Bipartisan ‘No Child Left Inside’ Act Will Foster Innovation

Bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to improve environmental literacy

07-14-2011 // Max Greenberg
Kids in tree

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed in 1965, authorizing state-managed, federally funded education programs as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s suite of poverty-reduction policies. Thirty-seven years later it was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act under President George W. Bush, who sought to define core common educational standards for the purposes of national assessment.

Now, under the leadership of Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), Congressman John Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and others, a bipartisan movement is underway to amend that far-reaching act because it still doesn’t touch one of the most crucial areas of all—the great outdoors.

 

A Comprehensive Framework

 

Today Sens. Reed and Kirk and Rep. Sarbanes introduced Senate and House versions of the No Child Left Inside Act of 2011 (NCLI), a bipartisan bill intended to assist states in the development and implementation of stronger environmental literacy programs for K-12 students. They have the broad support of a national coalition of more than 2,000 organizations, including National Wildlife Federation, representing some 50 million Americans.

The act would, for the first time ever, provide a comprehensive framework for advancing environmental education in schools and position American students to compete in the global economy of the 21st century.

Reed, Kirk and Sarbanes’ bill would amend the ESEA, providing incentives for states to prepare State-wide Environmental Literacy Plans (SELPs) to map out how students will attain the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to succeed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) intensive careers.

Under the bill, SELPs in each state would map out nature education and emphasize practical, hands-on learning and skill development. The detailed content and development of the plans are to be left to the states’ discretion, and grants will be made available for the support of professional development for teachers and other aspects of program implementation.

“This will help the American K-12 education system foster innovation and interest in science, technology, engineering and math (the ‘STEM’ fields), which is crucial to keep our workforce competitive in rapidly emerging world markets,” said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training at NWF. ”This legislation will make America stronger, support job creation and prepare the next generation to guide us through environmental challenges and a changing economy.”

“Research has shown that experiential learning in nature improves student performance in all subjects and encourages innovative and creative thinking as well. That is a resource of incalculable value for the US,” Coyle added.

As detailed in NWF’s 2010 report Back to School: Back Outside, outdoor learning programs and outdoor play time have been shown to boost traditional education methods and improve lifelong learning skills, test scores and career prospects.

A Growing Movement

While the introduction of NCLI rates as a historic statement about the importance of environmental education, it is far from solitary.

Just last month, the State Board of the Maryland Department of Education adopted a new policy requiring high school students in the state to attain a basic level of environmental literacy before graduation, the first of its kind. That notable step forward followed on the heels of an April announcement that the U.S. Department of Education was creating a ‘Green Ribbon Schools’ program to recognize schools promoting environmental literacy and “sustainable learning environments.” On that occasion, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited the value of the broader environmental education movement.

“Preparing our children to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do,” Duncan said. “It’s work that will serve future generations and quite literally sustain our world.”

Click here to contact your elected officials and urge them to support the No Child Left Inside Act.

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