ArcNews Online

Summer 2007

"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

Educating Congress on GIS and Geographic Education

Doug RichardsonIn 2001, as George W. Bush was settling into the White House, he made the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) an early focus of his administration. The result was No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a reauthorization of the ESEA signed into law in early 2002. The No Child legislation focused on school performance and accountability in an effort to boost lagging schools and troubled school districts. While NCLB was passed on a bipartisan basis and supported by a wide range of traditional liberals as well as conservatives, the law has faced severe criticism in the intervening years from a mix of groups and for a variety of reasons.

The primary and most widespread attacks on NCLB have centered on the failure of the federal government to adequately fund the law and on misguided curriculum and testing requirements. In addition, there have been concerns that the near-exclusive emphasis on math and reading test scores has diverted teaching away from the social sciences and interdisciplinary education, including geography.

We in the geography community have also long been concerned with NCLB because geography is the only "core academic subject" identified within the law that does not receive a specific funding allocation or implementing programs to further teaching of the subject on the K–12 level (for more information on this, see also "Geography Education Needs Congressional Support," ArcNews, Fall 2004). The AAG and our colleagues in the Geography Education National Implementation Project (GENIP) have been working to encourage Congress to change this over the last several years, but the reauthorization of No Child set for this year is our clearest and best opportunity to date.

Call to Action: How You Can Help

Earlier this year, the AAG helped coordinate the development of a letter from the GENIP organizations to key Congressional Education Committee chairmen Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) urging them "to give strong support to the teaching of geography in any proposal for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind." As the committee continues its hearings on NCLB, it is continuing to craft reauthorization bills behind the scenes. While there is no guarantee that the process will conclude this year, we want to take advantage of this opportunity to make our case for the importance of geography in elementary and secondary school teaching and the need for associated funding.

To this end, we encourage you to begin now to educate your senators and congressional representatives about the importance of including geography funding in the proposals for NCLB reauthorization.

The following points may be helpful as you craft a message to your representatives:

  • Funding geography in NCLB is critical—Geography is the only core-curriculum subject identified in the ESEA without associated funding. This must change if students are to make the necessary strides in geographic understanding and GIS literacy.
  • Implementing programs for geography are also needed—Geography also lacks any specified implementing programs in NCLB. These programs should help implement more widespread teaching of geography in elementary and secondary schools.
  • Geography is essential to a well-rounded K–12 education—Geographic understanding is important to every American; it is critical to the informed exercise of each citizen's civic responsibility. Geography helps us understand the connections between peoples and places—and with the natural environment. Geography education is key to achieving international understanding and economic development and also provides essential workforce skills needed to maintain U.S. competitiveness. The study of geography enables students to access the explanatory power of maps and increasingly ubiquitous geospatial technologies, such as GIS, GPS, and Internet mapping. Geography helps us to understand and enhance our own communities as American citizens—and informs our understanding of the challenges facing the United States in an uncertain world.

You may wish to encourage your congressional representatives to keep these and related thoughts in mind as Congress deliberates on the challenges facing American students in the months and years to come. Without a geographic frame of reference, tomorrow's leaders will be lacking one of the central perspectives they need to formulate sound public policy in areas ranging from environmental conservation and transportation to national security and international trade. Your input to and education of Congress on this matter will be a valuable addition to the debate at this time, regardless of whether a reauthorization of NCLB occurs during this year or continues to a future year.

Doug Richardson

More Information

Additional information on NCLB and geography, including regular NCLB status updates, is available on the AAG Web site at

Update: Judge Rejects MAPPS Lawsuit

My last column in ArcNews (Spring 2007) focused on the lawsuit recently filed by MAPPS et al., which sought to limit contracts for nearly all federal government mapping and GIS activities mainly to licensed architectural and engineering (A&E) firms. I am pleased to report that the judge in this case issued a decision on June 14, 2007, rejecting the MAPPS lawsuit.

Several geography and GIS organizations, including AAG, GISCI, GITA, UCGIS, and URISA, joined together to oppose the MAPPS litigation through educational outreach and the development of an Amicus Brief to the court on the case. The judge's dismissal of the MAPPS lawsuit will help ensure that all qualified professionals in the mapping and GIS communities will continue to be able to fairly compete for federal government contracts.

More Information

For more detailed information, including the full text of the court's ruling, the issues involved in the lawsuit, and the Amicus Brief, visit

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