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Title IX: Celebrating 40 years of gender equity in schools and on the athletic field

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of a piece of legislation that changed education in America forever.

On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act. It included the now celebrated Title IX, which reads in part:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The significance of Title IX really can’t be overemphasized: It changed just about everything, opening opportunities for all students — girls and boys — that previously hadn’t existed.

“Programs or activities” that fall under the Title IX umbrella include state and local government departments and agencies, colleges, universities, vocational schools and all school systems that receive federal assistance. Even corporations and private businesses must comply with Title IX if they receive any federal funding or if they are “principally engaged in the business of providing education, health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation.”

Entities controlled by religious organizations are not subject to Title IX. Nor are military training institutions, fraternities or sororities or voluntary youth service organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts and the YMCA and YWCA.

Title IX is probably most known for its impact on athletics and sports, but it has also affected career education, sexual harassment, the overall learning environment, standardized testing, scholarship opportunities, and employment.

Athletics

Title IX “really wasn’t designed with athletics in mind … but it had a tremendous impact on them,” said Kim Kus, Weston’s physical education and health instructional leader for K-12.

Ms. Kus began her career in education as a health and P.E. teacher in Michigan in 1978, just a few years after Title IX went into effect. She comes from a family of physical education teachers (including her grandmother and grandfather), so girls and sports were a natural combination for her — but she knows her situation was unique.

The biggest change Ms. Kus saw in the classroom from when she was growing up and also from when she did her student teaching, was that health and P.E. classes used to be separated by gender. The year after Title IX was signed, gym classes became co-ed.

Because most of the teachers had been in co-ed classes in college, it was not so strange from their perspective — although some of the older teachers struggled with it a bit, Ms. Kus said. But it was definitely an adjustment for many of the kids.

Early on, she saw some issues with the level of competitiveness in gym classes, but, as a teacher in the Weston schools since 1993, issues with co-ed classes are now practically non-existent, she said.

“What’s so nice about the way [Title IX] has unfolded is it’s the right thing to do. Boys and girls are not just different, all people are different and it [addresses that and] meets the needs of everybody, and gives everybody an opportunity to participate,” Ms. Kus said.

Sports

Students in school today have never known education, and in particular, sports education and participation, without Title IX protections. Girls on the soccer or lacrosse field, or those working towards a swimming or basketball scholarship don’t find those things remarkable. But it wasn’t always that way.

According to the group TitleIX.Info, before 1972, only about 4% of girls played high school sports — the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) puts it another way: Just 7% of all high school athletes were girls.

The number of high school girls participating in sports has risen to nearly 50%, with girls making up about 41% of high school athletes and 42% of college athletes.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that’s up from about 32% in the early 1990s.

This month, the NCWGE released a report, “Title IX at 40.” The report notes:

“Title IX has increased female participation in sports exponentially. In response to greater opportunities to play, the number of high school girls participating in sports has risen tenfold in the past 40 years, while six times as many women compete in college sports. These gains demonstrate the key principle underlying the legislation: Women and girls have an equal interest in sports and deserve equal opportunities to participate.”

In Weston

In Weston, the numbers really do seem to reflect that key principle of equal opportunity.

Mark Berkowitz, athletic director at Weston High School, said since he started teaching and coaching in Weston in 1999, there has never been an issue with gender equity or compliance with Title IX as fara s athletic go. He credited the vigilance of his predecessor, Carl Charles, with creating and maintaining a program that fairly addresses the needs of all the students.

One thing he said he learned a few years ago is that CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) rules allow females to participate on boys teams (under certain circumstances) if there is not an equivalent girls team. However, boys are not allowed to join a girls team.

Mr. Berkowitz said he would not be surprised if that rule gets challenged sometime in the future.

Mr. Berkowitz said he always conducts “exit interviews” with Weston athletes and he tries to maintain open lines of communication throughout the year to make sure programs are running the way they should.

“Believe me, I’d hear more quickly from parents and athletes than I would from the federal government if there was an issue,” Mr. Berkowitz said.

Opportunities in Weston

The opportunities to participate in athletics at Weston High School are fairly vast for both girls and boys.

Next year, Weston High School will offer 63 sports teams — 32 girls teams and 31 boys teams. “It’s pretty consistent as far as opportunities” for girls and boys, Mr. Berkowitz said.

Participation has always been high in Weston, he added, noting that 65% to 70% of all students (male and female) participate in athletics, and many years it’s often just about a 50-50 split between girls and boys.

During the 2011-12 school year, 229 girls and 268 boys were on a sports team at Weston High School. Past years have been far closer: In 2010-11, there were 267 girls and 269 boys; in 2009-10, there were 283 girls an 282 boys. More than half the athletes do more than one sport per year, Mr. Berkowitz said.

Regarding the overall increase in girls’ participation in sports since the early 1970s, Mr. Berkowitz said, “I like to think it’s the natural progression of things. It was starting to happen already. Title IX probably got us there more quickly, though, and that’s a good thing.”

Inequities

Nationally, however, there are still inequities. For example, TitleIX.Info says women in Division I colleges make up more than half the student body, but receive only 32% of athletic recruiting dollars and just 37% of the total money spent on athletics at those schools.

TitleIX.Info also notes an unintended consequence of the law — changes in coaching staff. Before Title IX, more than 90% of women’s teams were coached by women. A survey done in 2008 showed just 43% of coaches of women’s teams were women.

The NCWGE report notes: “Despite huge gains over the past 40 years, much work still needs to be done. Although overall sports participation rates have grown for both males and females, girls’ and women’s participation still lags behind that of their male counterparts, and increases among females have remained stalled for the past five years. Given the proven health and social benefits of athletics, it is essential that woman and girls be given equal opportunities to participate.

Health benefits

Ms. Kus said she believes one of the most important consequences of Title IX is not that more girls play sports, but an increased overall emphasis on the health benefits of physical activity for boys and girls alike.

“The focus now is more that everyone participates and everyone learns the skills they need for lifelong fitness, health, and wellness,” she said.

Studies have shown high school athletes are significantly less likely to smoke or use drugs than non-athletes. And, adolescent female athletes have much lower rates of sexual activity and pregnancy.

The health benefits extend well into adulthood. The NCWGE report says research has shown girls who play sports when they are young are less likely to be obese, and have a decreased risk of developing heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast cancer.

Whether it’s a result of Title IX or what Mr. Berkowitz called a “natural progression,” Ms. Kus said one thing is clear. When it comes to public schools’ approach to physical education, “we just have a healthier way of thinking.”

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