New TFN Education Fund Study: Texas Is Failing on Sex Education

by Dan Quinn

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund has released a new report on what Texas public schools are teaching when it comes to sex education. The news isn’t good. Here’s the press release:

Eight in ten school districts in Texas – a state with one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation – either don’t teach high school students about birth control or offer no sex education at all, according to a major report released today by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

The report, Conspiracy of Silence: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools in 2015-16, reveals that the percentage of districts teaching no sex education increased from 2.3 percent in the 2007-08 school year to more than 25 percent in 2015-16. Another 58 percent of school districts took an abstinence-only approach to sex education in 2015-16, with no medically accurate instruction on condoms and other forms of birth control.

In 2009 the Texas Legislature voted to remove high school health classes, where sex education has typically taken place, as a requirement for graduation.

State policymakers are simply making it harder for students to learn life-saving information in their schools, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“When it comes to sex education, Texas is failing our students and their families,” Miller said. “We have to trust young people with the information they need to make wise decisions about their reproductive health and their future. Ignorance won’t protect them.”

The report’s researchers were Dr. David Wiley, a Texas State University health education professor, and Faye Miller, a research fellow for the TFN Education Fund.

Wiley was co-author of a previous report from the TFN Education Fund on sex education in Texas public schools, Just Say Don’t Know in 2009. Prior to her work on this report, Miller received a Fulbright research grant to study sex education in the Middle East.

Wiley warned about a “conspiracy of silence” surrounding sex education.

“Lawmakers and policymakers don’t want to talk about it,” Wiley said. “In too many cases teachers are barred from talking about it. This conspiracy of silence about something as important as health and sexuality for young people is simply irresponsible.”

State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, spoke at the press conference about HB 1547, a bill she filed that would require sex education classes to include age-appropriate, evidence-based and medically accurate information on birth control as well as abstinence.

“Our students deserve far better than the myths and misinformation they learn in many sex education classes,” Rep. González said. “For years polling has shown that the vast majority of Texans support teaching sex education that includes information on birth control. More districts are doing that, but this Legislature should act to ensure that all sex education classes are fact-based and give students this critical information.”

The report is a follow-up to Just Say Don’t Know in 2009. Among the new findings:

  • Although the percentage of districts taking an abstinence-only approach or teaching no sex education at all remains very high, the percentage of districts using abstinence-plus materials (with information on birth control) rose from 3.6 percent in 2007-08 to 16.6 percent in 2015-16. Among those districts are eight of the ten largest in the state, accounting for about 17 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment.
  • Abstinence-only programs continue to be filled with myths and other misinformation, including the exaggeration of failure rates for birth control and the promotion of fear, shaming and gender stereotypes as instructional strategies.
  • Very few districts address unique health and relationship issues relevant to lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender youth. Most sex education in Texas seems to assume that all students in the classroom are heterosexual and that LGBT people are irrelevant or don’t exist.
  • Students learn little but misinformation about abortion, one of the most common and safest medical procedures in the United States. Brief mentions are typically accompanied by inaccurate information and messages focused on fear and shame.

The TFN Education Fund’s reports represent the only publicly available, in-depth research into what Texas public schools teach about sex education. The 2009 Just Say Don’t Know study was based on a survey of the state’s more than 1,000 school districts. This newest report is based on a survey of a statistically valid sample of about 15 percent of the state’s non-charter school districts that have high schools. Researchers obtained information for each report from requests sent to school districts under the Texas Public Information Act.

 

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Joshua Houston

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