Title IX's Measured Debate

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

The math seemed pretty simple to Jeff Steffens. Upon hearing a groundswell of support to start a varsity boys' soccer team at Perryville (Mo.) High two years ago, Steffens, the athletic director, said he could only do it under one condition -- create another girls' team.

Figuring that was the means to comply with Title IX, the law mandating gender equity at all federally funded institutions, Steffens surveyed the entire student body -- as well as incoming ninth-graders -- in April 2005 to solicit their interests.

The students at Perryville, which already had one girls' soccer team, had no interest in adding a second. With the school already offering an equal number of teams for the boys and girls, prospective boys' soccer players were out of luck.

"People wanted to get me fired because I couldn't get enough girls to come out for sports," said Steffens, who just completed his fifth year as athletic director. "I thought girls wanted to play."

Today, on the 35th anniversary of the law's ratification, the crux of the modern Title IX debate between women's rights leaders and advocates for Title IX reform is how to measure interest. Does providing opportunities where there is no precedent for interest constitute a quota system? Or do new opportunities provide the exposure to an activity of which an underrepresented group was unaware?

According to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, more athletic opportunities were created for boys than girls from the 2000-01 school year to 2005-06, reversing a trend of the previous three decades. In addition, during the same time period, the gap between boys and girls participating at the high school level widened, also stunting a similar trend since the law's introduction.

Meantime, according to the U.S. Census, the number of boys in America, ages 14 to 17, increased by 6.47 percent from July 2000 to July 2006; the number of girls in the same group rose by 7.42 percent.

"I thought it was a typo. Whoa! Where did this come from?" Donna Lopiano, chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation, said of the reversing trend. "It's almost reactionary and a reinforcement that every boy should have every opportunity to play. The spirit of Title IX is not just to be responsive if the girls keep calling. It's supposed to create opportunities."

Title IX allows each school the choice of one of three tests to demonstrate compliance: It can show its male and female athletes are proportionate to enrollment; it can illustrate a history of expanding opportunities for females; or it can show it is meeting the interests of its female students.

Most women's groups believe not enough athletic opportunities are being afforded young women; reform advocates argue the law mandates a quota that forces women to take interest, while denying the opportunity for men who have demonstrated an interest.

One of the most ardent supporters of Title IX reform, the College Sports Council, filed a petition with the Department of Education this week requesting that the test for proportionality -- the one used by Perryville High School -- not be used when determining compliance in high schools.

Reform advocates claim the test is more germane for colleges because they have the ability to recruit their own student bodies. High schools, on the other hand, are comprised differently.

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