National NOW Foundation Times  >> Fall 2007 >> Women Make Progress Under Title IX, Barriers Persist

Women Make Progress Under Title IX, But Barriers Persist

By Jan Erickson, Director of Foundation Programs

NOW Foundation is committed to supporting Title IX, under which women and girl's participation in sports has grown exponentially.
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NOW Foundation is committed to supporting Title IX, under which women and girl's participation in sports has grown exponentially.

Though we have made significant progress in increasing women's educational attainment over the last three decades, there are still many serious barriers to equal opportunity in academic as well as athletic programs.

Conservative initiatives are steadily eroding Title IX's goal of assuring equal education for both girls and boys. These are outlined in "Title IX at 35 - Beyond the Headlines!" a new assessment by the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) of the progress made toward educational equality since Title IX was adopted in 1972.

The 121 page document examines developments in the areas of Athletics, Science/Technology/Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Career and Technical Education, Employment, Sexual Harassment and Single-Sex Education. NOW Foundation contributed to a final chapter regarding recent inroads made against equal educational opportunity by campaigns to promote sex-segregated classrooms and schools.

Regulations issued by the Department of Education in 2006 allow schools to provide single-sex programs without adequate protection against stereotyping and other forms of discrimination. Some schools have begun to take advantage of this, even though there is little empirical evidence that educational outcomes improve in single-sex schools.

The regulations fail to recognize that women and girls have historically been treated inequitably, and received fewer resources, when programs are separated on the basis of sex. Numerous headlines report that Title IX is under attack from critics who claim that there is a "boy crisis" and that the law now favors girls and women at the expense of boys and men.

However, studies show that the academic performance of both sexes has continued to improve under Title IX, and that girls' gains have not come at boys' expense. It is mainly in inner-city, under-funded schools where boys are not gaining, but this is a problem of lack of necessary resources -- not competition from girls.

Girls' and women's participation in sports has grown exponentially under Title IX, lending to the success of many female Olympic stars and healthier, more active and confident young women. But statistical data show that while Title IX has opened up the playing fields, women and girls still lag behind men and boys in participation, resources and coaching. Nevertheless, opponents continue to claim -- ignoring the facts -- that Title IX policies set forth quotas that are taking participation opportunities and resources away from boys and men.

In March 2005, without any notice or opportunity for public comment, the Bush Department of Education authorized schools to use email surveys as the sole measure of girls' and women's interest in playing sports. This creates a major loophole through which schools can evade their obligation to provide girls and women with opportunities in athletics.

In recent years, interest has increased about the progress-or lack of it-that women are making in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. Women still only earn 20% to 25% of degrees in physics, computer sciences and engineering, and the culture of STEM fields still isolates and excludes girls and women. This exclusion has significant negative consequences for women's economic security, and fails to develop women's skills in fields with a high demand for skilled labor at good wages.

Sexual harassment is sex discrimination that is prohibited by Title IX. Even though students who suffer from sexual harassment may sue for damages in court under Title IX, schools have an obligation to end harassment that goes beyond their monetary liability. Sexual harassment remains a very serious problem in our schools.

One study found that four of five students in 8th through 11th grade--both boys and girls--reported that they had experienced some type of sexual harassment in school, with 62% of female college students reporting sexual harassment at their colleges or universities. Institutions at all levels of education must address this problem by ensuring that they have effective policies and procedures in place to address sexual harassment complaints.

"Beyond the Headlines!" contains dozens of recommendations to address these and other problems in education that discourage and deter girls and young women.

Most notable among those is the recommendations for the federal government to expand oversight of Title IX enforcement and to increase resources and incentives for research and development of effective gender equity programs. A Congressional briefing to discuss the report's findings is planned for early 2008. The full 121-page report will be released soon on the websites of NOW Foundation and NCWGE in downloadable format.