Blueprint for Environmental Literacy Task Force for California announced by Superintendent Torlakson
State Environmental Literacy Plans (ELPs) are a means to develop strategies and plans to promote environmental literacy for all students, train teachers, align the resources of schools and informal service providers, and leverage existing curricula and resources towards these goals. As of November 2012, 17 states have formally adopted ELPs, from Maine to Hawai'i, and another 28 states have a process underway to develop an ELP. At the NAAEE Conference in Oakland on October 12, 2012, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced that California would launch its own process via a statewide Task Force to develop a "Blueprint for Environmental Literacy."
Many states are pursuing an ELP because states with an adopted ELP could become eligible for federal Title IV environmental education funding under the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The not-yet-reauthorized ESEA had integrated the No Child Left Inside Act, which outlined five key elements of an ELP:
- Specific content standards, content areas, and courses or subjects where instruction will take place.
- A description of how state high school graduation requirements will ensure that graduates are environmentally literate.
- A description of programs for professional development of teachers to improve their environmental content knowledge, skill in teaching about environmental issues, and field-based pedagogical skills.
- A description of how the state education agency will measure the environmental literacy of students.
- A description of how the state education agency will implement the plan, including securing funding and other necessary support.
ELPs are also a means of integrating instructional programs like service learning, outdoor education, and STEM education, and can help informal environmental education service providers, like science museums, zoos, parks, non-profit organizations, to better align their activities with these statewide plans. This can help reduce duplication of efforts and also leverage existing resources for achieving the goals and priorities identified in the ELP.
At the NAAEE conference in Oakland, a panel discussed developing California's Blueprint for Environmental Literacy with Craig Cheslog, the principal advisor to Superintendent Torlakson at California Department of Education, Bill Andrews of the California Environmental Education Foundation, and Deborah Moore of Green Schools Initiative (see photo). Mr. Cheslog described the new Task Force and noted that its work will start in January 2013. Bill Andrews outlined the numerous existing environmental education curricula and policies in California and how these serve as strong building blocks for this Blueprint. Deborah Moore, Executive Director, gave an overview of ELPs from other states and how California can build on these resources, including building on existing resources like CA's Education and Environment Initiative (EEI), engaging diverse stakeholders, creating a clear roadmap for filling identified gaps, and providing a plan that will attract funding for implementation. Given California's size and the number and diversity of schools, non-profit environmental and outdoor education providers, green school organizations, and state and local agencies, there is a strong desire to better align and coordinate these efforts so we can better collaborate to reach ALL students.
UPDATE May 2015
After some delay in allocating necessary funds, the California Environmental Literacy Task Force commenced in June 2014 and completed its work and delivered the final report to the California Department of Education in May 2015. CDE is expected to launch the "Blueprint for Environmental Literacy" in September 2015 and announce its plans for implementation at a public event, still to be determined.
The Task Force's 47 members (see photo) - including Co-Chairs Elizabeth Babcock from California Academy of Sciences and Craig Strang of Lawrence Hall of Science, Green Schools Initiative's Deborah Moore, members from school districts, county offices of education, state and federal agencies, science museums, farms, nature centers, science teachers, and environmental educators - met four times and worked remotely to develop a plan to ensure that all California students have access to environmental education and healthy, sustainable learning environments. The Task Force was charged with:
- Developing strategies to expand the reach of environmental literacy and sustainable schools;
- Ensuring availability of high quality instructional materials;
- Ensuring availability of high quality educator professional development;
- Ensuring integration between formal and informal education and current academic standards;
- Ensuring equity and diversity in environmental education;
- Defining learning outcomes and assessment of environmental literacy; and
- Cultivating sustainable funding sources for environmental literacy
One of the innovative elements of California's Blueprint is that it includes the learning environment and the school buildings and grounds as hands-on learning tools that can help teach and support environmental literacy efforts. Green Schools Initiative was Co-Lead for the Working Group tasked with "expanding the reach of environmental literacy and sustainable learning environments." This is a recognition that environmental education is not something that happens only when students are away from school, but rather that the school itself is an opportunity to promote both sustainability and education for sustainability - that students can learn about nature, the environment, and sustainability by being surrounded with green buildings and ecological school grounds.
As of 2014, 29 states have completed ELPs, 18 states are in the planning or writing phase, and only 3 states remain that have not yet begun a process to develop one. With California's completion in 2015, this brings the total up to 47 of 50 states!
In Summer 2015, Congress will once again consider the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The "No Child Left Inside Act" has once again been re-introduced and there are a significant number of bi-partisan co-sponsors of the bill. We remain hopeful that federal funding for environmental literacy may become available and that California and the other states that have adopted ELPs will be eligible, ready, and well-prepared to access and implement such funds to the benefit of our children.