|Back to June Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 173||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JUNE 2000|
Nosy 'Evaluations' Could |
Hurt Abstinence Programs
The bad news is that opponents are trying to undermine abstinence-until-marriage curricula through evaluations. "Some promoters of Planned Parenthood-style sex education are gaining access to public funds for the supposed purpose of evaluating abstinence programs," Mrs. Sullivan explains. She cites as an example the contract recently awarded to Mathematica Policy Research Inc. - worth $4 - $6 million - to evaluate a half dozen abstinence programs. "This is a significant outlay of taxpayer dollars for just six individual program evaluations involving 500 to 1500 students each," she points out.
The proposed tool for conducting this research is the "Teen Activities and Attitudes Study" questionnaire, which abstinence advocates emphasize is inconsistent with the abstinence law, Title V, Sec. 510(b)(2)(A) (H), because it probes students about personal concerns, plans, attitudes, family life, sexual activity, and contraceptive use. It includes explicit questions about the number of sexual partners students have had, whether or not and how often they use contraceptives, and whether or not they have ever been pregnant. (See Survey)
"This nosy, personal questionnaire has nothing to do with the wholesome content of the abstinence message and is irrelevant to the way abstinence education is taught," Mrs. Sullivan asserts. "Our concern is that this questionnaire is designed to undermine the abstinence message and justify comprehensive sex education."
A draft copy of a document from the Educational Guidance Institute, a leading supporter of abstinence education, explains that the survey's explicit sex questions may not be "age appropriate," "will violate the privacy of students (especially non-sexually active students)" and "will be very controversial with parents and school administrators."
The document further notes that "if proponents of abstinence education as outlined in Title V help Mathematica water down the survey questions to make them age appropriate, it is likely that the questions will be too vague to measure behavior change and show effectiveness. When the American Medical Association (AMA), et al., attack the research, Mathematica will argue that it was the 'right wing' that forced them to water down the questions to avoid political controversy."
Title V - the law
The push for evaluation
At a public health seminar in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, Rebecca Maynard, Ph.D., Director, Title V Abstinence Education Program Evaluation for Mathematica, revealed in a workshop entitled "Issues and Challenges in Teen Pregnancy Prevention Efforts" that "what we want from the abstinence outcome is better contraceptive use and lower teen pregnancy rates." An overhead displayed during the workshop claimed: "There is NO research to support or challenge abstinence-only education."
At a meeting in early March with William A. Smith, Director of Public Policy for the Sex Information Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), abstinence advocates were told that his organization and others with similar views initiated the idea of a national evaluation of abstinence programs. He predicted that Title V will be reauthorized, but indicated his opposition to the additional $20 million requested by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) for abstinence education.
"Not only should Title V receive funding, but we should be directing the dollars earmarked for evaluation toward more abstinence programs," counters Kathleen Sullivan. "The abstinence message is salable, makes sense, and they know it's working. Project Reality and others have conducted program evaluations in the past. The current demand from schools and parents, along with the positive response from teens, are proof that this message is both needed and wanted."