Educating for Sustainable Development: Perspectives of U.S. and Global Educators Report

Educating for Sustainable Development: Perspectives of U.S. and Global Educators Report

In spring 2023, the Smithsonian Science Education Center contracted with Gallup to conduct a study of U.S. K-12 teachers and school administrators, as well as teachers of students in comparable grade levels in four peer countries: Brazil, Canada, France and India. The goal was to gauge attitudes toward, and demand for, education and resources related to sustainable development. In the United States, educational resources exist within school and district curricula, which must adhere to state standards. Internationally, however, different countries and provinces often have a National Curriculum, typically directed by their Ministries of Education. This study was an outgrowth of the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project, which aims to improve STEM Education for Sustainable Development for youth around the world. Download the report to read the findings.

Key Finding 1:

Compared with teachers in Brazil, Canada, France and India, U.S. teachers report having less support, time and expertise to incorporate sustainable development into their curriculum.

On average, teachers in these four countries are more than three times as likely as U.S. teachers to say they have the necessary support to incorporate sustainable development topics into other subjects (60% vs. 17%).

Administrators perceive the support more positively than teachers in the U.S., as 36% agree there is sufficient support (compared with 17% of teachers).

Ninety percent of U.S. teachers say a lack of time poses a great deal or some challenge, and more than seven in 10 say the same about a lack of instruction materials (76%) and expertise on the subject (74%).

Key Finding 2:

Sustainable development — especially socio-scientific topics — is largely missing from U.S. curriculum, especially compared with Brazil, Canada, France and India.

For example, 31% of U.S. teachers say clean energy is a dedicated part of curriculum, compared with 78% of those in Brazil.

Content with socio-scientific topics — such as sustainable communities (26%), responsible consumption (31%), clean energy (31%), climate action (32%), and clean water and sanitation (32%) — are among the sustainable development topics least likely to be found in U.S. curricula.

Nearly half (49%) of U.S. teachers say these topics receive too little attention, on average.

Most U.S. teachers (65%) say sustainability does not fit within the topics they teach, including a majority (59%) of those who teach science.

Key Finding 3:

U.S. teachers and administrators believe teaching about sustainable development is important and want to incorporate it into their lessons.

Most teachers see the benefits of teaching about sustainability, such as having a positive impact on the world (83%) and local community (79%), making learning about science more accessible to students (73%), increasing students’ interest in STEM/STEAM topics (71%), increasing students’ interest in current events (73%), and supporting students’ personal resilience (67%).

U.S. teachers say direct experiences — such as field trips (57%) and hands-on materials (56%) — and professional development on sustainability topics (69%) would be most helpful for teaching about sustainability.