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K-12 Schools
Landscape Analysis

We gathered data from K-12 teachers and administrators in the eight southeastern states to enable us to get the full picture of EE happening in schools throughout the region. Building on the EE provider dataset, these offer us the most extensive picture ever collected of current EE offerings in the region and what gaps and barriers exist in both formal and nonformal settings for students of all ages and in all areas.

A Landscape Analysis of
K-12 Schools,

in the U.S. Southeast

Teachers,
and Administrators

Published October 2023

Brought to you by

A collaboration between

2nd nature trec.webp

Funded in part by

INTRODUCTION

Environmental Education is a process that helps individuals, communities and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about how to address global challenges (NAAEE, 2022). Our 2021 regional Environmental Education Landscape Analysis for the Southeast has been a resoundingly successful step towards advancing environmental literacy across eight southeastern states, providing a much-needed, comprehensive look at our field.  In 2023, we continued these efforts, gathering data from over 600 PK-12 teachers and administrators in the eight southeastern states which has enabled us to get the full picture of EE happening in schools throughout the region. The two datasets together offer us the most extensive picture ever collected of current EE offerings in the region and what gaps and barriers exist in both formal and nonformal settings for students of all ages and in all areas. Comparing the data from nonformal and formal EE providers has allowed us to further our goal of advancing EE in the region and build collective impact that has a lasting effect on the southeast.

A Summary for Busy People

If you are short on time, here is a brief summary of our major takeaways:

 

SEEA’s regional landscape analysis of schools was designed to provide: 

  • a comprehensive look at what environmental education is (or is not) happening in schools

  • a better understanding of the needs and priorities of teachers and administrators 

  • strategies for scaling programs for a broader, more equitable reach 

  • state and regional findings to inform future strategic planning efforts

 

Our key takeaways: 

  • When asked how often they take students outside, 10% of educators responded that they do this daily, and 40% do this once or twice a month to a few times a year. It is rarely done on a regular basis for any educator and is not a norm at most schools. That is a trend we would like to see change in the future. 

  • When asked how likely teachers are to integrate outdoor learning into their instruction, 32% already incorporate outdoor learning into instruction; 61% indicated interest, but need support; and only 6% they are not likely to incorporate outdoor learning

  • The top barrier to incorporating outdoor learning in schools is logistics (scheduling, time, distance, staging and clean up)

  • The primary limiting factors for schools' ability to participate in field trips were transportation costs, time, availability of transportation, and site fees.

  • When asked what type of professional development educators have participated in, 21% of educators indicated they have had no professional development in outdoor education or environmental education.

  • 66% of educators are teaching about climate science and of those, 50% are spending less than 10 hours per year on this topic.  Most educators do not feel confident teaching this topic.

  • 59% of teachers indicate that environmental education is taught in science.  Only 20% see it as interdisciplinary.

  • The top terms that teachers use most, in order, are environmental education, STEM/STEAM, environmental science, conservation education, and outdoor education.

  • Educators are doing limited assessment of the impact of outdoor and environmental education in their classroom

  • Only 57% of schools have been able to make field trips accessible to all students.  Diverse representation of content and speakers is limited and will be an area of growth for schools.

  • The following resources would be most helpful for increasing EE in the classroom: Teaching materials and lesson supplies, field trips, guest educators, standards-based lessons, professional development, and best practices for teaching outdoors

BACKGROUND

Our schools survey focused on five areas: integration of EE into the curriculum, professional development needs of administrators and educators, field trips, outdoor learning, and outdoor spaces. Over 600 schools have responded to the survey, providing us with a representative sample of schools in our region. 

DASHBOARD

The dashboard is an interactive tool that educators and stakeholders can use to identify EE providers, programs, and schools in their area. The tool provides a quick snapshot of all the findings from our surveys via charts and graphs that can be filtered and exported. Educators can explore specific details through a toolbar that allows them to sort by geographic location, type of school, grade level, and numerous other filters to narrow down to their specific needs.  

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FINDINGS

In 2021, SEEA surveyed 617 teachers and 127 administrators at schools across the southeast states to better understand access and barriers to environmental education. Of those who responded, 47% were Title I schools and 40% were located in disadvantaged communities, as defined by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool. The demographics of students attending schools who responded to this survey were 45% white (not hispanic), 24% black or african american, 16% hispanic or latino, 3% asian, 0.4% american indian or alaska native, and 0.1% native hawaiian and pacific islander. The findings from that survey are summarized below. 

Outdoor Learning

The following section covers our findings around outdoor learning and outdoor learning spaces at schools. An outdoor learning space is any outdoor area that is or can be used to teach outdoors at a school. These spaces could be formal outdoor classrooms, improved outdoor facilities, or simply natural spaces. Environmental education (EE) is a process that helps individuals, communities, and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about how to address global challenges.

When asked how often they take students outside,

10% of educators responded that they do this daily, and 40% do this once or twice a month to a few times a year.

It is rarely done on a regular basis for any educator and is not a norm at most schools. That is a trend we would like to see change in the future.

When asked how likely teachers are to integrate outdoor learning into their instruction:

  • 32% already incorporate outdoor learning into instruction 

  • 61% indicated interest, but need support

  • Only 6% they are not likely to incorporate outdoor learning

The top barriers to incorporating outdoor learning in schools are:
  • Logistics (scheduling, time, distance, staging and clean up)  - 48.3%

  • Lack of outdoor learning spaces, amenities or improvements - 18.8%

  • Lack of outdoor learning supplies - 7.1%

  • Student behavior - 4.8%

  • Spaces are not accessible to all students - 4%

  • Knowing what to teach outdoors - 1.4%

 

When asked which features or resources would help to incorporate or increase outdoor learning, the following features ranked highest:

  • Available work surfaces or tables - 66%

  • Available shade - 60%

  • Available seating - 59%

  • Lesson Supplies - 52%

  • Teaching materials - 50%

  • Best practices for teaching 

  • Professional Development - 40%

  • Raised beds or gardens - 40%

  • Available green space - 38%

  • Maintenance support - 37%

  • Partnerships - 35%

  • Examples and success stories - 31%

  • Staffing or volunteer support - 29%

We also looked at which features and amenities were most often available and used for outdoor learning. This was work surfaces by far, followed by school gardens and outdoor classrooms.
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Field Trips

This section is designed to share the needs and challenges schools face when taking EE-related field trips so that EE providers can better address these.  Of our survey respondents, 38% indicated that they have taken students on environmental education-related field trips. The ideal length of time for a field trip was a full day.  

When taking your students on field trips, what is your priority?

  • Providing students with hands-on experience related to the subject matter - 94%

  • Doing something fun and enjoyable - 91%

  • Hearing from experts - 86%

  • Visiting natural resources/spaces not available on campus - 86%

  • Learning something not taught in class - 82%

  • Exposure to career opportunities - 78%

  • Opportunity to plan and carry out project-based learning - 77%

  • Getting students out of the classroom - 76%

  • Experiencing standards-based programming led by another educator - 70%

 

The number one barrier to participating in field trips is transportation costs, followed by time or the availability of transportation.  To increase the number of students participating in EE field trips, we need to find ways to address these barriers for schools. 

The primary limiting factors for schools' ability to participate in field trips were: 

  • Transportation costs - 70%

  • Time - 48%

  • Availability of transportation - 45%

  • Site fees - 43%

  • Capacities of students (e.g., age, behavior, accessibility) - 27%

  • Relevance to academic standards - 24%

  • Availability of chaperones - 22%

Professional Development

This section focused on better understanding the professional learning interests, past experiences,and needs of educators.

 

When asked what type of professional development educators have participated in, 44% mentioned they received their PD from professional organization conference workshops. Research about outdoor education and EE came in at 34% and undergraduate courses came in at 28%. It is also worth noting that 21% of educators indicated they have had no professional development about outdoor education or environmental education.