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Title IX: Looking Back and Ahead

Aliya Hussain,
Women's Rights Project
Ariela Migdal,
ACLU Women's Rights Project
Jessica Moldovan,
Women's Rights Project
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June 23, 2010

Before 1972, there was little protection for women and girls against sex discrimination in education. Today, we celebrate the 38th Anniversary of Title IX, recognizing advances that have been made, as well as the work that remains to be done.

Title IX states:

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 statute has opened up equal opportunities for countless women and girls in education, in such diverse realms as equal athletic opportunity and protection of students from sexual harassment by faculty and peers.

Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proclaimed the many successes of the legislation, but noticeably left out a key issue — single-sex education — which is on the rise in U.S. schools today and threatens to undermine the protections set out by Title IX.

In 2006, under the Bush administration, the Department of Education promulgated regulations making it easier to segregate schoolchildren on the basis of sex. To date, more than 500 public schools have accepted the invitation, creating programs that separate students based on sex, excluding girls from participating in all-boys classes and boys from participating in all-girls classes, in direct violation of the words of Title IX.

The proponents of sex-segregated education programs like Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax insist that “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!”, asserting things like, “boys should be given Nerf baseball bats with which to hit things so they can release tension during class” while “girls should take their shoes off in class because this helps them relax and think better.” Although supporters of these ideas claim that they are based on “brain science” and “research,” they are nothing more than archaic stereotypes about the ways that boys and girls are supposed to act. Moreover, studies have not proven that segregating students by sex leads them to do better in school. Instead, they show that we should be focusing on what we all know will improve our kids’ education: smaller classes, more parental involvement, and more funding.

The ACLU has challenged programs that exclude boys and girls from classes based on their sex in Louisiana and Kentucky. In both cases, school administrators relied on claims that “research” showed boys and girls learned differently to justify excluding children from classes and teaching them differently based on sex. We argue that the programs violate both Title IX and the Constitution.

The increasing number of public schools that rely on outdated gender stereotypes to shape the way children learn and behave in our public schools makes it clear that Title IX’s protections are more important than ever.

We call on schools to adhere to Title IX’s command not to exclude any child based on sex. This law is as relevant today as it was 38 years ago. And we call on the Department of Education to rescind the regulations and make it clear that shutting kids out of classes based on ideas about the differences in how boys and girls learn fundamentally violates both the words and spirit of Title IX.

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