New Federal Education Law Promotes Environmental Education

Jan 19, 2016

President Obama’s overhauled federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, includes money for environmental education. This is the first time a federal education bill recognizes environmental literacy programs as part of a child’s “well-rounded” education. We explain what this means for Rhode Island.

Critics of the now defunct No Child Left Behind Act say many schools across the country had to scale back or get rid of their environmental education programs because the law focused on rigorous standardized testing.

But President Obama’s new rendition of the law invites environmental education programs to compete for billions of dollars in federal grants.

“What it means is environmental education has become an expected component of a student’s education,” said Bridget Prescott, Save the Bay’s education director.

Environmental education is most effective when it’s taught across different subject areas, adds Roger Williams Park Zoo Education Director Shareen Knowlton. She said improving a child’s understanding of the natural world isn’t only about science.

“It's social studies, it's math, it's literature, it's music, it's art,” said Knowlton. “When you're talking about conservation biology, and you're talking about conservation of wild spaces or species, that's as much social studies as it is science.”

Knowlton said the new law’s inclusion of environmental education is the result of a movement known as No Child Left InsideSen. Jack Reed and Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland introduced a bill by that name. Now parts of that bill are included within the new overhauled education law. 

Knowlton expects to see more school districts across Rhode Island pursue environmental education programs.  

“It makes it a lot easier for those districts to come on board and do this [environmental literacy] work,” said Knowlton. “If the funding is not there, even if they agree that it's a good idea and it’s something that they want for their students, unless there's funding to support the effort, it's really hard for them to move forward.”

Knowlton said access to this new pool of federal education grants will help Rhode Island implement its environmental literacy plan across the state.

Note: This post has been updated.

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