Recent Progress: Decrease

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, 2017, 2019 and 2022. In 2022, local education agencies (LEAs)—37% of the total—responded to a Chesapeake Bay Program survey that measured the extent of Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) among schools:

  • Elementary School Level: 27% of responding LEAs reported providing system-wide MWEEs (down from 29% in 2019) to at least one grade level while 39% reported providing some MWEEs to at least one grade level (up from 34%).

  • Middle School Level: 28% reported providing system-wide MWEEs to at least one grade level (down from 34% in 2019) while 42% reported providing some MWEEs to at least one grade level (up from 38%).

  • High School Level: 22% reported providing system-wide MWEEs in at least one required course (down from 31% in 2019) while 48% reported providing some MWEEs in at least one required course (up from 44% in 2019).

This overall decline is likely impacted by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptions to schools from illnesses, teacher shortages, remote learning and the status of outdoor learning opportunities and partners may have made achieving system-wide implementation more difficult or a lower priority. For the high school data, which showed the largest decrease, the trend may also be due in part to a change in how the question was asked. The previous version of the question was more confusing and more easily allowed for reporting of non-required courses as requirements, which led to less reliable data and potential inflation of the percentage in prior years.

Outlook: Off Course

The Student Outcome is off course. The percentages of LEAs reporting system-wide MWEEs decreased slightly between 2019 and 2023 at all grade levels, and the percentage reporting no MWEE availability increased slightly at both the middle school and high school levels. While none of these changes are large and the percentage with no MWEE availability at the elementary level decreased slightly, the decline in MWEE availability overall puts the outcome off course.

For the 2022 reporting period, the Bay Program’s analysis included all LEAs in the region, rather than just the parts of each state that are geographically in the watershed. This included all LEAs within five jurisdictions (Washington, DC; Delaware; Maryland; Pennsylvania; and Virginia). However, since West Virginia only distributes the ELIT to the LEAs in the watershed, their analysis was constrained to those eight LEAs. New York does not currently collect ELIT data.

While about 63% of the total local education agencies did not respond to the ELIT, those districts that did respond represent 67% of public elementary, middle and high school students that reside inside the region. The District of Columbia (home to one school district serving 44,000 students) saw an overall 100% response rate. Maryland (home to 24 school districts serving 858,500 students) saw a 92% response rate. Delaware (home to 16 school districts serving 112,000 students) saw an 81% response rate. Virginia (home to 137 school districts serving 1.2 million students) saw a 69% response rate. Pennsylvania (home to 499 school districts serving 1.5 million students) saw a 24% response rate. West Virginia (home to eight school districts serving 39,800 students in the watershed) saw a 37% response rate. The full 2022 ELIT survey results are available for download.

For a learning experience to qualify as a MWEE, it must meet four criteria:

  • Students must identify and investigate an environmental question, problem or issue.

  • 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.

  • Students must take action to address environmental issues at the personal or societal level.

  • 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 population that can understand and respond to complex environmental problems.

Learn About Factors Influencing Progress

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Increasing professional development opportunities for pre-service teachers, teachers and non-formal educators to support the development and implementation of Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs).

  • Increasing the visibility and adoption of MWEEs as a best practice in education.

Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through the Environmental Literacy Indicator Tool (ELIT).

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in May of 2020.

Download Management Strategy (.pdf)

Logic & Action Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.


  • Developing and implementing state-specific outreach strategies to disseminate the MWEE Guide, MWEE Facilitators’ Guide and other resources, including an increased focus on Bay Backpack as a place to access resources.

  • Providing training to increase the number of trained MWEE facilitators, including modeling how to ensure that MWEEs are multidisciplinary and culturally and locally relevant.

  • Providing professional development for school and school district administrators focused on the MWEE as an educational best practice and building their capacity as MWEE Ambassadors.

  • Improving the ability of state and regional networks to efficiently and effectively disseminate information about environmental literacy programs and practices.

  • Maintaining awards programs to sustain the visibility of and excitement around environmental education.

  • Increasing the number of standards-aligned professional development opportunities to support the development and implementation of MWEEs.

  • Developing a community of practice that provides opportunities for practitioners to network and share best practices, marketing strategies and resources for effective professional development and student MWEEs.

Recently Completed


  • Expanded the online MWEE training hub on Bay Backpack to include resources and regional and state-specific training modules.


  • Supported educators in adapting their practice to integrate MWEEs (in in-person, blended and virtual contexts) through professional development

Learn About Logic & Action Plan

Participating Partners

The Fostering Stewardship Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome.

Participating partners include:

  • State of Delaware

  • State of Maryland

  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

  • Commonwealth of Virginia

  • District of Columbia

  • Chesapeake Bay Commission

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • National Park Service

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • U.S. Forest Service

  • U.S. Geological Survey

  • Delaware Association for Environmental Education

  • Maryland Association for Environmental Education

  • Pennsylvania Association for Environmental Education

  • Virginia Association for Environmental Education

  • Cacapon Institute

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation

  • Experience Learning

  • Stroud Water Research Center