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Title IX at 40: More Important Than Ever


More than any other federal legislation, Title IX has dra­matically changed the course of education for female students and leaders in academics and athletics in the United States.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including on the basis of sex stereotypes, in ed­ucational programs and activities that receive federal funds. Title IX benefits both boys and girls in its efforts to promote and establish gender equity in schools. 

On June 23, 2012, Title IX celebrates its 40th anniversary. It is so important to celebrate this anniversary because it means more than what has happened in college sports and in the professional world of women’s sports. While Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletics, the purpose of the statute is much broader.

The impact of Title IX has arguably been most felt in athletics through the tremendous increase in women’s and girls participa­tion. However, just as impressive is the law’s influence in opening educational opportunities that were previously closed to women. 

In 1971, before Title IX, women earned less than 10 percent of law and medical degrees, and just 13 percent of doctoral degrees. Today, women earn nearly half of all law and medical degrees, and more than 50 percent of all doctoral degrees. And, this advance­ment is attributed to the revolutionary change in women’s entry in unprecedented numbers into all areas of society. The law remains critical as it contains guarantees of equality for women and girls in other areas of education beyond athletics. 

Girls who engage in sports reap a myriad of social benefits. Par­ticipation in sports – no matter when experienced in life – provides females with the benefits of physical fitness and overall health. It builds leadership skills, teaches teamwork and develops character - among many other attributes. 

Furthermore, the value of girls playing sports has been well-documented in numerous studies. It has been shown to decrease obesity, increase educational and employment opportunities, and lead to higher self-esteem. In addition, involving young females in sports has shown to reduce prejudice against women, which al­lows for more extensive social integration into society. This devel­opment increases networking, job opportunities and social opportunities in general. 

The Wharton Business School conducted a study that showed how an increased opportunity in sports for women actually resulted in an increase for them in the labor force as well. The study re­vealed that girls who play sports have a greater chance of employ­ment later in life and also receive salaries 14-19 percent higher than those who did not participate in sports. 

Participation in sports builds endurance – both physically and mentally. Goal-setting plays a part in most every sport, and those who participate learn how to push themselves toward overcoming barriers and reaching those goals. Values and mindsets learned through participation in sports eventually become part of an indi­vidual’s practices and habits, and mesh with other parts of their lives in order to enable them to achieve more professionally.

However, now 40 years later, a gender gap still exists in this country. Women hold far fewer management positions than men do and earn only 77 cents for every dollar that a male counterpart makes. Some claim that a “glass ceiling” exists for women in the workplace. And, although there has been a whopping 904 percent increase in the numbers of girls playing high school sports since Title IX’s inception, there are still 1.3 million fewer girls participat­ing in high school sports.

Title IX compliance and enforcement at the high school level could be even more critical than at the college level. While much of the conversation about Title IX and its enforcement has been centered on the collegiate level, it is really about what happens at the K-12 or grassroots levels that prepares or does not prepare young girls to want to be involved in sports and to gain all of the benefits of that participation. 

In order to combat the discrimination and prejudice that exists in society, participation in sports can be the catalyst for change. The courts have explained that Title IX was enacted in order to rem­edy such discrimination that may result from stereotyped notions of female’s interests and abilities. Also, it may be argued that in­terests and abilities rarely develop in a vacuum, but rather as a func­tion of opportunity and experience. 

Title IX is not a “sports law.” It is an education law. Athletics in American schools, which is an extension of the classroom, is an in­tegral part of the educational process. Educators cannot afford to limit opportunities and potential for some. In the truest sense, gen­der equity requires specific action to create conditions that provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for all student athletes and enable achievement and career outcomes without re­gard to gender. 

It is time for everyone to understand and fully embrace this law. The vital point to remember is that it is important to continue to support the athletic ambition of girls and boys while not curtailing the progress of one over the other. For schools, this will call for good governance, fairness and ethical judgment from educational leaders and decision-makers to ensure that boys and girls share the classroom and playing fields. 

Title IX’s intent is to ensure that male and female athletes have equal access to all that athletics offers: competition, scholarships, coaching, friendships, health and wellness, and leadership oppor­tunities. School districts need to first concentrate on preparing stu­dents for the academic challenges that lay ahead, but they also must develop a long-range strategic plan to institute the elements of education that go beyond the textbooks.

Simply put, let’s do the right thing for all young people! 

Peg Pennepacker, CAA, is athletic director at State College Area School District, State College, Pennsylvania, and has been in public education for 31 years and a high school athletic director for 21 years. She is an advocate for Title IX at the high school level and serves as the Title IX consultant for the Pennsylvania Athletic Directors Association. 


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