Earlier today, RH Reality Check posted an article about new updates to the Office of Adolescent Health's (OAH) list of approved evidence-based programs. The list - previously occupied by credible, proven programs - now includes one of the more disturbing excuses for sex ed floating around in American schools: Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education.
Our beef with including Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program is two-fold:
First, Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education is just a terrible program. It lies to young people about sex, gender, relationships, and more. We have ethical problems with that. On top of that, the program doesn't even work! The OAH's own review of the evaluation detailed problems with the program's evaluation methodology and showed the program had little positive impact on participants. (Note: Other programs - even other abstinence-only programs - had a bigger impact.)
Second - and this is where we feel burned - including bad programs taints the whole menu! In our day-to-day work, we use menus of evidence-based programs like the one offered by OAH to help local community groups and schools pick the program that meets their needs. Not only do these groups want a program that works, they need to think about cost, demographic, participant age, setting... Basically, the lists give us the ability to say, "Everything on the menu here is good. Let's talk about what you want." We can't do that with the OAH list anymore.
So, how does something so fishy end up on an otherwise stellar menu? That, I can't answer for sure.
What I do know is this:
- From our experience, abstinence-education groups like the National Abstinence Education Association have lobbied hard against government spending on effective teen pregnancy prevention programs. According to their 990 form, Heritage Community Services (the group that wrote and sells the Heritage Keepers Curriculum) makes $5,000 in annual donations to the NAEA.
- Any organization selling a curriculum and training on a specific curriculum stands to make a lot of money by being on an approved list. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: Many curricula take teams of people and years of research and evaluation to develop. Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education doesn't have that kind of background. Heritage Community Services' 990 shows they rake in about $1.4 million from government grants and sales revenue - a much easier thing to do when you're on an approved list.
- There's a lot on the line: OAH's entire Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is wrapped up in that Prevention and Public Health Fund being used to pay for the GOP's attempted student loan bill. When your department is on the chopping block, adding one fishy program gives you a little more leverage with that Congressman who says, "I'm an abstinence kinda guy."
My hunch might be baseless. But I've been around long enough to know that adding one tiny, fishy program to a list can seem like an innocuous response to a whole lot of money, pressure, and politics.
A lot of great bloggers and reporters have written on this since yesterday. For more background, please check out this great coverage from Mother Jones, Healthy Teen Network, and RH Reality Check. And, ICYMI, Advocates for Youth has produced a special Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education version of their famed Rainbow Bear video.