Ninety-six percent of high school cosmetology students in select states are female. They can expect to make an average of $8.49 an hour.
Ninety-four percent of students in plumbing and electricians’ courses are male. They are likely to pull in around $18.19 an hour.
Punchy statistics. But how to interpret them?
Those numbers, and a report full of similar data, were released last year by members of the National Women’s Law Center, in a study of high school vocational and technical programs in 12 states. The Washington organization called on the Department of Education’s office for civil rights to investigate patterns of alleged gender bias that would run counter to the federal Title IX law, and to compel states to wipe out the problem. (“Advocates Call for Breakdown of Gender Barriers in Voc. Ed.,” June 12, 2002.)
A year later, the women’s group contends the civil rights office is shirking its duty to pursue cases of gender bias. It said as much in recent letters sent to the department and in a news release issued June 20.
“As far as we can tell, OCR’s position is to abdicate any responsibility of their own,” Leslie T. Annexstein, a senior counsel for the women’s organization, said in an interview.
The NWLC is asking the federal office to conduct “compliance reviews” of what the advocacy group considers examples of bias in 12 states, which it suspects have resulted from sexual harassment in the classroom, discrimination in counseling, and other mechanisms.
But Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the agency has repeatedly asked the NWLC for more detailed information on individual, or institutional, examples of bias—and received no answer.
“Just because there happen to be more girls than boys in a class, that does not discrimination make,” Ms. Aspey said. “Statistics alone are not enough.”
In a Jan. 21 letter to the NWLC, the department noted that states bear some of the responsibility for collecting and analyzing civil rights data. It also pledged to investigate cases of states’ failure to hire coordinators to monitor compliance with Title IX, the 1972 law that forbids sex discrimination at schools receiving federal funds.
Ms. Annexation said the NWLC offered plenty of specifics in its report. She did not deny, however, that her organization has sought to publicly prod the department.
“Our goal,” she said, “is to get OCR to step up on this issue.”