Less than half of surveyed California high schools are reporting as required on girls’ opportunities to play sports, according to a new report from Legal Aid at Work. And the information that has been posted shows significant gaps — even though federally funded schools have been required for 45 years to serve male and female students equally.
Both the inequities and the failure to post data seem to cross racial and socioeconomic lines statewide.
California public schools that receive federal funds are now required by state law to post data online about student participation in competitive sports. They must report how many girls and boys are playing interscholastic sports, what levels (e.g., JV, Varsity) and opportunities are available to girls and to boys, and how those numbers compare with girls’ and boys’ enrollment at the school.
The requirement covers public elementary, middle, and high schools, including charters. A new study by Fair Play for Girls in Sports shows that schools of all sizes and types serving the full range of California communities are not complying with the law — and that dramatic inequities in athletic opportunities for girls and boys persist across this range of schools.
The new reporting requirement, passed in 2014 as SB 1349, seeks both to shed light on longstanding gender inequity in athletics and to spur schools to address the problem. This inequity matters because girls who play sports experience better health, more academic success, and greater future prospects in employment. Gender inequity in athletics is illegal under the 45-year-old federal law known as Title IX, which requires gender equity in all educational programming, including sports, in schools that receive federal funding.
SB 1349 requires schools to post data about girls in sports, on either their website or their district’s site. Fair Play, a project of nonprofit Legal Aid at Work, analyzed 108 randomly selected high schools and found that less than half — just 48 percent (51 of 107) — had posted any data at all about the gender breakdown in their athletic programs as of June 2017. The law took effect in 2016. Among those that did post data, whether for 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 or both, we found an average gap of 6 percentage points between girls’ participation rate in sports and girls’ enrollment in the school, meaning that girls in the schools we studied are afforded far fewer athletic opportunities than they should be in relation to enrollment.
Our research shows that girls across California are getting far fewer chances than boys to play sports, despite accounting for approximately half of students, and despite studies that show that girls are equally interested in sports in comparison with boys. In fact, this finding may be conservative: It’s reasonable to anticipate even bigger participation gaps at schools that do not comply at all with SB 1349.
We also found that the lack of compliance with SB 1349 does not correlate with the ethnic or socioeconomic composition of the community a school serves; inequities in sports for girls in California — and failure to post data that could shed a light on the issue — seem to cross all racial and socioeconomic lines.
Our report opens with a history of Title IX and the inequity that SB 1349 seeks to remedy. We review the law’s requirements and other similar reporting mandates, to show that this data was not previously available in a condition that made it possible to derive a picture of gender equity. Finally, we describe our methodology, our findings about compliance and about the condition of the data that is reported. We further offer a note on what constitutes a sport under Title IX. We conclude with recommendations for improving schools’ reporting on gender equity in sports and offer a range of tools students and their advocates can use in the fight for gender equity in sports programs across California.
Federally funded California schools must step up to meet the demands of the law by posting athletics data so that students, parents, guardians, school staff, and the community can better understand and can act to remedy gender inequities.
Here are more resources about this new reporting requirement and how you can exercise your rights under Title IX:
- A fact sheet on SB 1349;
- A brochure explaining Title IX;
- A sample letter you can use to request changes in your local school (known as a “demand letter”);
- An online calculator to determine the gap between the share of students at your school who are girls and the share who are participating in sports;
- A video about Title IX to show your friends and colleagues and help them understand the issue and their rights;
- A fact sheet on whether cheerleading can be considered a “sport”; and
- A webinar about how Title IX applies to K-12 school sports.