Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California

Executive Summary

AIR conducted an evaluation to measure the impacts of week-long residential outdoor education programs for at-risk sixth graders in California. As described by California Assembly Bill (AB) Number 1330, Chapter 663, the Outdoor Environmental Education Program is designed to "foster stewardship of the environment and an appreciation of the importance of the wise use of natural resources." The program serves at-risk youth and underserved demographic groups. AB 1330 called for the California Department of Education (CDE) to administer an independent evaluation of the program to be conducted by February 1, 2005 to examine the effects of outdoor experiences on students' behavior and learning. This report presents the findings from the AIR evaluation.

This study focused on 255 sixth-grade students from four elementary schools who attended three outdoor education programs (also referred to as outdoor science schools) between September and November of 2004. The evaluation utilized a "delayed treatment design." Within participating elementary schools, sixth-grade children were divided, by classroom, into two groups. Approximately half of each school's sixth grade (one or more classrooms) attended outdoor school between September and November of 2004 and served as the treatment group. The remaining sixth grade classrooms were scheduled to attend outdoor school after the study's data collection period ended in December 2004, thereby serving as the control group during the study period. In this manner, the study utilized a treatment and control design without denying any child the opportunity to attend outdoor science school. The design provides a rigorous method to identify the outcomes associated with participation in the program.