Equity & Diversity

Girls of Color Found Most Deprived of H.S. Athletic Opportunities

By Bryan Toporek — April 27, 2015 3 min read
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When it comes to high school-based athletic opportunities, girls of color are coming up shortest, according to a report released last week from the National Women’s Law Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

The report examined high schools with a student body that is either at least 90 percent white or no more than 10 percent white to see how large of a female opportunity gap existed at each. In total, 42 percent of the nation’s public high schools fell into the “heavily white” or “heavily minority” category.

One of the ways for schools to satisfy Title IX, the federal legislation requiring female students to have equal access to athletic and extracurricular activities, is to demonstrate proportionality—i.e. there should be an equal percentage of females participating in sports as there is in a school’s student body. If a given school’s student body is 40 percent female and only 30 percent of spots on sports teams go to females, for instance, the school would be deemed to have a 10-percentage-point opportunity gap.

According to the report, 40 percent of heavily minority high schools and 16 percent of heavily white schools had a female opportunity gap of at least 10 percentage points. A typical heavily minority high school had just 20 spots on sports teams for females per 100 students, and 30 spots for males, while a typical heavily white school had 51 spots for females and 62 spots for males, per 100 students.

“These data show that girls of color are doubly disadvantaged because heavily minority schools have fewer overall athletic opportunities and fail to distribute those limited opportunities equitably between boys and girls,” the report says.

Overall, girls at heavily minority schools have 39 percent of the athletic opportunities that girls at heavily white schools have, 67 percent of the athletic opportunities that boys at heavily minority schools have, and 32 percent of the athletic opportunities that boys at heavily white schools have.

“Too many girls of color across the country are missing out on the lifelong benefits of playing sports—better health, improved academic and employment outcomes, higher self-esteem and leadership skills,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC vice president for education and employment, in a statement. “This disturbing reality should be an urgent wake up call for schools across the country to stop shortchanging girls of color and give them what they need, deserve and are entitled to under the law.”

In each of the 13 states found to have a substantial number of both heavily minority and heavily white schools—Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas—"the share of heavily minority schools with large female opportunity gaps is higher than the share of heavily white schools with large female opportunities gaps,” according to the report. In eight of those 13 states, the rate is more than double for heavily minority schools.

To combat these disparities, the NWLC and PRRAC urge the U.S. Department of Education to specifically examine the 13 states mentioned in the report to ensure schools within those states are compliant with Title IX. Additionally, the two groups suggested modifying the Ed. Dept.'s Civil Rights Data Collection to break down athletic participation not just by gender, but also by race/ethnicity, along with the passage of the High School Data Transparency Act, which would require school to make publically available information about the number of male and female students and athletes, broken down by race and ethnicity, as well as how much is spent on each sports team.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.