Few studies have been done to determine the extent to which environmental education in our nation’s schools actually has a positive effect on the environment. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is reporting that, indeed, there’s evidence it does.

Researchers surveyed more than 50 environmental education programs around the country. They found that nearly half reported air quality improvements since they began their programs. Most had taken specific actions to clean up regional air. And most were conducting lessons outside, or using what’s called “place-based learning,” to engage students with hands-on experiments.

Some schools took baseline measurements of air quality, such as a middle school in Washington state. There, students found unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide, mold, and particulate matter, or soot. They worked with administrators to address the problems. And then they measured air quality indicators again: all had improved. At a high school in Vermont, students successfully passed a ban on vehicle idling, which reduces toxic air pollutants and soot.

EPA researchers believe the findings could encourage policymakers to consider funding more environmental education programs where air quality is a focus. It could be an inexpensive way to improve a region’s or school’s air while still delivering quality educational instruction.

(For more information about environmental education in Kentucky, see my October 2008 story here.)