WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to reconnect more kids with nature and address critical environmental challenges, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) today introduced legislation to strengthen and expand environmental education in America’s classrooms.  The No Child Left Inside Act of 2011 will help bring locally developed, high-quality environmental education programs to more schools nationwide by providing federal assistance to states to develop and implement environmental literacy plans.  The bill would also promote professional development for teachers on how to integrate environmental literacy and field experiences into their instruction and establish competitive grants to help schools partner with colleges and non-profits to expand research-based practices in outdoor education.

Studies show that when you get kids outside and teach them about nature, it helps them raise achievement in other subjects and has important health benefits too.  Yet according to recent studies, the amount of time children now spend outdoors has declined 50 percent in the past 20 years.  Today, many schools are being forced to scale back environmental programs and curtail outdoor activities.

“Teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature makes them smarter and healthier.  Environmental education should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools.  This legislation will reconnect more kids with nature and help raise student achievement in core subjects like math, science, and reading,” said Senator Reed.  “Environmental awareness should be second nature for our young people and protecting the environment is crucial to future economic growth.”

“Our education system needs new, innovative approaches to prepare our children to compete in the 21st century global economy.  By utilizing the natural world as a classroom, we can engage more students in STEM education while exposing them to the benefits of being outside and living an active lifestyle,” said Senator Kirk.  “This bill promotes hands-on learning and an integrated curriculum, while bolstering important science education programs."

Environmental education is a growing part of effective instruction in America’s schools.  According to a survey conducted by the North American Association for Environmental Education, more than 40 states have taken some action towards developing environmental literacy plans.  Despite this trend, many schools are being forced to scale back or eliminate field trips and outdoor environmental programs due to budget constraints and pressures to teach to standardized tests.  Yet studies show that schools that use outdoor education and other forms of hands-on learning produce student gains in math, language, science, and social studies.

When children explore the outdoors, it increases their physical activity level and may also help boost their self-esteem and improve their academic performance in other subjects.  A study by the American Institutes for Research shows that children who participated in outdoor education programs significantly raised their science test scores by 27 percent, as measured by a pre- and post-survey administered immediately upon their return to school.

The Reed-Kirk bill is supported by the No Child Left Inside Coalition, a national coalition of business, education, environmental and other groups representing 50 million Americans.

Last month, Rhode Island became one of the first states in the nation to formally adopt an Environmental Literacy Plan (ELP) to help equip teachers with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to integrate critical environmental and science learning into their curricula.  This ELP will ensure Rhode Island is well-positioned to compete for future grants should Congress pass the No Child Left Inside Act into law.

Senators cosponsoring the bill include: Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.  

Companion legislation is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland’s 3rd Congressional district.

Key provisions of the No Child Left Inside Act:

•           Incentives and support for states to develop and implement Environmental Literacy Plans to integrate environmental education and field experiences into the core academic program in public schools.

•           Partnership grants between school districts, colleges, parks, zoos, and other community-based environmental organizations with expertise in environmental education to develop and implement professional development for teachers on the use of field-based, service, and experiential learning to provide innovative and interdisciplinary instruction to students.

•           National capacity grants to scale up and disseminate effective practices in environmental education.