The U.S. Department of Education recently announced their first Green Schools awards. Seventy-eight public schools were honored for their environmental impact, sustainability and "innovative school reforms."
It should be noted that the presumably now-healthy students in these Green Schools could be destined for a life of low achievement, underemployment and possibly even incarceration, but will undoubtedly have the satisfaction and peace of knowing they attended school in an environment that promoted recycling and a minimal impact on the environment.
As is the case with almost all education initiatives, there was data used to make the determination for which schools deserved this incredible distinction. For example, schools that now use rain barrels, previously-used pavement or off-grid solar power measured rainfall, tire pressure and iPad charge time, respectively. In the case of districts using school buses powered by used cooking oil for fuel, students who could correctly guess what type of food was made in the cooking oil were given a higher score.
The department's press release described the academic benefits for rope climbing, kayaking and other activities in their outdoor classrooms. In fact, reading "on the green" was used to enhance wilderness adventures. To ensure that school parents and communities were also involved in the green initiative, some schools posted "no idling" signs in parking lots and distributed garden produce to local shelters.
Students were prepared for growing up in the 21st Century by caring for bunnies, chickens, goats, fish and ducks. However, there was no mention of students learning about the anatomy and physiology of these animals in their Biology classes. One can only imagine these animals will also benefit from the enhanced green environment and live forever in their nurturing environment.
The one glaring omission from this press release was the hundreds of public schools deemed failing by the department and the hundreds of thousands of students attending these schools who cannot read or write on grade level. The effort put in to determining Green Schools meant that even less was being done for the students who have been failed by the public education system. Further, the message that everything is blissful as long as schools are recycling and minimizing their impact on the environment and therefore, focusing on getting students smarter isn't important, is part of the reason our nation is where it is today: performing significantly below countries that have clearly established the importance of a good education.