The Need for Sex Education

Effective sex education and HIV/STD prevention programs delay sexual activity, increase condom use, and promote healthy attitudes in youth.

California has one of the most progressive policies for teaching comprehensive sex education, and has a strong mandate for teaching HIV prevention lessons, even when a full sex education program is not offered. Yet, too often, the subject of health is short-changed in schools because of a standards-based regime of annual assessments and time encroachments by the core curriculum: specifically Math and English.

But health needs are paramount in the lives of youth. Without accurate knowledge of their bodies and the risk and development of good communication and behavioral skills, youth are at risk for a variety of diseases, pregnancy, and other potential dangers. The newest Health standards issued by the State of California cover a broad array of issues dealing with all aspects of becoming healthy people, including social, emotional, physical, and sexual health. I’m currently involved in a project to improve the sexual health of students in my district, and I’ve found some very compelling data to highlight this need.

I will have a later post that will list many data resources on HIV,STD’s, Teen Pregnancy, and Risky Behaviors in Youth

Note on the Data below:

The following data are derived from different sources using different methodologies, and may also represent slightly different age groups. For example, one set of data may say “high school students”, while another may refer to students age 15-19. Some are based on nationwide surveys, another may be raw data of numbers of cases reported to public health officials.

These numbers are based primarily on National Averages- this is not a region-specific analysis, yet the birthrate and pregnancy rate is derived from State data specific to Latina teens.


For every 100 Junior High students:

6 of the students have already had sex, or will have sex before the age of 14

By the Time Your Students Finish High School

46 of them will have had sex.

55 of them (more than half) will have Oral Sex.

14 will have four or more sexual partners

11 of them will have anal sex with someone of the opposite sex

3 of the males will have anal sex with another male.

7 of the girls will have intercourse against their will.

20 will contract an STD of some kind

7 of the girls will get pregnant.

4 will give birth.

2 will have abortions.

And, if you were to ask 100 students during their high school years,

20 of them did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse.

For Santa Maria:

Many of our Junior High students are already sexually active. Most of the data above is based on National Averages. The Pregnancy Rate of our Latina teens (included in the above) is twice the national average. Therefore, it is highly probable that the rates of risky behaviors are also much higher than the national averages.

According to the CDC:

Effective HIV/STD and Pregnancy Prevention programs should address the needs of youth who are not engaging in sexual intercourse as well as youth who are currently sexually active.

Well-designed programs have been shown to decrease sexual risk behaviors, including:

  • Delaying first sexual intercourse
  • Reducing the number of sex partners
  • Decreasing the number of times students have unprotected sex
  • Increasing condom use

References:

1CDC Healthy Youth! “Sexual Risk Behaviors”

2CDC “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United States, 2009

3Guttmacher Institute “U.S. Teen Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by State and Ethnicity

4CDPH “STD Sexually Transmitted Diseases in California 2008

5CDC Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2008

6Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2008

Using Psychology to Solve Education Woes

Richard Nisbett authored an opinion piece in the New York Times on February 7, discussing what he saw as common sense approaches to improving education. The piece is not without merits, and is worth reading, but also requires a response:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/opinion/08nisbett.html?scp=2&sq=education&st=cse

While I agreed with some of the discussion of psychological effects on testing data and student performance, there were two main issues about this piece that were particularly bothersome to me.

1) Assessment is not learning. The piece discusses “very small influences” that can have “very large effects.” But the majority of the discussion is about psyching kids up to perform on tests. It’s not about instruction, or improving conditions in schools, or protecting student safety. While you don’t want to psychologically harm students through your instructional practices, there are limits to the degree of achievement that can be achieved through changes of perspective and attitude. I’m not opposed to maximizing the benefits of good psychology, I just don’t believe it’s an adequate replacement for fundamental educational improvements.

So now you psyched up all the kids in America to take the tests, they believe that they will succeed. Now, can you convince students that their class is smaller, so they can benefit from that? Can you talk them into believing that their school is safe and well-maintained when it’s not. Can you convince them that their inequitable access to education resources is fair and just? Undoubtedly, techniques such as this will have a negligibly limited effect, like other attempts at gaming the system in the long run,because in time, all schools tend to implement the measures that work to manipulate test data. Once all students are equally persuaded of their test-taking acumen, we need a new way to bridge the achievement gap.

2) Efficiency. We talk a lot about the efficiency of our education dollars, getting the most bang for our buck. But most social services are not effective when optimized for efficiency that is strictly financial. We are not efficient in many other aspects of Federal and State spending, but when it comes to K-12, hairs are split over the tiniest of details. In higher education, they might have to decide between marble and granite for the facade on fitness center. In K-12, we may have to decide that we can only afford one hour a day of instructional assistants in kindergarten classes of 35.

Any discussion of efficiency in education spending needs to occur AFTER a discussion of adequacy and minimums. I believe in many schools, in many districts, we have never provided adequacy, and any talk of being more efficient is premature.

Let’s talk about efficiency. Let’s end waste. Let’s stop wasting the potential in youth that could be achieved with proper investment, and proper attention. The limited resources allocated to some students in this nation, especially the poor, is wasteful and irresponsible.

Educational Equity-Legislative Possibilities

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The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for the existence of a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1 and IDEA), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions:

1) Amend ESEA

a)Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

b)Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

c)Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

d)Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2. Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail):

Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

a)Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
b)Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
c)Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:

1.The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.

2.The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools

3.The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)

4.The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools

5.Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system

6.Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.

Let’s Run Schools Like Businesses

 

schoolbusiness

 

Imagine, for a moment, if we could go back to 2000, during the lead-up to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, when many conservative lawmakers, intellectuals, and others who have no ‘business’ meddling in public education, were calling for reforms to model America’s education system after private industry. No Child Left Behind, did, in fact, include some of this business-like mentality with its emphasis on ‘products’, ‘quantifiable results’, and ‘accountability’, as well as a degree of privatization. But it could have been worse.

Senate Approves Massive Bailout for Education
Fake News 10-7-08
by Luke Laurie

The U.S. Senate today approved a $700 billion bailout of America’s education system, following seven years of corruption, mismanagement, and lack of regulation of the nation’s principle means of transmitting culture. Congressional investigators have attributed the collapse to the wholesale privatization of public schools and education services, and the increased use of a business model for school management.

Teachers Have Lost Their Voice
While teachers and liberal lawmakers have, for years, called for a return to public education, the powerful Education Reform Lobby has held a tight grip on Congressional appropriators and thwarted any intrusion by government regulators. Secretary of Education Bill Gates blamed the fallout on the handful of schools who refused to purchase Microsoft software, and suggested that schools sticking with Apple or Linux were the cause of the recent collapse. SInce the “Silence the Special Interests Act of 2002,” teachers’ unions and other advocacy groups have been unable to influence public policy. This measure limited lobbying access by establishing a rigid ‘pay to play’ principle that has limited congressional access to only the largest private conglomerations. In addition, the number of unionized teachers has greatly dwindled due to union-busting measures at the local, state and federal level.

Reform for Profit
In the early years of the “Bottom-Line for Schools Act of 2001”, the so called BS Act, everyone was a genius. Schools were encouraged to pursue a growth model akin to the tech startups of the 1990’s. Using leveraged capital provided by school vouchers, private companies created schools and networks of schools with lofty names that promised impossible services for little or no cost, and watched their stock prices skyrocket on speculation. These schools took many forms, and often resembled private religious schools, alternative charter schools, and academies of various kinds. They often touted emphasis in a particular industry or technical field, or sought to reinforce certain ideological or religious perspectives. The movement saw the creation of the Advanced Circuitry Kinder Lab, The Huffington School of Right is Wrong, Young Earth Youth Academy, and the A is A Ayn Rand School of Engineering and Architecture.

A Shining School on a Hill
Capitalized by inflated stock prices, fueled by speculation and day-traders, these new schools saw incredible growth, and were praised for success. States received massive bonuses and an influx of cash from the federal government for large-scale educational overhauls that were outsourced, often to fly-by-night contractors and textbook publishers, who took over all aspects of education, including everything from developing standardized tests to operating school buses. Glassy skyscrapers popped up in suburbs across America, the “District Offices” of the new education economy. Even Halliburton, a long-time military and energy services contractor, stepped in with their new Freedom Schools division. It was not unheard of to find the new school CEO’s showing up at D.C. cocktail parties.

A Break with Tradition
Perhaps the most damaging aspects of the movement were the wholesale abandonment of public facilities, practices, and personnel. In 2002, James D. Oldenfeller, Assistant Secretary of Education said, “States just don’t have the capacity to run schools the way that private industry does.” Oldenfeller left the administration that same year to oversee Halliburton’s Freedom Schools division. State and local governments relieved themselves of debt and balanced their budgets by selling school infrastructure to private contractors at discounted prices, receiving incentives from the Fed to do so. Some districts literally auctioned off desks, chairs, and even entire schools on Ebay.

Change for Change’s Sake
New startup schools were so heavily pressured to be different, that many school leaders professed that no long-standing educational practice could be continued. Schools abandoned antiquated methods of teaching reading, spelling, mathematics, history, and science. They scoffed at traditions like recess, summer vacation, and tenure for teachers. They embraced controversial new approaches like the “copy from Wikipedia” essay strategy, the “Yes you can use a calculator” computation method, and “Metaphysical Education- developing the mind and body without leaving your seat.”

“We need results, and we need them now,” Said President Bush in his State of the Union Address of 2002. “Like CEO’s on Wallstreet, schools need to be accountable. America can’t wait around for all this touchy-feely stuff to soak in. We need math and history, and math history. If our teachers can’t show results, then they’re not with us. If they’re not with us, they’re against us. If they’re against us, they’re with them. Who are them anyway?”

Goodbye Mr. Chips
The mass exodus of public school teachers, both forced and voluntary, is widely seen the most harmful result of the reform. Once considered the ‘core’ of education, the role of teacher was relegated to that of support personnel, number crunchers, script readers, and assembly workers on the educational factory floor. Disgusted, underpaid, and just plain fired for being too smarty-pants, career teachers were cast aside in favor of short-term ‘corps’-style teachers, who spent a few years in classrooms to erase college debts from overpriced universities.

Monetary rewards and penalties were applied to schools and teachers based on standardized test scores in Mathematics and Language Arts. Teacher pay was integrally tied to abstract quantitative data. Veteran teachers learned that their years of experience weren’t worth anything if they didn’t show up in the annual results. A massive redistribution of educational funding resulted, bringing even more State and Federal funds to the haves, and even less to the have-nots. Consequently, advanced placement classes and schools serving high income students became prized places of employment, and only people desperately needing work would take classes in low-income neighborhoods, or serving English Language Learners. In many-low income schools, undocumented immigrants were the only people willing to take the low paying, menial jobs as teachers.

To Good to be True
It wasn’t until the civil suit Rodriguez vs. LearnFunCorp.com (2007) was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, that many of the problems of privatized education received national attention. The suit, brought by Jose Rodriguez, a 3rd grade student from Costa Verde, California, revealed that many students across the Country were no longer even going to school, and yet the companies that were responsible for educating them still had them on the books, and still cashed their vouchers.

LearnFunCorp.com calls itself a ‘virtual school,’ with no real classrooms or schools, no teachers, and no desks. Students enrolled in its programs must log on to their website, where they engage in “interactive educational video games” pioneered by Senator Joe Lieberman. Student questions submitted online or over the phone, are routed to a call center in Bengal, India. With it’s headquarters listed as a P.O. Box in Bermuda, and only a smattering of employees in the U.S., LearnFunCorp.com has paid no Federal taxes since it was established in 2002, though it has had more than $300 million in profits. In fact, according to investigative journalism by this publication, LearnFunCorp.com is virtually non-existent.

The Supreme Court case revealed that Jose Rodriguez had been a student enrolled in a virtual class with LearnFunCorp.com since he was five years old, and yet, had never received any educational services. His parents had signed forms to enroll Jose in virtual school, unaware of the significance of the decision, but they had no internet access, and had been unable to connect to the virtual environment. Calls to the Bengal call center to un-enroll Jose had proved useless. Local schools would not accept Jose into their classes, because his vouchers were already being received by LearnFunCorp.com. The case also revealed how ineffective the virtual learning environments were for young learners, with hundreds of young students still unable to read. While the case drew attention to these issues, it was tossed out by the highly conservative court.

A Problem Becomes a Crisis
In 2007, 4 out of 5 Americans believed that the education system had reached its lowest point in history, yet only 4 out of 10 thought something should be done about it. Conservatives praised the innovations of the education industry, and insisted the fundamentals of the education sector were strong. Liberals complained that public education should be restored in full, but couldn’t garner enough support to back a major initiative.

“We cannot, should not, play the market with the future of America,” said liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich. “Privatization and outsourcing of America’s most treasured institution is simply unacceptable. In business, there are no profits without risk. Risk should play no part in an institution that we need to be consistently strong to maintain our national security, our culture, and our economy. We are violating the Constitutional rights of citizens when we deny anyone the full opportunity to be an active participant in our Democracy. ”

In 2004, the Federal government raised the stakes on test scores created pressure for schools to exceed their previous performance. Said one Freedom Schools official, “At first, we couldn’t go wrong. Our growth targets were so low, you could phone it in and still meet your goals. We lobbied the state to mandate only 1st grade mathematics and reading for high school graduation proficiency. But with the mandated goal of reaching 100% proficiency by 2013, those standards were too high.”

As a result, many schools began to use unconventional methods for gaming the system and cooking the books, so as not to lose their all-important vouchers and subsidies. Some schools encouraged students to be absent on testing days. Others transferred students from one school to another, to minimize the impact of ‘damaging’ demographic subgroups such as children from low-income families, English language learners, and special needs students. Racial tensions escalated in one Alabama town when all African American students were expelled on the same day, right before testing. Virtual schools simply did not report on the progress of low-performing students.

Luke Laurie is a teacher in Santa Maria, CA. “Sure test scores were rising. We were only teaching two subjects- Math and Language Arts. The school was transformed from a place of developing life-long learners into a corral for rote math and reading. All resources were diverted to target the kids on the cusp. Art, science, music, many of the things that matter most to people, were cut back or outright eliminated. Even with gaming the system, we reached our limits.”

Communities in Illinois became suspect when dozens of youth were loitering around the local 7-11 and the shopping malls during school hours, in a community that was reporting a 100% graduation rate. Freedom Schools, which ran the local school system, had been purging ‘low margin’ students from the rolls, by listing the students as ‘transfer: destination unknown.’

Even schools serving wealthy communities felt the effects of fraud and mismanagement. One Beverly Hills school, which always had outstanding test scores, paid 450 dollars each year for each student, for a consumable workbook on environmental education. The publisher had attained exclusive rights for environmental education, so the school claimed they had no other choice but to buy the book. The FBI determined that one school official had received a yacht and a remodel on his home in exchange for adopting the controversial text.

These tactics were concealed from investors, who had sunk billions into the fledgling industry. Education futures commodities had become highly leveraged, and repackaged into secondary and tertiary instruments, which were subsequently traded. The true value of these commodities is unknown. When the test scores were rising on a logarithmic scale, so were profits. The market was in denial that this growth would ever stop, and few realized how illusory the growth was to begin with. Now that the game is up, panic over the uncertain value of the packaged education futures has led to a selloff in markets worldwide.

A Bailout is Necessary
With the assets of dozens of education providers being seized by government regulators this week, and schools being shuttered across America, it is clear that the privatization movement has come to an end. Local communities are struggling with how to educate youth, when they no longer have public school facilities and teachers. Virtual school websites are now showing 404 errors ‘server not found.’ In a desperate move, Congress acted to bailout the private education providers with a $700 billion package, designed to recapitalize the struggling education companies, like Freedom Schools. “They’re just too big to fail,” said House Democrat Barney Frank.

The House Republican Study Committee issued the following statement yesterday: “It is the opinion of House Republicans that education is the cornerstone of American culture, and that only the free market can truly deliver the high quality education that Americans deserve. A few bad apples in the education sector have led us to this necessary and prudent bailout. Though we believe the cost of the bailout is an unfair burden for taxpayers, we reluctantly support the measure and encourage its passage.”

It is unclear if the bailout will work.