The Importance of Education for Pregnant and Parenting Teens: A Two Part Series

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Welcome to the first in a two-part series examining the importance of education for pregnant and parenting teens current educational challenges facing teen parents, federal and state statutes that are in place governing their education, and ways in which schools and communities can support and encourage these young parents. Part I of this series attempts to answer the question, “What is the Problem?” Part II will delve into the various ways in which we can help pregnant and parenting teens succeed. (Please note that educational outcomes for teen parents may suffer for both the young mothers and fathers, but that for the purpose of this post, we will be examining the outcomes and statistics for mothers only.)

Although many of us likely do not think about it on a daily basis, having a high school diploma is essentially a passport to opportunity. A high school diploma does not simply give one greater access to colleges and universities, but a high school diploma also leads to a greater chance of finding employment and stable housing and a decreased chance of both being in poverty and having poor developmental outcomes for the child of the dropout. Poor educational outcomes also tend to have a generational effect.

 Students after graduation with their diplomas.

This issue is especially prevalent for the 18,000 plus teens that give birth every year in North Carolina (which has the 14thhighest rate in the United States in the country). Both the National Women’s Law Center and the National Campaign have done quite a bit of research on the importance of education for young women (and pregnant and parenting teens in particular). Their results are eye opening:

  • One in two high school dropouts between the ages of 25 and 64 are unemployed.
  • In 2006, adult women without a high school diploma earned an average of $15,500 a year. This amount is over $6,000 less annually than women with their high school diploma.
  • Less than 2% of teen mothers obtain their college degree by age thirty.
  • Only two thirds of children born to teen mothers earned a high school diploma, compared to 81% of children born to older parents.
  • Children of teen mothers often do not perform as well on other measures of child development (i.e. language, communication, and cognition) and are 50% more likely to repeat a grade versus children born to older parents.

Clearly a high school education is extremely important to success later in life, yet it is a fundamental piece missing in the lives of many pregnant and parenting teens. The National Campaign found that 51% of teen moms have a high school diploma, compared to 89% of girls who are not teen moms. Furthermore, only 38% of teen moms have their diploma before they turn 18. (To help put things in perspective, the dropout rate for all females in North Carolina in 2003-2004 was 28%. This means that for every 100 girls in the state, about 72 graduate.) A survey conducted by the Gates Foundation of high school dropouts across the country discovered that for one-half of the females interviewed becoming a parent played a role in their decisions to leave school; 33 percent of these women said it was a “major factor.”

However, the decision to drop out does not exist in a bubble. This same survey by the Gates Foundation found that those teens who left school because they became a parent were more likely than any other group of dropouts to say that they would have “worked harder if their schools had demanded more of them and provided the necessary support.” In order to best succeed, teens need the support of their family, their school, and their community. Teens require firm policies and practices in place that enable them to graduate, rather than ones that simply let teens fall by the wayside.

 Teens require firm policies and practices in place that enable them to graduate, rather than ones that simply let teens fall by the wayside.

Teen parents face some extraordinary trials that require community wide commitment and support. There exist five big challenges that seem to repeat for pregnant and parenting teens in a variety of settings:

  • Re-enrolling teen parents who have been out of school following the
  • Finding childcare and transportation for their child so that the teen parent can go to school.
  • Finding the money for childcare, as inadequate funding exists for childcare subsidies.
  • Finding the money for transportation; vouchers for such are limited due to budget cuts.
  • The need to advocate to school administrators who are often unaware of the federal and state laws that mandate equal educational opportunities for pregnant and parenting teens and may simply want the problem to “go away” by having the teen parent attend an alternative school or receive their G.E.D.

Luckily, there are ways to help at the local, state, and federal level. Missed educational opportunities are not an issue that can be simply swept under the table, but rather is an issue that necessitates time and support. In our next post we will examine the modes of help and support which exist for pregnant and parenting teens.


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