Friday, April 25, 2008

Federal funding of abstinence-only sex education programs debated

I must say that preaching abstinence seems like pissing into the wind to me -- unless there is religious backing for it, of course

Continued federal funding of abstinence-only sex education in public schools was debated before a House committee Wednesday amid questions about whether the government should sponsor a program that many experts say doesn't work. Most of the 11 witnesses who appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform advocated instead for comprehensive programs that include information about how teenagers can protect themselves from pregnancy or disease if they choose to engage in sexual activity. "The concern that many of us have with abstinence-only programs is the idea that one size fits all," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the panel.

Both sides agreed that abstinence should be the core of any sex education program for teens. Concerns were raised, though, over how much information students should receive about issues such as condom use and methods of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.

There was also discussion on the role of communities and school districts in deciding what types of sex education young people are exposed to, instead of abstinence being mandated by the government through funding. "I see an ideological discussion versus a reality discussion," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "We deal with the realities of our diversified communities."

Proponents of abstinence education argued that society should set high standards for teenage sexual behavior. They would prefer, they said, that programs focus on the emotional, physical and societal repercussions of sex outside of marriage. But several witnesses emphasized that despite 11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion, teens are still having sex and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Those who support comprehensive plans said teens should get the information they need to protect themselves. A study released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a rise in the teenage pregnancy rate in 2006, the first such increase in 15 years. Between 1991 and 2005, the rate dropped 34%.

When the government began funding abstinence-only sex education in 1996, 49 of 50 states signed up for such programs. California did not, and it has never sought such funding. Currently, only 33 states receive federal funds for the programs. "Seventeen states have now said they will not accept funding," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Assn. "For a health department to give up funding is a very important fact." "Some states have looked at the federal requirements as the federal government telling them they had to only do it one way, and they didn't like it," said the committee chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). The federal government funds sex education programs that align to several requirements, including exclusively teaching that abstinence is the only way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections and that sexual relations are acceptable only within a married, monogamous relationship.

During the hearing, witnesses provided differing statistics about condom use and the number of sexual partners teens have after completing abstinence-only education programs. There were even questions about whether comprehensive sex-education programs had ever received federal funding. In 2006, the government began funding family planning initiatives that provide contraceptives and information through free community clinics. These clinics are occasionally involved with teaching comprehensive sex education in public schools.

An October 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office found errors in the accuracy of information provided in some abstinence programs. The study was unable to reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of abstinence programs. Another study, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative policy research center, reviewed 15 programs focused on abstinence education and found that in 11 of them, teenage sexual activity was significantly delayed or reduced. Several witnesses at the hearing questioned whether that study had been properly reviewed before publication.


Teacher refuses to give test, gets 2 weeks without pay

He obviously did not want his failure to educate to become known

A Seattle middle school science teacher has been suspended for two weeks without pay for refusing to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in his classroom. Union officials and education leaders say Carl Chew of Nathan Eckstein Middle School might be the first teacher in Washington state to be suspended for refusing to give his students the high-stakes test. "Every year, I said to myself this is the last time I'm going to do this," said Chew, 60, who has been teaching for about eight years and said he has seen kids struggle through the test with few positive results to show for the time and effort expended over two weeks each spring.

He made a decision to stand up for his beliefs as he was walking down the hall to pick up this year's test booklets. Chew said the process was all quite cordial: He wrote a short e-mail to his fellow teachers and school administrators, they set up meetings to hear his story and try to talk him into changing his mind, his principal wrote a letter outlining his insubordination and sent the case on to the school district and the district superintendent wrote back to say he was being suspended. "Our expectation is that teachers will administer any and all state-required tests," said Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker, who could not comment on Chew's punishment because the district does not talk about personnel issues.

Washington state requires its public schools to administer the WASL to students each spring. Beginning with this year's high school graduation class, students must pass the reading and writing portions in order to graduate. Chew went to school on the first day of WASL testing, knowing in advance he would be asked to leave. Now Chew is at home, talking to reporters, responding to supportive e-mails from around the state, and hoping for better weather so he can do some gardening. "I had no idea what to expect at all," said Chew, who estimates he will lose about $1,000 in pay for missing nine days of work.

School officials asked him what he wanted to have happen. Chew said he wanted to be back in the classroom with his students. That, apparently, wasn't an option. "I see this very much as a win for all of us. I'm happy that the school district didn't send me packing," he said. He said he has welcomed e-mails of support from parents and educators from around the state, but has turned down their offers of money. He asked them to make a donation instead to an organization searching for a better alternative for assessing the state's education system. Chew said his wife makes enough money working as a medical doctor and researcher at the University of Washington to keep the bill collectors away.

Neither the Washington State School Directors Association nor the state teachers union could recall any previous cases of teachers refusing to administer the WASL. "I know a lot of teachers have objections," said Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association. "Every day I get e-mails from our members all over the state who express their deep concern over what this test is doing to their students in the classroom."

Chew said he thinks there's got to be a better way to help students reach their potential. "All we have to do is have faith in these kids and work as hard as we can with these kids and their families and they're going to do fine," he said. [How about he does that himself?]


Australia: Literature classes still to be used for Leftist propaganda

TRADITIONAL literature and Shakespeare have made a comeback in the new draft English syllabus for school seniors, but academics and teachers are not happy. Under the proposed shake-up, Year 12 students will have to study in-depth at least one literary novel and a Shakespeare play, as well as the more trendy multi-media works scorned by some literary academics. The new syllabus is slightly more prescriptive on which books and plays should be studied, but critics say it also champions so-called "critical literacy" which encourages students to read texts through an ideological prism rather than for the simple joy of reading.

The current senior English syllabus allowed texts such as Shakespeare and novels to be "studied at different depths for different purposes" over the course of years 11 and 12. But the proposed new version insisted Year 12 students must study 15 to 20 literary texts in-depth, at least one of which should be a "complete novel" and another a complete drama text, "usually a Shakespearean drama".

The planned new syllabus followed a review of the existing syllabus by University of Queensland executive Dean of Arts, Professor Richard Fotheringham, who is an expert on Shakespeare's works.

Griffith University literary historian Professor Pat Buckridge said the draft syllabus paid "lip service" to structural change in how senior English was taught. "It has made an attempt to accommodate what I assume was the review's recommendations, but it is largely cosmetic," he said. "Appreciating texts is still not assessed. Literary criticism is still not a basic requirement."

The new draft syllabus suggested a range of approaches to texts which teachers could use including the perspective of cultural heritage, values some works emphasised more than others and critical literacy, with its social justice and ideology emphasis.

English Teachers Association of Queensland president Garry Collins described the changes as a "step back in time". "It seems to be saying you can choose any approach you like and away you go," he said. "Texts do not exist in a vacuum." Mr Collins said there should be a moratorium on any changes until current reviews were finished and national plans outlined.


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