Last week, President Obama met with young students at the Anacostia Neighborhood Public Library, and discussed the importance of education to their lives and to America’s future. One key theme that the President stressed was making sure that all students—regardless of sex—are able to pursue the careers they want, especially in growing fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
As the President said:
“…And particularly for the young ladies here, I want you guys to make sure that you look at math and science, because sometimes young women aren't going into some of those areas like math and science as much, and they should. It's not because they don't know how to do it; it's because sometimes they’re discouraged, the idea being that somehow that's traditionally more of a boy thing. And that's something that we've got to get rid of.”
One priority of this Administration is to make sure we are doing everything we can broaden participation in STEM. That’s why the Administration’s Race to the Top competition focused not only on encouraging states to develop comprehensive strategies to improve achievement and provide rigorous curricula in STEM subjects, but also to broaden the participation of women and girls. The Administration has also focused on supporting more role models of women in STEM, from events like the White House Science Fair, which had the most girls ever this year, to the women in STEM series.
But we are not stopping there. Last month, Catherine E. Lhamon, the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, released a guidance package that reminds school districts, colleges, and universities of their obligation to designate an employee to coordinate their compliance with Title IX, the Federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The guidance package includes three documents:
The Title IX Resource Guide highlights the important role that Title IX coordinators play in ensuring that all students have equal access to STEM courses. We know that STEM fields are pathways to high-wage careers, but the rate of female enrollment in certain career clusters remains low. The Title IX Resource Guide suggests a few ways by which Title IX coordinators can help their schools to address those disparities. Specifically, the Title IX Resource Guide states:
[S]ome fields of study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or career and technical education are often affected by disproportionate enrollment of students based on sex, which triggers a duty of inquiry on the part of the recipient. Title IX coordinators can help ensure that such disparities are not the result of discrimination on the basis of sex by reviewing enrollment data and working with other employees of the recipient to review counseling practices and counseling or appraisal materials. Under certain circumstances, recipients might encourage students to explore nontraditional fields to address underrepresentation of students of that sex in those fields.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) shines a spotlight on disparities in students’ access to education at the Pre-K to 12 level. The CRDC and other data collections can be useful tools to help Title IX coordinators determine whether students in their schools may face barriers to participating in all aspects of the school’s education programs, including enrollment in STEM and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The CRDC is also a useful tool for evaluating disparities for students of color and students with disabilities.
OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. In addition to enforcing Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination, the office is responsible for enforcing Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions including on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, and age. To learn more about OCR, click here.
The Department of Education is playing an important role in advancing the Administration’s commitment to making STEM education and careers accessible to students from all backgrounds regardless of their sex: a commitment that will support better outcomes for our Nation and its children.
Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
James A. Ferg-Cadima is Senior Counsel, Delegated the Authority of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.