Updated: Jun 28, 2021
Together, we made real change for Texas youth.
On November 20, for the first time in more than 20 years, the State Board of Education updated the minimum curriculum standards that guide health education, including sex education, for Texas students. This process involved more than a year of intensive advocacy from many dedicated individuals, and the Texas is Ready coalition was proud to spearhead this work.
Along the way, there were both victories and disappointments. The new curriculum standards (known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS) represent a significant improvement over the old version, offering critical education on topics like contraception, STI prevention, and healthy relationships to all Texas students. Sadly, the board majority declined to include standards on consent or information addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ youth.
We celebrate the important wins that we accomplished together, and look forward to continued advocacy to address the work we still need to do.
What the new TEKS include
Age-appropriate information on key topics like human anatomy, reproduction, puberty, menstruation, and postpartum depression.
Contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the HPV vaccination. This information will be offered at the middle and high school levels.
Healthy relationships, including topics like communication and recognizing warning signs of abusive relationships.
Standards that address emerging topics like sexting, online safety, cyberbullying, and human trafficking.
What they don’t include
Information on consent. The standards do go beyond refusal and teach the importance of respecting the boundaries of other people. However, a majority of SBOE members voted to remove standards on consent. This is a critical topic for the prevention of sexual assault and abuse.
Inclusivity. Unfortunately, the new TEKS do not include content that addresses the needs of LGBTQ+ youth. The board rejected simple amendments that would teach respect for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. All youth deserve to feel seen in the classroom and receive instruction relevant to them.
Although these statewide minimum curriculum standards don’t directly address consent or LGBTQ+ inclusivity, school districts still have the option to teach these critical topics.
Public opinion polling data conducted in March by the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in March found widespread, bipartisan support for “abstinence-plus” sex education, which includes content on contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and healthy relationships in addition to abstinence. The polling data also found strong support for teaching about consent and teaching content that is respectful of LGBTQ+ youth.
Research shows this type of evidence-based sex education can effectively reduce teen pregnancy rates and does not make teens more likely to become sexually active. Texas currently has the 9th highest teen birth rate in the nation, with about 2.4% of teens aged 15-19 giving birth in 2019. A baby was born to a teen parent once every 22 minutes in Texas in 2019.
Health education is required in middle school but is elective in high school, meaning many students choose not to take high school health classes and many districts do not even offer it. With the revised standards, all students could receive age-appropriate content on reproductive health in middle school.
The TEKS may be finalized, but our work is not yet complete. In 2021, the SBOE will adopt instructional materials for the new Health TEKS. We need sex education experts to apply to serve on the panel that will review instructional materials this summer. It's critical that we have highly informed individuals serving on these important workgroups. If you have expertise in this area, please consider applying or passing this information on to colleagues.
Though the new standards aren’t perfect, they represent a real change in the right direction. It is a significant victory and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of a future generation of young Texans.
Thank you for your support along the way.
Jen Biundo is the Director of Policy and Data for the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She loves a good data visualization, evidence-based public health priorities, and analyzing ballot returns by precinct. She’s the proud mother of two kids who are enrolled in Texas public schools, including a middle schooler who kind of wishes his mom had a normal job that didn’t involve sex education.