In 2017, more than 125 local education agencies representing 75 percent of the watershed's public school students responded to a Chesapeake Bay Program survey that measured the extent of Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) among schools. Seventy-five percent of responding districts reported providing MWEEs to at least some of their elementary school students; 77 percent reported providing MWEEs to at least some of their middle school students; and 84 percent reported providing MWEEs to at least some of their high school students.
At the elementary school level, 41 percent of responding districts serving 430,000 students reported providing system-wide MWEEs to at least one grade level. Thirty-four percent of responding districts serving 234,000 students reported providing some MWEEs to at least one grade level.
At the middle school level, 43 percent of responding districts serving 275,000 students reported providing system-wide MWEEs to at least one grade level. Thirty-four percent of responding districts serving 179,000 middle school students reported providing some MWEEs to at least one grade level.
At the high school level, 32 percent of responding districts serving 171,000 high school students reporting providing system-wide MWEEs in at least one required course. Fifty-two percent of responding districts serving 371,000 students reporting providing some MWEEs in at least one required course.
A pilot version of the Environmental Literacy Indicator Tool (ELIT) (which also measures the degree of environmental literacy preparedness among school districts across the watershed) was distributed in 2015. Data collected through the ELIT show the extent of system-wide MWEEs has remained relatively steady since the distribution of this pilot. While rates of system-wide MWEEs in elementary schools showed a modest increase between 2015 and 2017, rates of system-wide MWEEs in middle and high schools remained the same. The four-point increase in system-wide MWEEs in elementary schools can be attributed in large part to an increase in MWEEs in Maryland, where the portion of districts reporting system-wide MWEEs in elementary schools rose from 65 to 83 percent.
While about 200 local education agencies in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (61 percent of the total) did not respond to the ELIT, those districts that did respond represent three-quarters of the watershed's public elementary, middle and high school students. The District of Columbia (home to one school district serving 66,000 students in the watershed) saw a 100 percent response rate. Maryland (home to 24 school districts serving 898,000 students in the watershed) saw a 96 percent response rate. Virginia (home to 94 school districts serving 1.1 million students in the watershed) saw an approximately 74 percent response rate (which varied depending on the question asked). Delaware (home to eight school districts serving 43,500 students in the watershed) saw a 25 percent response rate. Pennsylvania (home to 193 school districts serving 555,000 students in the watershed) saw a 16 percent response rate. West Virginia (home to eight school districts serving 41,000 students in the watershed) saw a zero percent response rate. This dataset does not include data from New York.
For a learning experience to qualify as a MWEE, it must meet four criteria. First, students must identify and investigate an environmental question, problem or issue. Second, students must participate in one or more outdoor field experiences that allow them to collect the data needed to answer their research questions and inform their actions. Third, students must take action to address environmental issues at the personal or societal level. And last, students must analyze, evaluate and communicate their conclusions.
Local education agencies and state departments of education play critical roles in supporting, developing and implementing in-school environmental literacy programs. The Chesapeake Bay Program's Education Workgroup connects natural resource agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, colleges, and scientific and professional experts to help education agencies develop and deliver programs that impact environmental instruction in the classroom and the field. A concerted effort toward environmental literacy and education will form the foundation of an informed and active citizenry that can understand and respond to complex environmental problems.