It's no secret that our nation's kids aren't getting the sexual education they deserve in schools. In more than two-thirds of the country, sex ed isn't even required to be medically accurate. Unfortunately, much as you might think this situation would be better in one of the country's most progressive places—New York—a new report from the city comptroller's office says otherwise.
The report, released Thursday, details the abysmal state of not only sex ed but also health education throughout the city's middle and high schools. Among the most sobering facts is that only 57 percent of eighth graders had gotten a state-mandated semester of health class by the time they graduated, the report found. That semester is supposed to include sex ed. Nine out of ten middle schools didn't even have a teacher specially licensed to teach health education and only 7.6 percent of all health teachers had received any sex ed training in the past two years.
"Most parents expect their schools to be teaching sex ed, and as our report shows, it isn't happening," New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement announcing the report.
While schools in NYC aren't explicitly required to include sex in their health classes—only 24 states require it— the state's Department of Education issued a guidance in 2011 that sex ed be covered for students in grades 6 to 12. And though there's no easy way to tell whether that policy change had any effect, the report notes that rates of teen pregnancy and common sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia had begun to decline in the years after. But any progress there might have been short-lived: In 2015, the STD rate climbed back up, and in the Bronx, teens are still getting pregnant at a higher rate than anywhere else in the state.
And things could get worse before they get better, as the Trump administration has started to dismantle the meager attempts to reform sex ed nationwide. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would end its $200 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, which provides grants to local sex ed programs throughout the country, two years earlier than planned. And despite the national teen birth rate reaching its lowest point yet, the 2018 budget proposal also seeks to shift funding from comprehensive sex ed programs to abstinence-only sex ed programs. These programs not only don't work, but are widely unpopular among both kids and parents.
In spite of all this bad news, the report says there are ways New York—and presumably other states—can pick up the slack. For instance, the state's Department of Education should better enforce existing regulations that every health teacher is licensed before they step in the classroom, even if that means paying for their training. And more radically, the report calls on the state to require sexual education be part of every school's curriculum, perhaps even as early as elementary school (echoing other countries' models, like the Netherlands).
"When just a fraction of eighth grade students are getting mandated instruction, I'm alarmed. That's why I'm calling on the DOE to implement a Chancellor's Regulation that guarantees sexual health education for all middle and high school students," Stringer said. "It's commonsense, it should be codified in the rules, and it should be considered part of a standard classroom education for all—not a luxury for a few,"