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Maryland public high school students now must take environmental classes along with reading, writing and math in order to graduate.  Last week, Governor Martin O'Malley passed the new law, aptly named No Child Left Inside, which requires teachers to incorporate key environmental topics such as conservation and smart growth into coursework.

The law will make the class of 2015, the first class to graduate with environmental literacy. 
The state's districts are responsible for crafting a curriculum for students.  Plans will be submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education every five years to ensure they meet state requirements.  The new requirements will not cost any additional funding or staff, say education officials.
A few of Maryland's public high schools already offer Earth-focused programs such as environmental science electives, but not everyone has access to them. The discrepancy happens when schools put more emphasis on reading and math instead of science to meet No Child Left Behind requirements.  “The focus on high stakes testing had an unintended consequence of hindering teachers to teach only to the test and put less focus on the sciences" says Sarah Bodor, the coordinator for No Child Left Inside.
No Child Left Inside is a nation wide coalition working to improve environmental education in schools.  “It really works. It provides a real world context for all of the core curricular elements. The environment provides an opportunity to extend and apply what [the students are] learning” says Bodor.  

Maryland is now the first state to pass environmental education requirements.  But according to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, it won't be the last.  Nationwide, states are looking to develop their own environmental literacy standards.  Rhode Island, Kansas, Oregon, Maine and Pennsylvania are poised to become the next states to follow suit.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Congressman John Sarbanes has introduced federal legislation that would provide incentives to states to adopt environmental literacy standards.  The law would provide teacher training in environmental topics and make environmental education eligible to receive money from the Fund for the Improvement of Education.
Environmental literacy is becoming more important for the nation's growing green economy.  In a study conducted by the National Environmental Education Foundation, students who fail in traditional schools often succeed in those who focus on environmental studies.  Test scores not only improve in the sciences, but also in reading, math and social studies. 

Photo courtesy of the EPA

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