A little over two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights went to court to mark the 40th anniversary of Title IX: the basketball court.
Title IX is the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funds. The law has since helped pave the way for millions of girls throughout the country to live their dreams of becoming scientists, business owners, athletes, or whatever else they might dream of being.
One of the law’s most notable effects has been to increase opportunities for women and girls in sports, and we celebrated this by playing a little pick-up basketball at the Department of Interior. Energetic senior officials throughout the Obama Administration -- Secretary Duncan, Secretary Salazar, Secretary Sebelius, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling, and Special Assistant to the President Samantha Power – joined coaches and players from Howard University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and the WNBA to play basketball alongside students from District of Columbia public schools. Together, they reminded us that when women are afforded equal opportunities, everybody wins.
As we celebrate Title IX’s successes, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education also works to ensure its vigorous enforcement. Case in point: On July 2, OCR announced resolution agreements with four school districts located in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas that will ensure that girls get the equal athletic opportunities they deserve.
The agreements stem from complaints filed with OCR by National Women’s Law Center alleging that, in school districts around the country, girls’ athletic interests and abilities were not being effectively accommodated, in violation of Title IX. Upon investigating, OCR found that female students were seriously underrepresented in sports.
Fortunately, the school districts under investigation stepped up and began to work toward lasting solutions. OCR and each district’s leadership teams proactively formed voluntary agreements, with each district committing to provide equal opportunities for female students to participate in athletics programs at its high schools.
With these resolution agreements, we’ve inched a little closer to reaching Title IX’s promise of achieving equity for all students, regardless of their sex, on the playing field and in all aspects of their education. I am both energized and sobered by these resolutions—they remind me both how far we’ve come over the past 40 years in leveling the playing field for girls, and just how far we have left to go.
What is encouraging to me, knowing the path we must continue to travel, are the steps this Administration is taking to move us forward. On the anniversary of Title IX, the Administration announced a new inter-agency effort to coordinate the communication of responsibilities and promising practices regarding Title IX compliance in STEM programs and activities. To do our part, my office has committed to including vital information on equity in STEM education for women and girls in the technical assistance we provide to K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions around the country. And we also unveiled a data snapshot revealing important trends in gender equity in education. We’ve taken these steps and more to ensure that all individuals regardless of their sex have equitable educational opportunities, and we’ll continue to work hard every day toward this important goal.
Russlynn Ali is the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.