The “March for Science” held this past Earth Day across the U.S was a sign to many of an increased popular call for a greater environmental consciousness on the part of the government, local, state, and federal. One emerging element in the recent efforts to foster greater “environmental literacy,” interest in climate science, and concern for local ecological sustainability has been the expansion of dedicated environmental educational initiatives nationally to achieve these goals. Many of these initiatives are just getting off the ground but have set ambitious educational standards to be incorporated into schools in all 50 states.
The North American Society for Environmental Education has worked to bolster environmental literacy in the U.S. In 2007, it launched the No Child Left Inside initiative, an effort to amend the No Child Left Behind policy adopted under the Bush administration to include environmental education as a graduation requirement for schools across the country. Since 2007, the NCLI initiative has managed to expand into a coalition totaling no fewer than 2,000 members across all 50 states. In New York, those organizations involved with the initiative include: the Brooklyn Urban Garden School, New York Botanical Garden, and Net Impact at the New School University.
In a data analysis report from 2014, the NAAEE reported that 92 percent of the states that had started pursuing environmental education programs indicated that their state environmental education association is playing some role in the development and implementation of their Environmental Literacy Program (ELP), with 61% of states reporting that the state association is the lead organization behind ELP development. Unfortunately, despite the widespread nature of ELP initiation, funding has proven to be a problem. Sixty-three percent of states have no funding at all; 35% have partial funding; and only 2% have full funding to support their ELPs. Funding should become more concrete as more states commit to environmental educational curriculums. As of 2014, only thirteen states had adopted and began implementation of their ELP initiative. Each state takes its own approach in the development of their own environmental literacy programs, and it takes time for each state to tailor their programs to their own unique needs as well as the stipulations under the No Child Left Inside initiative.
In New York State the latest draft of the goals for the environmental literacy plan came in 2013. The plan lays out a comprehensive and broad based projection for the goals of economic literacy and community engagement with all levels of education: pre-k through 12, Pre K-12 Education, Teacher Education, Higher Education, and Non-Formal Education. Support for NCLI and EE from the NYS Congressional delegation was very high, with 71% of the New York State U.S. House delegation returning from the 112th Congress having co-sponsored the No Child Left Inside bill, voted in favor of it, or both. The Incorporation of environmental education in New York State coincides with the NY Parks 2020 plan, a capital-spending project to revamp New York State’s parks. Environmental literacy and engendering increased environmental concern in education has only just begun, but there are promising signs for its development as states draft their plans.