State backtracking on environmental education?
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is crying foul over a new state regulation supposedly requiring all Maryland high school students to learn about the environment.
The Annapolis-based environmental group says the state Department of Education has left a "giant loophole" in the rule it proposed earlier this month that would allow school districts to avoid doing anything more or different to educate their students about the environment.
"In September, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to make environmental literacy part of the curriculum," my colleague Liz Bowie reported today in The Baltimore Sun. "However, it is not clear whether the vote made it a graduation requirement."
The board's vote, which came at the urging of a task force appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, left it up to local public school systems to decide how to make sure their students learn about environmental science and policy, but required each district to report on what it's doing every five years.
The new regulation, published Jan. 3, says students can fulfill the environmental literacy requirement by taking social studies or science courses or an AP Environmental Science course. Or, it says, they could take a locally developed environmental science course. It does not specifically state that environmental topics must be included in the social studies or science courses.
That steams the bay foundation, which hosts field trips and provides training and instruction for more than 11,300 Maryland students and teachers a year. Don Baugh, CBF's vice president for education, called the state's proposed rule "a paperwork exercise, with no meaningful change in instruction."
"Only a few months ago, it appeared Maryland was ready to be a model for teaching environmental education across the country," Baugh went on. "This proposed regulation would scuttle that progress."
Some may see self-interest in the bay foundation's complaint, since school field trips provide it income. But CBF spokesman John Surrick noted that his group isn't the only conduit for environmental education.
High schoolers are already subject to other state-imposed graduation requirements, such as financial literacy and economics. Perhaps the state board got some pushback from local school officials and is having second thoughts about a green mandate, even if it wouldn't require shoehorning a new course into an already crowded curriculum.
Members of the state board of education didn't respond to Liz's requests for interviews. A spokesman for the state department of education said only that the board welcomes input. The deadline for commenting is Feb. 3, after which the board is expected to make a final decision on the regulation.
(Baltimore Sun photos: Baltimore's Digital Harbor High students test water clarity in Inner Harbor, 2008, by Ann Tornkvist; Anne Arundel's North County High students sample pond life, 2008, by Amy Davis