How schools can even playing field for girls of color

Report finds fewer offerings and resources for girls' teams in high minority schools
By: | Issue: June, 2015
May 15, 2015

Schools with high minority populations not only have fewer resources for athletics, but the number of sports offered and the chance to play are even further limited for girls of color.

These opportunity gaps exist for females in 40 percent of heavily minority high schools, but were found in only 16 percent of predominantly white schools, according to “Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities,” a report by the National Women’s Law Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

The report found that for every 100 female students at the typical predominantly white high school, “there are 51 spots on teams, and for every 100 male students there are 62 spots on teams. But at the typical heavily minority high school, girls have only 67 percent of the opportunities to play sports that boys have.”

The recently released report also found resources for athletics were not distributed evenly between schools within the same district or between boys’ and girls’ sports. A recent directive from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reminded states and school districts of their obligation to eliminate resource inequalities.

“We shouldn’t be seeing these opportunity gaps for girls and girls of color in school sports 40 years after Title IX was implemented,” says Fatima Goss Graves, the National Women’s Law Center’s vice president for education and employment. “Districts can find themselves in violation of Titles IX and VI if they are not careful with their sports programs’ sex and gender discriminations. They need to be thinking about their whole athletic program to proactively avoid litigation by providing more opportunities.”

The typical number of spots on boys’ teams is 185Ñtwice the number offered to girls. To provide equal opportunities, schools with large female opportunity gaps will have to add 91 spots on girls’ teams, the report says.

“Districts need to evaluate their athletic opportunities and see what race and gender gaps they have as a first step to fixing the problem,” says Graves.

Finding solutions

Districts can begin by surveying their students and communities about what sports they should add. Considering that lacrosse, tennis and volleyball are less common in minority schools, districts can interest girls in these sports through after-school clubs, physical education classes and clinics.

“One approach is to develop stronger pathways working with city governments and block grant funds to build sports participation for girls at younger ages,” says Philip Tegeler, president and executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

Schools can work with municipal governments to create the safe fields and sports facilities required to develop the skills of minority girls. Graves also recommends schools share space and financial resources with community-based organizations and businesses, such as using a local organization’s field or tennis court.

State education departments should ensure that minority schools have the same sports resources as wealthier schools by: funding interdistrict programs that expand athletics; monitoring districts for Title IX and VI compliance; and analyzing female students’ participation rates to calculate whether any teams should be expanded.