This post appears here courtesy of the John Locke Foundation
. The author of this post is Kaitlyn Shepherd
- Standards writers have released the first draft of proposed revisions to North Carolina's Healthful Living standards, which include Physical Education and Health/Sex Ed
- The standards writing team could make three changes to improve the initial draft by upholding parents and guardians as trusted adults, promoting abstinence until marriage, and teaching students how to avoid risky choices
- North Carolinians can submit feedback or suggest revisions to the draft until Sept. 18
During the monthly meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Education on Aug. 2 and 3, representatives of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) presented a brief update on the process of revising the state's content standards for Healthful Living, which encompass both Physical and Health Education.
According to the presentation, the first round of stakeholder surveys was opened for feedback on June 5 and will remain available until Sept. 18. Then, a data review committee will analyze the responses and prepare a report with recommended changes.
After DPI released the first draft of proposed revisions at the end of May, the John Locke Foundation's Center for Effective Education (CEE) briefly reviewed the draft standards and observed that they were fairly innocuous. We addressed how the delay in releasing the initial draft had raised concerns about the extent to which the standards would promote instruction about gender identity and transgender ideology to children. As Bob Luebke, director of the CEE, had written previously, incorporating such instruction into the standards would be unwise because of the unsettled science behind gender identity, growing public opposition to the topic, and the long-term consequences for students. Our initial analysis discussed how the first draft included no specific references to sexual orientation or gender identity in the text of the standards.
In our initial review of the standards, we also noted that although the proposed standards did well to instruct students to explain the benefits of delaying sexual activity for young people, they undermined that goal elsewhere by asking students to describe the effective use of FDA-approved contraceptives. We expressed reservations about the extent to which elements of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) would be incorporated into the standards and associated supplemental materials.
A closer review of the first draft of the proposed K-9 Health standards shows that although they include some beneficial content, they could be improved in three ways.
1. Emphasize children's parents or guardians as their primary source for health-related information and advice
Standards writers should be commended for encouraging children to seek help when they have a problem or need information. In nine places, the draft standards ask students to identify a "trusted adult"
to whom they can go for guidance. To strengthen the standards, however, the standards writing team should add language that encourages kids to view their parents or guardians as their primary source for health-related information and advice.
For example, the draft standards would ask first graders to "[i]dentify trusted adults within [their] home, school and community who can be contacted when feeling threatened or harmed"
(p. 4). The objective could be strengthened by directing kids to identify "parents, guardians, or other trusted adults"
who can help them.
Similarly, the draft standards would teach seventh graders to "[i]mplement strategies to seek help from a trusted adult for self-destructive thoughts or behaviors"
(p. 17). Better would be to emphasize parental involvement: "Implement strategies to seek help from a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult for self-destructive thoughts or behaviors."
As those who love their children the most, parents deserve to be closely involved in the sensitive and important endeavor of supporting their child's health and well-being. Emphasizing the role of parents and guardians in providing health-related information and advice is one way to reinforce parents' fundamental right to direct their child's physical, mental, and emotional health.
2. Bring the standards into compliance with state statutes by promoting premarital abstinence as the expected standard for students
Under North Carolina law, school districts must provide a reproductive health and safety program beginning in seventh grade. Any such program must "[t]each that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children"
(§115C-81.30(a)(1)). Instruction must also "[t]each the positive benefits of abstinence until marriage and the risks of premarital sexual activity"
The version of the standards currently being implemented in schools does this well; it references the expectation and benefits of premarital abstinence five times throughout the standards and objectives for middle schoolers. For example, seventh graders should be able to "[i]dentify the positive benefits of abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage"
(p. 8). Sixth graders are asked to "[e]xplain the impact of early sexual activity outside of marriage on physical, mental, emotional, and social health"
The draft standards being proposed by DPI, on the other hand, don't promote the expectation or benefits of premarital abstinence as required by law. Although they do promote the benefits of abstinence generally and explain the risks of early sexual activity, they don't contain any references to marriage as the expected context for sexual activity.
For example, one proposed standard would expect seventh graders to be able only to "[e]xplain the physical, social and emotional benefits of choosing to delay sexual activity (abstinence) for young people"
(p. 18). One objective for freshmen would be, "Evaluate skills and strategies to promote not only delaying participation in sexual activity (abstinence), but also safer sex options (condom use, birth control methods, and obtaining consent to engage in sexual activity, etc.)"
Research has shown that promoting the standard of abstinence until marriage can help people avoid out-of-wedlock childbearing, sexually transmitted diseases, future marital dissolution, and negative emotional consequences. Additionally, 97% of young people who follow the "success sequence"
- finishing high school, landing a full-time job, and marrying before having children - stay out of poverty in adulthood.
The standards writing team could promote these benefits and conform the standards to state law by adding language that clarifies that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for students' behavior.
3. Reinforce instruction about refusal skills to help students avoid unhealthy situations
The draft standards and objectives for Health fall under five general content "strands,"
one of which covers "Interpersonal Communications and Healthy Relationships."
At least two objectives under this strand would teach skills that could increase students' risk of finding themselves in an unhealthy situation.
Under the draft standards, sixth graders would be instructed to "[d]emonstrate refusal and negotiation skills that avoid or reduce health risks"
(p. 15). Better would be for instruction to focus simply on refusal skills that would help students completely avoid preventable health risks.
Freshmen would be directed to evaluate strategies for becoming or remaining abstinent, yet they would also be asked to assess "safer sex options,"
such as condom use and obtaining consent before engaging in sexual activity (p. 24).
Standards writers could improve instruction under the Healthy Relationships strand by replacing instruction that helps students merely reduce avoidable health risks with instruction that helps them avoid these risks altogether. Doing so would eliminate apparent contradictions within the text of the standards and bring them into closer alignment with state law, which requires reproductive health and safety programs to include instruction on "awareness of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and risk reduction"
The first draft of proposed updates to North Carolina's Healthful Living standards contains some good content, but the inclusion of such content doesn't make vigiliance, scrutiny, and public input unnecessary. Revisions to the initial draft could improve the standards' clarity and specificity, two statutory requirements for content standards.
The initial draft could be improved by:
- Emphasizing children's parents or guardians as their primary source for health-related information and advice
- Bringing the standards into compliance with state statutes by upholding premarital abstinence as the expected standard for students
- Reinforcing instruction about refusal skills to help students better avoid unhealthy situations
The drafts of the Health and Physical Education standards are available online. North Carolinians can submit feedback on the Physical Education, K-5 Health, or 6-9 Health standards here
, and here
, respectively, until the surveys close on Sept. 18, 2023.