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Posted on Tue, Feb. 24, 2009
The overwhelming majority of Texas schools use scare tactics and spread myths in place of teaching basic sex and health information that students can use to protect themselves and loved ones, according to a report released today from watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

TFN’s 2-year study of education materials from 990 Texas school districts showed that about 94 percent of public schools use abstinence-only programs that usually pass moral judgments while either downplaying or ignoring contraception and health screenings, despite state code education requirements.

The result is that Texas teens continue to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, conclude the report’s authors, David Wiley, professor of health education at Texas State University and Kelly Wilson, asst. professor at Texas State University-San Marcos.

They blame the lies and misinformation on poor state oversight, fear of controversy and religious groups that teach sex is shameful.

“I thought I was no longer capable of being surprised by the ignorance among our students,” Wiley wrote in the report. “Then last year a sincere male student asked aloud, ‘What is my risk for cervical cancer?’ Clearly, ignorance surrounding sexuality and health is a problem among young people today.”

The Fort Worth school district receives a favorable note in the report for having a health advisory council that promotes abstinence as the most appropriate and effective means of contraception, but that also recognizes a need for further education presented in a thoughtful and non-judgmental way

“The council believes it is imperative that the high school age children in the district be armed with as much information as possible in relation to these matters,” according to the council’s unanimous 2006 recommendation to the school board.

Burleson schools are singled out by the report for using scare tactics designed to rouse feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. For example, a PowerPoint presentation on the subject says that sex outside of marriage starts a chain reaction brings guilt because “doing the forbidden” lets down future spouse, parents and friends counting on the student “to be strong for them.”

As a local example: the Star-Telegram recently published a report that, since 2001, the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district’s eighth-grade science curriculum has taught that if used correctly, latex condoms are 80 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. But the success rate of condoms when used correctly is 97 percent to 98 percent, according to most experts and manufacturers.

H-E-B officials said they don’t know where they got their information. In January the district added an addendum correcting the information in its online curriculum. A district review committee has found several other problems, administrators say, and is now working to correct the problems.

Findings of the report include:

Most Texas students receive no instruction about human sexuality apart from the promotion of sexual abstinence.

Sexual education material used by 41 percent of school districts include factual errors. Most of these involve condoms (40.1 percent) and STDs (38.9 percent). Often these failures include particularly low effectiveness of condoms. Instruction about HIV and human papillomavirus is especially prone to error. For example, some list the tears, sweat and saliva of an HIV infected person as being dangerous, although there has never been a case shown to result from such contact.

Shaming and fear-based instruction are standard means of teaching students about sexuality.

Instruction on human sexuality often promotes stereotypes and biases based on gender and sexual orientation. For example: one abstinence-only programs used 53 school district says that women need “financial support” while men need “domestic support” according to the report. Some Texas classrooms mix religious instruction and Bible study into sexuality education programs. About a program called “Wonderful Days” that is used by three districts in the Fort Worth, the report states that, “Hardly a page can be found that does not include multiple references to Bible verses, invocation of Christian principles, even attempts to proselytize students with the Christian plan of salvation.” To fix these problems, the report’s authors suggest districts use qualified, trained classroom teachers and use materials from reputable sources. The state should refuse federal funds for abstinence-only education and adopt textbooks that emphasize abstinence while providing medically accurate information.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state’s curriculum standard, requires of high school health course students be able to “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods, including the prevention of STDs. All but a handful of districts fail to meet that standard, according to the report. The word condom does not appear in any of the state-approved health books except one. That book mentions the word once and is used in fewer than 1 percent of the state’s districts. “Clearly, something is wrong in Texas,” the report states.

MATT FRAZIER, 817-685-3854

Study says sex education ‘shockingly poor’ in many Texas school districts
10:40 PM CST on Tuesday, February 24, 2009
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
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AUSTIN – An overwhelming majority of Texas school districts don’t give students any sex education beyond abstinence – and even the quality of abstinence-only programs in many districts is “shockingly poor,” according to a new study by researchers at Texas State University.

The study, released Tuesday, found that more than 94 percent of school districts teach only abstinence when it comes to sex education, and 2 percent ignore the topic altogether. Just 4 percent teach students about how to respond to pregnancy and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

“Abstinence-only programs have a stranglehold on sexuality education in Texas public schools,” said the report, an analysis of documents provided by 990 of the state’s 1,031 school districts.

Based on those documents, the authors of the study concluded, “Our schools are failing Texas families by turning out generations of sexually illiterate young people at a time of high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.”

That failure comes despite public opinion polls showing that most parents want their children to get information on abstinence and effective methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the report noted.

Release of the study came shortly after a House committee was told Tuesday that the state can expect to lose nearly $10 million in federal funding for abstinence education programs this year. Texas, which receives more abstinence money than any other state, has been spending about $18 million a year on its programs.

The study was sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal group that has pushed state education officials to require comprehensive sex education – including abstinence – in the public schools.

One of the researchers, David Wiley, a professor of health education and president of the American School Health Association, said that despite spending the most money on abstinence instruction, Texas continues to have one of the highest teen birthrates in the nation.

“Our classrooms are perpetuating a conspiracy of silence that robs young people of the reliable information they need to make responsible life decisions,” he said.

Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation, a conservative group that supports abstinence-based programs, questioned the criticism of those programs, citing links between the Texas Freedom Network and Planned Parenthood.

“These groups want teenagers to have more sex and learn more about sex at an earlier age,” he said. “You can give students greater access to contraception and abortion, but that’s not good for Texas.”

He added: “The reality is that abstinence works. If two people decide not to have sex, that is sex education that works 100 percent of the time.”

Study findings

•Sex education materials regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.

•Most school districts do not receive consistent local input from their school health advisory councils – including parents – about sex education.

•Shaming and fear-based instruction are standard means of teaching students about sexuality in many schools.

•Instruction on human sexuality often promotes stereotypes and biases based on gender and sexual orientation.

•Some classrooms mix religious instruction and Bible study in sex education programs. Such policies could violate the U.S. constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion in public schools.

Amarillo Globe-News Web-posted Sunday, March 1, 2009

Column – David Wiley and Kelly Wilson: Sex ed: Bliss doesn’t mean ignorance

SAN MARCOS – When it comes to teens and sexuality education, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s reckless.
Research shows that young Texans rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors. In fact, Texas has one of the highest teen birthrates in the nation, with taxpayers spending more than $1 billion annually on teen childbearing.
Yet Texas is the poster child for the abstinence-only movement, receiving more federal funding for abstinence education than any other state.
Clearly, something is wrong.
We worked with the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund to find out what public schools actually teach in sex education classes.
Using the Texas Public Information Act, we obtained official policies, curriculum materials and other documents from nearly all of the state’s public school districts.
As health educators and as parents, we found the documents provided to us profoundly discouraging. You can read our findings at www.justsaydontknow.org, but the conclusion is clear: Texas is failing our families and youth. Our school districts are perpetuating a conspiracy of silence that robs young people of the reliable information they need to develop important life skills and make responsible, potentially life-altering decisions when it comes to sexuality and health.
Texas law requires public schools to emphasize abstinence but allows them to teach other information about sexuality, including contraception. Still, we found more than nine in 10 Texas school districts teach nothing about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention except abstinence.
Moreover, we found most abstinence-only programs commonly rely on fear, shame and stereotypes as instructional strategies. Many are also riddled with factual errors, misleading statements and gross distortions. Some even discourage the use of condoms by claiming they are virtually useless in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Such messages recklessly defy all reliable public health advice.
In August 2004, a Scripps Howard Texas Poll found that 90 percent of Texans support teaching students the importance of abstinence, as well as medically accurate, age-appropriate information about contraception and preventing STDs.
Our research showed one reason policy-makers aren’t hearing that message. More than 80 percent of school districts reported no formal recommendations from local School Health Advisory Councils. State law requires these councils to provide community input about sexuality education to local school boards.
Frankly, too many local school officials take the easy path by adopting abstinence-only policies rather than confront a vocal and militant minority demanding that students be kept ignorant.
How do we break this conspiracy of silence surrounding sexuality education? We offer just a few of our report’s recommendations here.
As a good first step, Texas lawmakers should require that information public schools teach about human sexuality be medically and scientifically accurate. The Legislature has failed to do so the past two sessions.
State law and curriculum standards should continue to emphasize the importance of abstinence. But they should also bar sexuality education classes from discouraging the use of condoms and other forms of contraception by sexually active people.
Texas should also join the 24 other states refusing to take federal Title V, abstinence-only funding. Recent major studies have shown that such programs are simply ineffective in changing the sexual behavior of teens. Our state’s high teen birthrate attests to that.
At the local level, school districts should fully engage local School Health Advisory Councils in developing policies that are truly based on community input and research on effective programs. It’s time they started listening to all parents in their communities, not just to pressure groups arguing that the solution to the problems of teen pregnancy and STDs is to keep young people ignorant.
David Wiley and Kelly Wilson are health education professors at Texas State University-San Marcos