In September 2015, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson released a plan to improve instruction for students on the environment entitled, A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.

“Climate change, wildfires, and the drought are clear reminders of how important environmental issues are to our own lives and the health of planet Earth,” said Torlakson. “Students need to learn about the environment so they can make informed choices and help to maintain our clean water and air, and preserve our scenic resources. A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy provides recommendations that could help educate all students about how to create a sustainable and healthy environment.”

Torlakson convened a 47-member Environmental Literacy Task Force last year to evaluate the state of environmental education and make recommendations for improvement. Under the leadership of co-chairs Elizabeth Babcock of the California Academy of Sciences and Craig Strang of the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Task Force’s findings were published in A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.

The Task Force recommended making high-quality environmental education available to all students, finding a funding source to sustain and improve instruction, working with outside organizations to ensure the instruction is high quality, and providing students with a variety of learning experiences.                                

For example, the report recommended that environmental education be integrated into history-social science instruction, as well as in California’s new standards for English, mathematics, and science. In addition, it recommended that students should have more opportunities to learn about the environment like growing a school garden, and visiting parks, farms, museums, aquariums, science centers, and zoos.

 As a science teacher, Torlakson provided practical lessons to his students, including raising a garden outside his classroom and taking his students on field trips, whitewater rafting trips, and hikes, including one up to Half Dome, to learn firsthand about science and environmental issues.

Torlakson unveiled the plan while visiting Abraham Lincoln High School, where environment instruction is integrated into the school’s core curriculum. The school is in San Francisco Unified School District, a California Green Ribbon Silver winner.

Torlakson said the California Department of Education has already begun implementing several task force recommendations. The Department has formed a team to put the recommendations into action, including environmental principles and concepts into the Next Generation Science framework and history/social science framework, and sought additional funding to support environmental literacy.

The work of the Task Force was sponsored by the Pisces Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and the Ten Strands Foundation.

For more information on the state’s efforts to improve environmental literacy, visit the California Department of Education’s Environmental Education Web page.