Environmental Education in the 21st Century

For years, people inside and outside of the environmental education movement have been asking a series of similar questions. For example, what does environmental education look like in the 21st century? What does it mean for my classroom or my community? Or, how do we adequately assess environmental literacy?

This last question has dogged even state education officials as they try to create and implement state-wide environmental literacy plans for their respective K-12 schools. Over a dozen states including Maryland, Oregon and Nebraska have created such plans that positively enhance the education of millions of students. Another dozen states will soon unveil their formal plans in the coming months, including the District of Columbia where Earth Day Network is helping to lead the process to successful completion. But lucky for them and lucky for us, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) just created the best answer yet to one of these critical questions: How do we assess environmental literacy?

Earlier today, NAAEE unveiled its “Developing a Framework for Assessing Environmental Literacy” report at the National Press Club in Washington, DC (you can watch the webcast of the event here). With support from the National Science Foundation, this report was compiled by researchers, educators, and assessment specialists from a variety of academic fields with the following purpose in mind:

“At no other time in Earth’s history have humans had as great an impact on the planet’s systems. Disagreements about how best to approach the issues raised by the interactions between humans and Earth’s life-support systems will continue to challenge social and political systems, and it is clear that only an environmentally literate public will be able to find workable, evidence-based solutions for these challenges.”

Why is this so important? In short, we all seek to better understand the world that we live in. How we assess such knowledge is thereby critical to not only establishing accuracy, but giving the public and our nation’s schools the best information possible for understanding our shared world. This is the purpose behind environmental literacy and also this new report. We look forward to working with NAAEE and our partners as we put this report into action nationwide.