ExxonMobil has been a long-time sponsor of the national network we call Building a Presence for Science. In this project we have identified a "point of contact" for science in over 40,000 school buildings. Originally conceived to provide a copy of the National Science Education Standards to each school, NSTA now regularly sends these points of contact useful information on science education that they share with teachers in their buildings. Not once has ExxonMobil asked to use this network for their own purposes.
The Shell Oil Company funds national research science experts to present at our national conference, where they speak directly to science teachers about their field of research. NSTA chooses the scientists, invites the scientists, and hosts the scientists at these conferences. In addition, the Shell Oil Company sponsors the Shell Science Teaching award for K-12 science teachers who have had a positive impact on their students, school, and community through exemplary classroom teaching. This award program is administered by NSTA and the recipients are chosen by science teachers selected by NSTA.
The partnership with API, which ended 5 years ago, led to the creation of a simulation, done entirely by NSTA, on energy usage. The video in question, "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel" was not on our website.
Global warming is a very important science/societal issue. NSTA has always supported sound environmental science education. We regret this current controversy surrounding our decision not to mass distribute the DVD to our members, and we are working to promote the availability of the film.
In response to an October 2005 report titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a strong consensus is emerging in the business, education, and scientific communities that our nation's future competitiveness in the global marketplace is directly tied to the ability of our schools to better prepare children in mathematics and the sciences. We should be discussing positive ways of how we can work together to strengthen the science education we provide to our nation's students.
The mission of the NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all, and for over 50 years NSTA has been a staunch supporter of quality science education. We are very proud of the work we do on behalf of science education.
Dr. Gerald Wheeler
National Science Teachers Association
NSTA Responds to Your Questions
Dec. 2, 2006, 12:10 p.m.
Q: The Washington Post recently printed an opinion piece on their op-ed page written by "An Inconvenient Truth" producer Laurie David. The op-ed states that the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) refuses to distribute the DVD of "An Inconvenient Truth" to its members. Is this true?
Ms. David approached NSTA and asked if the Association would distribute 50,000 copies of the film to members. The NSTA Board of Directors stood by its 2001 NSTA policy prohibiting endorsements and decided not to mass distribute the DVD to members without their consent or request because it would constitute an endorsement.
NSTA provided Ms. David with several options to instead publicize the availability of the DVD to both our members and the wider universe of science educators worldwide via our communication channels. These options included a link on the NSTA website that would enable middle level and high school teachers to obtain a free copy; purchase of our mailing list of those members who chose to receive non-NSTA materials; announcing the availability of the DVD through our communication channels; exhibiting at our conference; and creating an online message board for teachers on global warming.
On Monday, November 27, the day after the op-ed, NSTA wrote a letter-to-the editor addressing Ms. David's opinions.
A scheduled conference call with Ms. David on December 1 was canceled at her request. We have received no further communication to date from Ms. David.
Q: Laurie David's op-ed raises some serious questions about NSTA and oil and energy companies. What is the connection between NSTA and corporate America?
Ms. David's opinion piece is inaccurate. NSTA strongly believes that the business community has an important role to play in the education of our nation's future leaders. Reforms in science education need all stakeholders involved in the improvement of our children's education. This view is reflected in the major reports (e.g., Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Tapping America's Potential) that call for increased corporate involvement to raise students' performance in science and mathematics.
The total corporate support NSTA received in FY2006 is 16.4% of our operating budget. Total support from energy companies is 3.77%. As a condition of this support NSTA is solely responsible for developing, directing, and implementing the programs we offer to teachers.
NSTA has always supported sound environmental education as a way to instill environmental literacy in our nation's K-12 students.
Q: What about the charges in Laurie David's op-ed that NSTA did not distribute the DVD because it was worried about the "unnecessary risk" on its capital campaign?
The NSTA executive director's decision not to mass distribute the DVD to members was based on the NSTA non-endorsement policy, not on the impact to the capital campaign.
During initial discussions about the filmmakers' request among other NSTA staff, including development and marketing staff, several preliminary ideas were raised. One such idea was the potential impact on NSTA's fundraising efforts. An NSTA employee mistakenly included these preliminary ideas, including the reference to the "capital campaign," in an e-mail exchange sent to the film's producer.
Q: What is NSTA's stance on relations with corporate America?
Like many organizations, we actively engage corporate America to support NSTA's mission to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.
Q: What is the relationship between NSTA and ExxonMobil?
ExxonMobil has been a long-time sponsor of the Building a Presence for Science national network. Through this project, NSTA has identified a "point of contact" for science in over 42,000 school buildings in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Initially the network provided a copy of the National Science Education Standards to each school. NSTA now regularly sends these points of contact useful information on science education and professional development opportunities that they may share with teachers at their schools.
Most recently this partnership was expanded to implement the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy for 200 elementary teachers nationwide. NSTA designs, develops, and implements the weeklong professional development workshop.
Q: Does a representative from ExxonMobil sit on the NSTA Board of Directors?
No. NSTA's Board of Directors, our governing board, is comprised of science educators elected by NSTA members. Board membership includes the presidential chain (consisting of a President, Retiring President, and President-elect) and 10 division directors representing the following domains:
- Professional development
- High school science teaching
- Middle level science teaching
- Pre-school/Elementary science teaching
- College science teaching
- Coordination and supervision
- Informal Science
- Preservice Teacher Preparation
- Research in Science Education
The Executive Director of NSTA, a Ph.D. physicist by training, established an informal group of corporate advisors comprising leaders of industry who advise him on the best practices in the business community that could be applied to an education nonprofit. Agenda topics such as e-commerce, IT infrastructure, international collaborations, and involvement of the private sector in STEM reforms are regularly discussed.
This group provides advice only. The group is composed of individuals from both corporations and foundations, including the ExxonMobil Foundation. This group meets once or twice a year. Individual participation changes and includes participants from both sponsors and nonsponsors of NSTA.
Q: What about the partnership with the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the video "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel?"
NSTA no longer partners with API. The video "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel" is on the API website and not on the NSTA website. Over the past week we have searched all of NSTA records and sources and we have found no evidence of NSTA having a role in the development or mass distribution of the video. (updated 12/7/06)
Q: What is the relationship between NSTA and Shell Oil?
The Shell Oil Company provides funding to bring national research science experts to our national conference, where they speak directly to science teachers about their field of research. NSTA chooses the scientists, invites the scientists, and hosts the scientists at these conferences. In addition, the Shell Oil Company sponsors the Shell Science Teaching Award for K-12 science teachers. This award program is administered by NSTA.
Q: What is NSTA's position on global warming?
NSTA has long taken the issue of global warming very seriously and strongly supports sound environmental science education. The NSTA position statement on environmental education, adopted by the Board of Directors in February 2003, is located on our website at www.nsta.org/about/positions/environmental.aspx.
Q: Are you really selling your membership list? If so, why didn't you do it for "An Inconvenient Truth"? (added 12/4/06)
NSTA offered Ms. David the use of its commercially available member mailing list—that is, the list of NSTA members who have not opted out of receiving third-party mailings.