In June of this year, Maryland became the first state to mandate “environmental literacy” as a requirement for graduation from high school. Many states, including Maryland, had previously outlined standards for environmental education (EE) curriculum, but the graduation requirement recently imposed is a step forward from that. Maryland’s environmental literacy requirement will dictate that every public school in the state must provide “a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education program infused with current curricular offerings and aligned with the state environmental literacy standards,” according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland No Child Left Inside coalition. As Maryland becomes the first state in the country to implement environmental literacy requirements, it is important to look at what this means for the state and the students, how this was passed and will be implemented, and how you can advocate for similar EE requirements in your home state.
The standards for environmental literacy were passed by the Maryland State Board of Education, a 12-member board of individuals appointed by the governor. The fact that this was not a legislative initiative is just one of the points of contention being raised by opponents. In addition, some have been outspoken about their concern for exactly what will be taught to fill the environmental literacy requirement. State Senator J. B. Jennings, for example, has publically questioned whether the curriculum is going to be “fact-based” or “theory-based,” implying that lessons about global warming and climate change would fall in the latter camp. Regardless of the reality that there is wide-spread scientific consensus regarding the existence of global warming and anthropogenic climate change, those concerned about this point should note that the literacy standard does not mandate any specific curriculum. In fact, the individual schools are encouraged to take a multidisciplinary approach to incorporating the type of education in the manner that they see fit.
Others have voiced concern about instating an environmental literacy requirement while some students still struggle with basic academic skills. The fact is that tests have shown improvement in science, math, reading, and social studies scores in students who had received integrated environmental education as a part of their core courses. This means that in addition to instilling students with important and timely environmental knowledge, Maryland’s new graduation requirements may help student performance across the board. It is also worthwhile to note that a number of independent organizations including NOAA Chesapeake BWET and the Chesapeake Bay Trust provide Maryland schools with guidelines and suggestions for curricula and how to take full advantage of local resources.
Despite how individuals may feel about Maryland’s new environmental literacy requirement, it is undeniable that educators across the country are watching closely at what may be the next big trend in pedagogy. If the thought of an environmentally literate populous in Maryland makes you “green” with envy, there is now reason to truly believe that this could soon happen in your state, too. Our delegates in Washington D.C. are currently drafting a piece of legislation called No Child Left Inside, which is being spearheaded by Senator Jack Reid of Rhode Island and Senator John Sarbanes of Maryland. If passed this bill would “increase environmental education opportunities for students across the country,” according to Senator Sarbanes.
Now is the time to call your local Senator or Representative and ask him or her to support this groundbreaking legislation for educational betterment. It may also be prudent to take action locally, as evidenced by Maryland’s recent moves. The Maryland State Board of Education advertises itself as a “voice of the people” which “solicits the views of interested groups and the public at large.” This being said, it is true that a number of state and local advocacy groups worked tirelessly in order to bring this recent initiative to fruition. If you, too, see a vision of greener education in your state, take faith in the notion that voices are being heard in Maryland. Environmental literacy for all may be even closer than we had imagined.