IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Want to help teen moms? Enforce Title IX

The landmark Title IX law turns 40 this week.

The landmark Title IX law turns 40 this week. While for most it probably conjures up images of women in sports gear, it also bars discrimination against pregnant teens and student parents.

Under the rule, schools must provide equal access to school and extracurricular activities for teen parents, and if separate programs are offered they must be voluntary. It also provides for a “pregnancy leave,” as deemed medically necessary and requires schools to “treat pregnancy as they treat other medical conditions.”

These protections should make it easier for determined teens to graduate from high school even when faced with the challenges of sleepless nights, finding and paying for daycare, or even being allowed the time to breastfeed during the school day. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has ranked each state according to its efforts to improve the outcomes of pregnant or parenting students based on state laws and policies, including whether dropout prevention efforts are offered and whether the state requires school districts to offer the programs.

Policies vary widely state to state, NWLC found. Less than half of the states offer specific instruction services  to homebound or hospitalized parents, and almost half did not offer a definition of excused absences or exemptions from school that were broad enough to encompass student parents. Only six states address teen parents in their attendance policies and 11 states maintain easily accessible directories of local teen-parent programs.

"The majority of states have little or no laws, policies, or programs specifically designed to protect and support pregnant and parenting students," NWLC wrote in its report, "A Pregnancy Test for Schools." 


California, Florida, and Oregon garner the most points from NWLC, with California coming in first. Idaho takes last with a negative score, while Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, and Nebraska all score an abysmal 1 at the bottom of the ranking.

(Click on the full chart above to find your state.)

NWLC points to Cal-SAFE, which offers an integrated community- and school-based program to teen parents, as part of the reason for California's high ranking. An impressive 73% of students that participated in the program completed high school and another 63% said they planned to pursue further education or employment. 

Graduation is the goal

The statistics of teen mothers graduating with a high school diploma in comparison to those that do not have kids while still in school, never mind how many make it to a college degree, need improvement to say the least. The most recent figures from Child Trends show that 50% of teen mothers will gain a high school diploma by the age of 22, compared to 90% of those who do not have children during their teen years.

It’s good news that teen birth rates are declining, but in order to ensure the success of these young parents, and their offspring, as productive, working, educated citizens, Title IX has to be more than respected, as the NWLC points out. Schools and states must take an active role in ensuring programs are created, enforced, and measured.

NWLC makes several suggestions on ways states can improve, including a statewide definition of excused absences that includes pregnancy- and parent-related absences, designating a Title IX coordinator, and state-level requirements for school districts to adopt anti-discrimination policies and offer programming to support teen parents.

On The Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday, one such success example was highlighted: the Catherine Ferguson Academy. The Detroit high school, which serves teen mothers, was at one time threatened with closure, but as Rachel Maddow reports, all 24 graduating seniors have applied to college this year.

The school offers daycare and pre-school for the students' kids, and operates a farm on the premises. More importantly, it boasts a 90% graduation rate. 

Michigan ranked 23rd with Georgia on the NWLC's state-by-state ranking.