State Review Panels Give OK To Failing Health Textbooks In Texas Adoption

State Review Panels Give OK To Failing Health Textbooks In Texas Adoption

Books Fail to Meet State Curriculum Requirements on Sex and Health; State Board of Education to Hold Adoption Hearings in July, September

June 18, 2004

Teens in Texas the state with the nation’s highest teen birth rate were the big losers this week when state review panels gave passing grades to inadequate health textbooks submitted for sale in Texas next year.

The textbooks failed to include state-mandated information on barrier protection and other contraceptive methods for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, said Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network. Smoot said the process for reviewing and approving responsible textbooks in Texas has clearly broken down.

“Publishers have been irresponsible in failing to meet curriculum requirements on barrier protection and other forms of contraception,” Smoot said. “But Texas teens and their parents rely on the state’s review panelists to rise above political pressure and ensure that the books meet all curriculum requirements. By not insisting that the books give kids common sense, practical information on sex and health that deals with the real-life situations we face every day, the panels have let the kids of Texas down.”

The State Board of Education will hold public hearings on the textbooks on July 14 and September 8. Board members will vote on November 5 to adopt or reject the books.

State review panelists appointed by the Texas Education Agency met in Austin this week and rated high school health textbooks from Ohio-based Glencoe/McGraw-Hill and Texas-based Holt, Rinehart and Winston as conforming to state curriculum standards. Those curriculum standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. Panelists must certify that conforming textbooks meet all of the TEKS standards.

One TEKS standard (number 7I) requires that textbooks “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods,” including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The standard also requires that textbooks discuss the effectiveness of remaining abstinent until marriage.
Textbooks from Glencoe and Holt noted that abstinence is the only completely effective way to avoid pregnancy and STDs. The books, however, included no information about barrier protection and other contraceptive methods.

The textbooks’ lack of medically accurate, complete information recklessly endangers Texas kids, Smoot said.

“Abstinence is the best policy for teens,” Smoot said. “But teens also need reliable information to protect themselves from life-long consequences like unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.”

Smoot pointed to a January 2004 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that 93 percent of parents with high school children believe teens should be taught about birth control.

“Parents know that making sure our kids have the most accurate and reliable information is the best protection we have for raising safe, healthy, responsible adults,” Smoot said.

In an initial report, panelists rated one textbook, from New York publisher Delmar Learning, as nonconforming apparently because they thought the book’s discussion of abstinence was not strong enough. The Delmar textbook states that “sexual abstinence is the only way of preventing any sexually transmitted infection.” In addition, Delmar’s textbook includes a brief discussion of the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of latex condoms. Discussions of latex condoms are missing from the Glencoe and Holt textbooks.

Smoot called this lack of information in the textbooks alarming. Noting the state’s high teen birth rate, Smoot also pointed to statistics showing that nearly half of all new cases of STDs and HIV occur among youth ages 15-24.

“It’s too dangerous to give our young people anything short of information that is scientifically and medically accurate,” Smoot said. “That’s why it’s vital that health textbooks equip teens with sexuality information that is reliable, complete and age-appropriate.”

Texas is one of 22 states with a centralized process for adopting public school textbooks. Religious and social conservatives have organized to influence this process for decades, pressuring publishers to exclude from textbooks information they don’t like. In 2003, for example, would-be censors on the far right attempted to water down discussions of evolution in new Texas biology textbooks.

In addition, because the Texas market is so big, the adoption of health textbooks here has a national impact. Publishers often develop textbooks for Texas and sell the same books across the country.

The Texas Freedom Network has been monitoring textbook censorship efforts in Texas since the mid-1990s.