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Legislation Introduced to Increase Outdoor Environmental Education: ‘No Child Left Inside’
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by Alana Wase | 2008

The No Child Left Behind bill has left behind valuable programs such as art, music, foreign language, and environmental education. With teachers currently teaching to statewide standardized performance tests, the newly introduced No Child Left Inside bill intends to encourage schools to develop and deliver these programs.

When the No Child Left Behind bill was enacted in 2001, the legislation set out to improve performance in U.S. primary and secondary schools. Legislators hoped to give teachers greater authority and flexibility in teaching, while increasing accountability through the use of standardized tests. Seven years later, it is clear that the legislation and the standardized tests that have come with it are having unintended repercussions. 

One of which is the change in curricula, as teachers are “teaching to the test.” As the pressure to succeed is so great, schools are forced to spend almost all their time and funding on subjects covered on the standardized test. Since the tests only evaluate reading and math, other valuable programs such as art, foreign languages, and environmental education, have often fallen by the wayside.

Our own Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island have introduced bipartisan legislation to remedy the decrease in environmental education. The Senators argue that the benefits of environmental education are far too important to be jeopardized. Environmental education improves student achievement in core subjects, increases student engagement in science, math, and other subjects, and decreases “nature deficit disorder.”  “Nature deficit disorder” was coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods, which analyzes the decreased amount of time children spend outdoors. 

The legislation entitled “No Child Left Inside” (NCLI) intends to encourage schools to develop and deliver environmental education programs in science, math, language arts, and other curricular areas.  In order to do so, the legislation creates grant programs targeted to teacher training, classroom and field education programs, research and assessment, and strategic initiatives to advance environmental education. 

“The No Child Left Inside Act aims to give children opportunities outside the classroom to learn how to become environmental leaders,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Together we have made real progress in ensuring that environmental education becomes a priority in our schools. I am so grateful to the coalition for all of its hard work, but we can’t stop now. It’s going to take our continued joint efforts to ensure that our schools and our communities provide children with the tools and skills they need to become our next generation of environmental stewards.”

Currently, NCLI has a coalition of over 350 organizations supporting the legislation, including educators who see this as a way to get students interested when text books and conventional methods fail. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health reports that getting children outdoors helps ease attention disorders. Furthermore, the bill would also help address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. According to a study by the DNR, children now spend on average 6.5 hours a day in front of electronic devices. Conservation groups, including the  Sierra Club, see this as an opportunity to connect children to nature again, which is vital to future conservation efforts and the global warming challenge that looms ahead.  The principal of Green Woods School, a supporter of the bill, remarks that it’s important to get kids outdoors because “it’s difficult to preserve and protect what you don’t understand.”

The bill was heard April 22nd in the House Education and Labor Committee and discussion is taking place with the chair of the subcommittee, George Miller of CA, to move the bill forward. Currently the bill has 49 co-sponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate. 

 

 

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