By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) Apr 06 – Public schools in the United States are making “little progress” in expanding instruction in how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, a new federal study concluded.
Between 2008 and 2010, the percentage of public schools teaching key topics on prevention did not increase in the 45 states surveyed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In middle schools, 11 states saw declines during the two-year period and no state saw an increase, the CDC said. The level of instruction was stable in high schools.
“Little progress is how we’re describing it,” Laura Kann, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters.
The study did not explain why this type of instruction appears to be stagnating, Kann said. “The decision about what gets taught is a local decision,” she said. “We asked schools what they are doing. We don’t ask why.”
Public school instruction can be effective in lowering rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, said Kann.
“We have evidence that teaching these topics can contribute to reduction in risk for HIV, STDs and pregnancy,” she said.
The CDC survey found that the percentage of schools teaching all 11 of its suggested prevention topics in grades 6, 7, or 8 ranged from 12.6 percent in Arizona to 66.3 percent in New York.
Schools teaching eight of the suggested topics in grades 9-12 ranged from 45.3 percent in Alaska to 96.4 percent in New Jersey.
Suggested topics for both middle school and high school include the benefits of sexual abstinence.
The push for higher test scores in recent years could mean that schools are less likely to expand health education, Monica Rodriguez, president and chief executive of the nonprofit group, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, told Reuters.
Also, the question of how best to teach students about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases remains a divisive issue in many areas, Rodriguez said.
“For many teachers, it’s often about fear, fear of controversy,” she said.