Sex Education in Texas Public Schools 3
Texas has long had a reputation as the poster child orthe abstinence-only sex education movement. Mucho this reputation has been well-earned. Not only hasTexas received more ederal abstinence-only dollarsthan any other state (by a signicant margin
), in recentyears abstinence-only programs have enjoyed a virtualmonopoly over sex education instruction in Texas publicschool classrooms. An earlier study by the Texas FreedomNetwork Education Fund (TFNEF) documented thatduring the 2007-08 school year, ully 94 percent o Texasdistricts employed a strict abstinence-only message thatomitted reerences to – or discouraged use o – condomsor other orms o contraception.
Meanwhile, health ocials have begun reerring to thesky-high pregnancy and STD rates among teens in Texas asa legitimate public health crisis. The sobering chart titled“Texas Teens: Prole o the Problem” (below) shows whythe public health community is sounding the alarm.Despite knowledge o these troubling statistics, when itcomes to sex education in our schools, state leaders havebeen fying blind. State law requires schools that includesex education in the curriculum to emphasize abstinencerom sexual activity, but it leaves decisions about thecontent o classroom instruction largely up to each o thestate’s more than 1,000 individual school districts. Andno one – not even the Texas Education Agency – tracksor monitors what schools are teaching in this area. As aresult, inormation about what is being taught in Texasclassrooms has been entirely anecdotal and local.In the spring o 2011, however, the Texas EducationAgency made an attempt to collect some basicinormation about school health issues around the state,sending a “School Health Survey” to every public schooldistrict in the state. That survey contained a batteryo questions relating to various school health-relatedpolicies and programs and included several questionsabout sex education, pregnancy and STD prevention.Response to the survey was surprisingly robust,with almost 700 unique submissions rom public schooldistricts (not counting charter or other non-traditionalcampuses).TFNEF worked with a graduate student in the healtheducation program at Texas State University to compileand evaluate the survey data on sex education. Thisreport is based on an analysis o that data. (See AppendixA at the end o this report or an explanation o themethodology employed in this analysis.) While thesample size – as well as the degree o detail included inthe survey responses – is not as extensive as our previousstudy, it provides a revealing snapshot o the rapidlychanging landscape o sex education in Texas.In the three years since TFNEF’s previous study, therehas been a quiet revolution underway in Texas schooldistricts. While abstinence-only instruction remains thepredominant approach to sex education in the state, thisnew data shows a noteworthy surge in the percentage odistricts going beyond a strict abstinence-only messageand including basic inormation about contraception.Just over 25 percent o districts in this sample reportedusing abstinence-plus sex education programs – up rom just 3.6 percent o districts in 2007-08. Because there is alarge body o evidence indicating that most abstinence-only programs are ineective in changing teen sexualbehavior, this is good news or thousands o Texas teensand their parents.
This shit away rom abstinence-only programs and towardsex education that includes medically accurate inormationabout contraception actually refects public opinion. Astatewide poll o likely voters last summer commissionedby TFNEF revealed that 80 percent o Texas voters avor“teaching about contraception, such as condoms andother birth control, along with abstinence, in high schoolsex education classes.”
Shockingly, state policy-makersignore this overwhelming public support. Texas’ policyemphasizing instruction on abstinence has been unchangedor more than 15 years, and Gov. Rick Perry continues totout that policy (even declaring that his personal experiencedemonstrates that “abstinence works”).
That makes the new survey data even more eye-opening,since changes in school districts do not represent a top-down policy change initiated by lawmakers. Rather, thegrowth in more responsible approaches to sex educationis a result o changes enacted by individual communitiesand schools districts, as well as improvements made toexisting abstinence programs. This report demonstratesthe signicant progress these courageous healtheducators, parents and school board members havemade over the last three years as well as how much workremains to be done.