Gov. Schwarzenegger gave his State of the State speech yesterday. A pretty depressing topic, to be sure. However, he did rightly focus on the need to improve California’s education system. His most powerful statement asked, “Why are we spending more on prisons than education?” Why indeed.
His speech came amid the state’s bid to get hundreds of millions in federal “Race to the Top” funds to implement educational reform legislation that includes greater performance accountability. But lost in the week of state education focus was the California Board of Education’s unanimous vote to approve 76 units of multi-disciplinary environmental education curricula. The units have been completed under the auspices of state Sen. Fran Pavley’s Education and the Environment Initiative (AB 1548). The approval marks the birth of formal, public school environmental education in California.
The units cover 15 different environmental topics, including water quality, oceans, energy, climate change, biodiversity and more. The architect of the units was consultant Jerry Lieberman. Cal-EPA’s Andrea Lewis and Patty Zwarts and the Integrated Waste Management Board’s Mindy Fox provided the primary state leadership. The Department of Resources partnered on the EEI, and the Department of Education and the Curriculum Commission played a critical role in unit review and approval. Other key partners include Heal the Bay (especially former legislative director Leslie Tamminen and current education manager Catie Boarts) and the National Geographic Society.
It took seven long years for the units to gestate. (Elephants take 22 months for comparison.) But the potential impact of the EEI could be environmental literacy for 6 million California public school children.I have to admit when Leslie Tamminen and I first started working with Fran Pavley on EEI legislation in 2003, my selfish goal was for the EEI to be in public schools to educate my three kids. Well, Zack is now a junior at Santa Monica High School, so we’re running out of time for him, but there’s still hope for Jake (8th grade) and Natalie (5th). Resources remain the biggest obstacle to full implementation of the EEI. The school budgets are getting cut right and left, so the last thing most school districts want to do is add additional curricula.
California needs to get creative on EEI implementation. The governor should solicit assistance from the private sector and foundations to help implement the EEI. The units should be made available to each and every one of the over 250,000 K-12 public school teachers. The units should be put online and free for teachers by the fall of this year.
Also, tens of millions in funds are needed to provide professional development for teachers and to create an assessment program to demonstrate the educational impacts of teaching the EEI. Applied, multi-disciplinary teaching really helps students better understand and learn difficult concepts.
Textbook publishers need to start incorporating the EEI in science and social science textbooks. But a new textbook publishing and purchasing freeze remains in place until California gets out of the budget crisis. Unless something changes dramatically, our children will not be studying from any textbooks that teach about the nation’s first African American president, let alone climate change, by 2013 at the earliest. That is completely unacceptable.
The governor has an opportunity to enhance his environmental legacy far beyond climate change and Marine Protected Areas by making EEI implementation one of his top priorities for his last year. He is a superb fundraiser with an endless Rolodex. In order to create the next generation of environmental stewards and a work force that is excited and educated about green jobs, the governor needs to put in the fundraising effort. Otherwise, California will have spent seven years creating a heck of a lot of attractive, comprehensive environmental curricula that gathers dust on a shelf.