New York City Schools Have To Give Thousands More Girls The Opportunity To Play Sports

CREDIT: JAN DE WILD / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
CREDIT: JAN DE WILD / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

The U.S. Department of Education this week found New York City’s public school system in violation of Title IX, the 1973 federal law that guarantees equal opportunities educational opportunities to girls, because it has not provided enough opportunities for girls to play sports. To be in compliance with Title IX, the Office of Civil Rights determined, New York City must add 3,682 opportunities for girls to participate in high school sports.

New York City public schools have also failed to meet demand for girls’ interest in a variety of sports, including volleyball, softball, basketball, soccer, and tennis, according to a release from the National Women’s Law Center, which filed a complaint that initiated the investigation in 2010. The investigation also found that while New York had seen a net increase of 138 boys’ teams at the high school level, it had added just 44 girls’ teams over the eight years leading up to the complaint. Over the course of that time period, the school district added 5,448 opportunities for boys compared to 3,023 for girls.

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“Too many girls are being refused the chance to play sports and the chance to reap the positive benefits that extend beyond the playing field,” NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger said in the release. “The stark statistics represent lost opportunities that would have enriched girls’ high school experience and boosted their academic performance and overall health. OCR’s investigation confirms NWLC’s findings that the New York City school district’s own data demonstrate widespread disparities in athletic opportunities between girls and boys and underscores the importance that the schools comply with Title IX. It is long past time for schools to give girls what they need, deserve and are entitled to under the law.”

The school district denied violating Title IX law but has said it would increase opportunities for girls through a survey of their interest and other measures, conducted in partnership with the federal agency as part of a settlement reached in the complaint.

New York was one of 12 cities to face complaints from NWLC in 2010. Other large school districts, including Washington D.C.’s, have faced similar scrutiny under Title IX. But New York City is home to the largest school district in the country, and its failure to comply could draw attention to the widespread gaps that remain despite success the law has found in the 40 years since it passed.

Surveys have shown that Title IX has had widespread benefits for girls in sports, increasing opportunities dramatically. Before Title IX’s passage just 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, but by its 40th anniversary two years ago, that number had increased to more than 3.2 million. Participation in collegiate sports increased more than six times during that span, according to The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

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Studies have shown that the law has had positive effects on health and education outcomes for girls by increasing their participation in sports, and economists have credited the law with positive economic outcomes too, citing data showing that women who play sports at the school level achieved better educations and later earned higher incomes (and were more likely to enter higher-paying, male-dominated industries) than those who did not.

Still, gaps remain. According to a 2011 white paper from the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls still have 1.3 million fewer opportunities in scholastic sports than boys. As of 2011, the number of athletic opportunities afforded to girls in school-based sports still had not caught up to where boys were in 1973 when the law was passed. And those gaps persist at the college level, where women had 62,000 fewer opportunities in 2011 than their male counterparts, according to research. When NWLC filed its complaint against New York, it found a 7.6 percentage point gap between boys’ and girls’ opportunities in sports.