Maryland to Require Environmental Literacy for Graduation

On June 21, Maryland became the first state to require high school students to learn about the environment in order to graduate. Now, U.S. senators are trying to get a similar measure passed nationally.

The bill has the support of more than 1,900 organizations, including businesses, nonprofits, and environmental groups. The No Child Left Inside Coalition says environmental education "promotes higher order thinking skills" and is correlated with higher test scores.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that the new law is a "defining moment for education in Maryland." The law requires each school to implement a multi-disciplinary environmental education program, with a specific focus on the state's natural resources. Every high school student will be required to participate in the program in order to graduate.

[Read about fun ways for high school students to learn over the summer.]

"The Board of Education is ensuring that our young people graduate with a keen understanding of and connection to the natural world," O'Malley said in a statement. "Only through exposure to nature and education about our fragile ecosystem can we create the next generation of stewards."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the law is a step forward. "Environmental education is key in developing an environmentally literate citizenry that will make informed decisions to protect their health and the environment," the spokesperson said in an E-mail. "These programs help to broaden the scope of environmental education activities beyond the classroom. It's a win-win for all involved."

The bill recently introduced in the Senate would provide funding for states to create outdoor, educational activity programs, train teachers, and form state-specific environmental literacy plans. Lawmakers say they hope to write the bill into a revised version of the No Child Left Behind Act, which, to date, is the most comprehensive public school law in the country. Similar bills were introduced in both the House and Senate in 2009, but both died after being referred to committees.

Not everyone believes the Maryland environmental literacy law is good for the state. Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings told Fox News that the law is vague and that time spent teaching environmental classes could be better spent in other subject areas. "They will have to make room for this by pushing other things out of the curriculum," he said.

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