Maryland public school students will need to know their green to graduate under a new policy adopted today by the state board of education.
State officials and environmental activists called the vote "historic" and said Maryland has become the first state in the nation to require environmental literacy to graduate from high school. Under the rule, public schools will be required to work lessons about conservation, smart growth and the health of our natural world into their core subjects like science and social studies.
The requirement applies to students entering high school this fall. Local school systems will be able to shape those lessons to be relevant to their communities, but all will have to meet standards set by the state. School systems will have to report to the state every five years on what they're doing to meet the requirements.
Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement calling the board's action "a defining moment for education in Maryland," while environmental advocates were even more effusive. Don Baugh, head of the No Child Left Inside Coalition promoting federal environmental literacy legislation, called it a "momentous day."
Environmentalists had initially howled over draft guidelines adopted by the state board last fall, complaining they would let school systems get by without doing anything - essentially claiming they were teaching environmental literacy simply by offering existing math and science courses. But state School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and board members reassured activists they really meant to strengthen environmental education, and advocates say the final rules seem to make that clear.
The new environmental instruction should not require any additional funding or staff, according to the governor. But by adopting the requirement Maryland may be in better position to receive federal funding for green literacy, under national No Child Left Inside legislation to be reintroduced in Congress. The bill's chief sponsor is Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.
(Students at Baltimore's Digital Harbor high school test water in Inner Harbor. 2008 Baltimore Sun photo by Ann Torkvist)