California's Blueprint for Environmental LiteracySeptember 15th, 2015
California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today released a plan to expand and improve instruction for students on the environment entitled A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.
"Climate change, wildfires, and the drought are clear reminders of how important environmental issues are to our own lives and the health of planet Earth," said Torlakson. "Students need to learn about the environment so they can make informed choices and help to maintain our clean water and air, and preserve our resources. A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy provides recommendations that could help educate all students about how to create a sustainable and healthy environment."
Torlakson convened a 47-member Environmental Literacy Task Force last year to evaluate the state of environmental education and make recommendations for improvement. Under the leadership of co-chairs Elizabeth Babcock of the California Academy of Sciences and Craig Strang of the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Task Force's findings were published in A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.
Deborah Moore, Executive Director of Green Schools Initiative and a member of the Task Force, celebrated the launch of the Blueprint. "Environmental Literacy is fundamental to a high-quality 21st century education and vital to California's future prosperity and security. Green Schools Initiative welcomes this Blueprint for Environmental Literacy! This report has actionable ideas for ensuring that all students graduate with an understanding of the environment and are inspired and prepared to act and be stewards for healthy and sustainable communities," Moore said. Moore continued, "We are particularly excited that the Blueprint includes green schools and schoolyards as learning tools to teach sustainability through hands-on projects that enhance academic achievement."
The Task Force recommended making high-quality environmental education available to all students, finding a funding source to sustain and improve instruction, working with partner organizations to ensure the instruction is high quality, and providing students with a variety of hands-on and outdoor learning experiences.
The Task Force developed 6 Guiding Principles and 6 Over-arching Strategies to achieve environmental literacy for all California students.
- Equity of Access: Environmental literacy must be achieved for all California students, not just a few.
- Sustainability and Scalability of Systems: Sustained funding sources must be identified and committed to securing dedicated and sustained funding sources for environmental literacy and work within the current context of California's education transformation to harness momentum and create long-term impact. Many of the recommendations in this Blueprint cannot be achieved without dedicated resources.
- Collaborative Solutions: Collaboration among the many stakeholders and community partners involved in environmental literacy is critical to implementing the recommendations contained in this document, such as creating and linking environmental learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom.
- Commitment to Quality: Students must have access to high-quality learning experiences and materials inside and outside of the classroom that cultivate environmental literacy. Formal and informal educators must have access to high-quality professional learning opportunities.
- Cultural Relevance and Competence: The success of environmental literacy efforts in California will hinge upon culturally competent educators utilizing educational resources and approaches that are responsive to the culture and experiences of the state's diverse educators, students, and families.
- Variety of Learning Experiences: Students will best develop environmental literacy through a combination of learning experiences in and out of the classroom, including outdoor and informal education, experiences on green school grounds, in students' local parks, and in residential outdoor science programs.
1. Integrate Environmental Literacy Into Existing and Future Education Initiatives.
Systematically integrate environmental literacy concepts into statewide educational priorities, including new academic standards, new and revised curriculum frameworks, state-adopted textbooks and learning materials, professional learning programs, and the emerging new state accountability and assessment systems. Use funding allocated for implementation of the California Common Core State Standards (CA CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) to enhance professional learning for educators around environmental literacy instruction.
2. Strengthen Partnership and Collaboration Amongst Key Stakeholders.
Strengthen collaboration across the state between key stakeholders, including formal and informal educators, state agencies, and divisions of the California Department of Education. The task force recommended re-envisioning, adequately funding, and increasing the capacity of the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) Network as one important way to catalyze collaboration at the regional and state levels. The CREEC Network should also work to increase educator access to instructional materials and professional learning resources, including resources for teaching environmental literacy outdoors, in the local community, in residential outdoor science programs and other informal educational settings, and in green schools and schoolyards.
3. Mobilize the Public and Leverage the State Superintendent of Public Instruction's Influence.
Leverage the State Superintendent of Public Instruction's (SSPI) influence and create a public awareness campaign to build broad public support for the importance of environmental literacy, and encourage and support increased allocation of state and locally controlled funding to environmental literacy programs, including integrating into the LCAPs.
4. Implement Select Changes to Relevant State Law and Policy.
Explore and implement changes to relevant state law and policy, and ensure that relevant existing laws are funded and effectively implemented. Such reforms could include integrating environmental literacy into existing or new high school graduation requirements similar to other states; integrating minimum amounts of time for students to learn outdoors as part of existing instructional time; and requiring that all new school construction and modernization projects meet rigorous green building and sustainable ecological school grounds standards.
5. Ensure Implementation through Capacity Building and Continuous Improvement.
Create an "Environmental Literacy Steering Committee," with representation from multiple stakeholder groups, which will oversee the implementation of the recommendations in this Blueprint, including the development or strengthening of capacities and funding sources necessary to implement this work.
6. Develop a Sustainable Funding Strategy.
Develop a coherent strategy for funding environmental literacy across the state by identifying the resources needed and judiciously matching existing and new funding sources with key priorities. The ultimate goal is to develop sustained funding to support statewide, enduring, and high-quality environmental literacy efforts.
The Blueprint for Environmental Literacy contains 58 separate recommendations grouped into the six strategies mentioned above and as well as a variety of sub-strategies.
As a science teacher, Torlakson provided practical lessons to his students, including raising a garden outside his classroom and taking his students on field trips, whitewater rafting trips, and hikes, including one up to Half Dome, to learn firsthand about science and environmental issues.
Torlakson unveiled the plan while visiting Abraham Lincoln High School, where environmental instruction is integrated into the school's core curriculum. The school is in San Francisco Unified School District, a California Green Ribbon Silver winner. A student showed us the rainwater catchment system they designed and were constructing to water their orchard on campus. Carmen, a senior in Lincoln High's Green Academy, gave an inspiring speech to the visiting dignitaries urging them to implement the Blueprint and ensure that all California students can access the kinds of effective, relevant, and inspiring hands-on academic and educational experiences that she's had - like learning about the impacts of industrialism in History class, whale watching in Marine Biology class, using Economics to make environmental change, and organizing a Bike to School Day for elementary schools.
California has many schools that are pursuing green, healthy, and sustainable activities - from waste reduction to solar, from school gardens to healthy food, from Safe Routes to School to green cleaning. Ultimately, all schools in California can save money, enhance learning, and improve our environment by implementing the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy's ideas and recommendations and using the California Green Ribbon Schools framework for best practices for school sustainability.
Torlakson said the California Department of Education has already begun implementing several task force recommendations. The department has formed a team to put the recommendations into action, including environmental principles and concepts into the Next Generation Science Standards framework and history/social science framework, and sought additional funding to support environmental literacy.
The work of the task force was sponsored by the Pisces Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Ten Strands Foundation.
For more information on the state's efforts to improve environmental literacy, visit the California Department of Education's Environmental Education Web page.