The U.S. Department of Education is repealing a Bush-era policy that some critics argue was a way to avoid complying with federal law in providing equal opportunities for female athletes.
Under the move, schools and colleges must now provide stronger evidence that they offer equal opportunities for athletic participation under the federal Title IX gender-equity law.
The move reverses a 2005 policy adopted under President George W. Bush that allowed schools to use just a survey to prove a lack of interest in starting a new women’s sport and encouraged schools to consider a nonresponse to the questionnaire as lack of such interest.
“Making Title IX as strong as it possibly can be is the right thing to do,” Vice President Joe Biden said at an April 20 event at George Washington University, in Washington, announcing the change.
The Education Department announced last month that it would be intensifying its civil rights enforcement efforts on a broad range of topics, gender equity among them.
The department has sent letters about the change in Title IX policy to more than 15,600 school districts and 5,600 college and university presidents.
“This is a great step, a reaffirmation of faith in equality for women,” said former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, who helped pass the law in 1972 and called the change long overdue.
Routes to Compliance
Schools have three ways to comply with Title IX: Match the proportion of female athletes to the proportion of women on campus; show a history of increasing sports for women; or prove the school has met the interest and ability of women to participate in athletics.
Before 2005, the third option required districts and colleges to use multiple indicators to assess athletic interests and abilities. The new letter informs institutions that survey results alone cannot justify an imbalance in women’s sports.
It’s unclear how many schools used the survey as a measure of federal compliance and what the impact was, since schools aren’t required to state which of the three Title IX compliance standards they are using, said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, based in Washington.
There aren’t any statistics to show that opportunities for women were denied, but Ms. Chaudhry suggested it was a possibility.
“Why wouldn’t they use this policy?” she said. “It’s an easy way out.”
Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for the Education Department’s office for civil rights, said during a news conference with reporters that while the survey is important, it ought not to be the only measure.
“We think we’ve opened up the door for institutions to use the surveys correctly,” Ms. Ali said.
But Gerald Reynolds, a former Education Department official under President Bush, said the new policy is a step back for women’s rights because it focuses more on numbers than on what female and male students want.
“The women’s movement was in part about ensuring women’s liberty interests—that in the hopes, wishes, and desires about any aspect of their life, they were the shot-callers,” said Mr. Reynolds, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The commission recently released a report on Title IX that supported the 2005 policy, saying it was the most accurate way to ensure equality in athletics.
Critics of Title IX say revoking the policy will have a chilling effect on students’ expression of their opinions.Your Best Destination For Technology Solutions
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2010 edition of Education Week as Stiffer Title IX Policies Rolled Out by Ed. Dept.