Condoms, contraceptives and kindergarten

The school readiness gap between children from affluent nad lower-income families is narrowing, researchers report. Poor kids are starting with better reading and math skills.

Image result for mother child goodnight moon

It could be condoms and contraceptives, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Teen pregnancy is way down in recent years: The teen birth rate has fallen almost by half since 1990, Thompson writes. Adolescents aren’t having less sex, but they’re much more likely to use contraceptives.

As a result, fewer children are being born to young, single, low-income girls and women.

In the 1970s, most mothers — rich or poor — had children in their early 20s, writes Thompson. That’s changed, writes sociologist Robert Putnam in Our Kids. College graduates are marrying and having children in their late 20s and early 30s, “while moms with just a high-school education or less become moms at the average age of 19.”

An astonishing 65 percent of all mothers with no more than a high-school degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth; that figure has tripled since 1980. (By comparison, 90 percent of new moms who finished college are married.) Too often, rich kids have two intentional parents armed with childrearing books and newfangled toys for infants, while poor kids have one accidental parent armed with none of that.

Children born to poor single mothers get less parental attention, writes Thompson. Often the mother is working and the father is absent. The kids miss out on what Putnam calls “Goodnight Moon time.”

Mom: Kids get ‘terror-based sex ed’

Alice Dreger, a sex researcher, sat in on her ninth-grader son’s sex education class, she writes in The Stranger. It wasn’t supposed to be “abstinence-only” sex ed, but sex was depicted as shameful and birth control as so unreliable as to be pointless, she found.  It was “terror-based sex education.”

A P.E. teacher supervised while visiting speakers told students that sex leads to “consequences” — always bad ones.

“Jerry” said he’d started using alcohol and drugs at a young age, then got his girlfriend pregnant when her birth control failed. After 11 years of drug abuse and failure, he met a beautiful, abstinent girl, wooed her chastely, married her and then fathered two children. “If you find one who says ‘no,’ that’s the one you want,” Jerry told the students.

. . . we had learned that sex is associated with drug abuse, drug overdose, disease, unwanted pregnancy—pretty much every horror you can name except shingles and Lawrence Welk.

And that good girls say “no,” and you don’t want you no slut who says “yes.”

The other visiting speaker, “Ms. Thomas,” warned that “it takes only one act of sex to get pregnant.”

I wanted to raise my hand and blurt out, “Not if it’s anal or oral!”

She moved on to a “game.” The game involved everyone getting a number from one to six. She rolled the dice. If your number came up, your condom failed. But your condom didn’t just fail. A pregnancy resulted. And from the pregnancy came a baby. When your number came up, you raised your hand and Ms. Thomas handed you a paper baby.

It took all my willpower not to go up to the regular teacher at this point and ask if there weren’t some scissors in his desk we could use to hand around for paper abortions to prevent all these unwanted paper babies. But I didn’t. Within a few minutes, the entire class was preggers. Even the boys.

In “a progressive school district in a liberal college town,” students are taught to fear sex, Dreger complains.

1-parent families hurt kids, but what can we do?

The sharp rise in single-parent families is linked to a widening education gap, write researchers in Education Next.

Fifty-five percent of black children and 22 percent of whites live in single-parent families.


What can be done? “Encourage young adults to think more about whether, when, and with whom to have children,” writes Isabel Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage, in Purposeful Parenthood.

Strengthening education and job training so more young men are “marriageable” is important, Sawhill writes. So is persuading young people to plan their futures. “Where long-acting reversible contraceptives (or LARCs) have been made more affordable, and women have been educated about their safety and effectiveness, usage has climbed dramatically and unintended pregnancy rates have fallen sharply,” she writes.

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Sawhill and Brookings’ colleague Ron Haskins have identified the “success sequence” for young people: Earn a high school diploma (or more), work full time and wait till you’re at least 21 and married before having a child. Ninety-eight percent of people who do this will live above the poverty line and almost three-quarters will reach the middle class. Three-quarters of those who miss all three success markers will be poor; almost none will be middle class.

Schools can discourage unwed, unplanned parenthood by providing career training and helping young people develop character traits such as drive and prudence, writes Fordham’s Michael Petrilli in How Can Schools Address America’s Marriage Crisis?

Young men who’d enrolled in “career academies” in high school earned more, worked more and were 33 percent more likely to be married as young adults, notes Petrilli, citing a controlled MDRC study. The effect was especially strong for minority males.

City schools dispense morning-after pills

Pregnant girls can get Plan B “morning after” pills at more than 50 high schools, reports the New York Times. Nurses dispense the pills, at no cost, after checking to see if a parent has signed an opt-out form.

After that first time, the girl took Plan B at school two or three more times. She said her mother had not signed the opt-out form, because she had wanted to have sex and so had never given it to her. “My mom, she doesn’t even know they have this stuff,” the girl, a junior from Coney Island, said.

If an independent provider, such as a clinic or hospital, dispenses contraceptives then no parental permission is needed.

Until recently, only those 17 and older could buy Plan B over the counter. But schools in New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland and Colorado let high school girls of any age obtain the drug in school health centers or nurse’s offices.

By contrast, “half of all school-based health clinics are prohibited from handing out any contraception, including condoms,” according to the School-Based Health Alliance.

Critics say the morning-after pill encourages teens to have sex. A Brooklyn 17-year-old who’d used Plan B “less than five times” this year, thinks it does. Like several other students in the Times story, she did not give her parents the opt-out form. She blames two of her pregnancies on her mother, who took her birth control away. Mercifully, the school nurse set up an appointment for her to have an intrauterine device implanted.

Researchers say the morning-after pill doesn’t increase sexual activity, but also doesn’t decrease the pregnancy rate. Teens have unprotected sex, get pregnant, take Plan B, go out and have unprotected sex again, get pregnant again and say, “I just didn’t think I would get pregnant,” says Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, senior medical associate with Gynuity Health Projects.

At Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, a 17-year-old junior from Crown Heights said she had taken Plan B at school three times this year. Despite the threat of disease, which is drilled into students during sex education courses, she was less likely to use condoms because she knew she could get the morning-after pill, she said.

Girls who lack the maturity or intelligence to understand the consequences of their actions aren’t likely to become competent mothers. It’s good these girls are deferring motherhood. But why can’t they use Norplant, an IUD or some other form of reliable, long-term birth control?

Obama’s universal pre-k isn’t universal

President Obama’s pledged “to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America” in the State of the Union speech. His “early learning” plan doesn’t do that, which is a good thing. Obama is focusing on disadvantaged children who may not be learning enough at home to be ready for school.

In short, universal pre-k isn’t universal, writes Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic. Sharing costs with the states, the president would try to improve preschool quality and expand access for four-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. (That tops out at $46,100 for a family of four.) He’d also expand Early Head Start for low-income children from birth through age 3.

Forty-two percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in taxpayer-funded, center-based preschool.

Obama also proposes expanding home visits to high-risk families — young, single mothers — by nurses and social workers. Visits by public health nurses appear to lower the risk of child abuse and neglect — and increase the use of birth control.

Early education helps disadvantaged children — for awhile, writes Emily Richmond, noting the president’s call for states to add full-day kindergarten. She researched that issue in 2007.

The greatest benefits to full-day kindergarten seemed to be for minority children and those growing up in poverty, who were more likely to otherwise arrive unprepared for first grade. But the gains trickled off unless those full-day kindergarten students continued to receive the tailored instructional programs and services they needed as they advanced into the higher grades.

Here’s how I summed the data at the time: “Full-day kindergarten may be a springboard to academic success, but it’s apparently of little use if students are diving into an empty pool.”

Except for a few boutique programs, preschool gains don’t last.  By third grade, Head Start graduates do no better  in school or in social and emotional skills than similar kids who weren’t in the program, according to a federal study that was not released for four years.

Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst asks if we can be “hard-headed” about funding preschool.

Head Start spends about twice as much per child per year as states ($8K per child per year for Head Start vs. $4K for state pre-K). And Head Start includes many program components that are advocated by early childhood experts such as health, nutrition, and parental involvement that are much less prevalent in state pre-K. If a year of Head Start does not improve achievement in elementary school, should we assume that a year of state pre-K does?

Universal pre-k in Georgia produced very slight gains (for the neediest children) at high cost, Whitehurst writes. A Texas pre-k program produced slightly better gains for low-income children.

Teen pregnancy rate hits new low

Teenage pregnancy rates have hit new low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across all racial groups, the birth rate declined by 25 percent overall from 2007 to 2011, the CDC said in a new report. Birth rates for teenagers ages 15 to 17 years was 15.4 per 1,000, 29 percent lower than in 2007, while the rate for teenagers 18 and 19 years old fell to 54.1 per 1,000, which is 25 percent lower than in 2007.

. . . Among different racial and ethnic groups, declines from 2010 to 2011 for 15- to 19-year-olds ranged between 6 percent and 8 percent for white, black, American Indian and Asians. The birth rate for Hispanic teenagers fell 11 percent from 2010 to 2011 and dropped 34 percent from 2007 to 2011, the largest decline of any population group, the CDC said.

Births for teens 15 to 19 dropped 10 percent from 2010 to 2011, to 329,797, the fewest since 1946.

Girls are waiting longer to have sex, Ed Week notes. When they’re sexually active, more teens are using highly effective birth control methods.

Marriage 'isn't a priority' for parents

Unwed motherhood is way up, primarily because women in their 20s and 30s don’t see marriage as essential or because single women nearing 40 prefer a sperm donor to a marriage of convenience. Nearly four of 10 babies are born out of wedlock, up from one third in 2002 and double the 1980 rate.

“It’s been a huge increase — a dramatic increase,” said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which documented the shift in detail.

. . . “I think this is the tipping point,” said Rosanna Hertz, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wellesley College. “This is becoming increasingly the norm. The old adage that ‘first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage’ just no longer holds true.”

The unwed birth rate is highest for Hispanics at 106 births to per 1,000 unmarried women; the rate is 72 per 1,000 blacks, 32 per 1,000 whites and 26 per 1,000 Asians.

European rates are even higher: 66 percent in Iceland, 55 percent in Sweden, 50 percent in France and 44 percent in Britain.

About 40 percent of unwed mothers live with the baby daddy, at least at first, earlier research shows.

(Heidy) Gonzalez, the mother who lives with her children’s father in Mount Rainier, said marriage has not loomed as a necessity for them. “Time goes by and we think about other stuff — and we think about rent,” she said. This holds true, she said, for most of her friends. “Most of the people I know just live with their baby’s father or boyfriend and don’t get married,” she said.

When the going gets tough, unwed fathers often find it easy to leave the relationship — and the kids. Divorced dads have a much better record of involvement with their kids than never-married dads.

There’s little or no stigma in unwed motherhood. But it remains a bad deal for the mothers and a very bad deal for their children, who are much more likely to grow up in poverty and without a father’s love and care.

In New Carrollton, Natrice McKenzie, 25, a teller supervisor at a bank, said she did not set out to become a single mother but has no regrets.

“Getting married was something I had in mind, but that basically was not what happened,” said McKenzie, pregnant with her third child.

Something else didn’t happen either: birth control. I can understand one unplanned pregnancy. But three by the age of 25?

Virginity pledgers end up in bed

Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are as likely to have premarital sex as similar teens who don’t take the pledge, a new study concludes.  However, the pledgers “are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control” when they have sex.

Researcher Janet Rosenbaum studied teens from 1996 to 2001, comparing pledgers and non-pledgers with similar characteristics on  100 variables, “including their attitudes and their parents’ attitudes about sex and their perception of their friends’ attitudes about sex and birth control.”

“This study came about because somebody who decides to take a virginity pledge tends to be different from the average American teenager. The pledgers tend to be more religious. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be less positive about sex. There are some striking differences,” Rosenbaum said. “So comparing pledgers to all non-pledgers doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

By 2001,  there was no significant difference in the sexual behavior of those who’d pledged virginity and those who’d abstained from promises.