Sociologist Kenneth Ferraro argues that teaching “abstinence education” in schools in Indiana has resulted in a higher scores and better performance on standardized math tests in those school. After evaluating 42 schools, Ferraro compares schools with and without this specific type of education called PEERS, where high school students came and talked with students in 6th to 8th grade about the value of remaining abstinent. The schools with PEERS had better overall academic results.
This finding stands in curious contradiction to the many studies that have shown conclusively that abstinence only sex education has no effect on teen pregnancy or teen sexual activity, whereas comprehensive sex education reduces the rate of teen pregnancy and may slightly reduce the rate of sexual activity. If, in fact, abstinence only programs have no effect sexual activity, why would they miraculously have an effect on the ability to do math? Unless I’ve missed something, abstinence education does not come with complex formulas or problem solving homework.
This leaves us with several possibilities:
1. Ferraro is lying, or somehow “cleaning” the data in a way that voids the results. I actually don’t think that is the case. I am guessing the Ferraro’s data is valid, but that he might be measuring the impact of something other than the abstinence message.
2. The regular interaction with high school students who show that they care about these younger students is having a positive affect on students which translates as better grades. My guess, having just read about the study and not being involved directly, is that the very fact that these younger students were given extra attention and support has helped them be more motivated to do well in school. If this is true, it is a fantastic finding. It means that we might be able to set up large scale programs were high school students spend time with middle school students and give them attention and help.
3. Some other factor that we are not seeing at this moment. We are missing some information here. Were these schools participating in other programs? Along with the PEERS program, was there some other remedial tutoring occurring?
As it currently stands, the outcome of this study is a little suspect. I’m hoping more information and follow-up is provided.