Title IX is 50 years old, but a poll has found that nearly three-quarters of secondary school students and nearly 60% of parents said they know “nothing at all” about the landmark civil rights law meant to ensure gender equity in education, including athletics.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos for The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland, found that parents and students overwhelmingly agreed that boys and girls teams should receive equal treatment.
More than 3.4 million girls and almost 4.6 million boys play high school sports.
Only a third of the people polled said they believe that equal opportunities exist in high school athletics across the U.S. But in their own schools, parents and students judged the situation to be much better, the poll found: About two-thirds said boys and girls had equal opportunities there.
Beyond finding that a majority of parents lack knowledge of Title IX, the poll highlighted some differences among groups. Of male parents, 54% said they knew nothing about Title IX, compared to 62% of female parents. Nearly 80% of respondents with no college degree answered that they knew nothing about the law. That compared to 47% with a college degree.
Enforcement of Title IX largely relies on students and parents to report unfair treatment or unequal athletic opportunities, but many poll respondents expressed reluctance to speak up about potential violations.
In response to the poll results, Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement: “While we have made tremendous progress, there is more work to do to build educational environments free from discrimination and to educate the public on how important this law is.”
Most parents polled did not know whether their children’s school had a procedure for handling Title IX complaints.
The online poll of 1,008 parents and 506 children ages 12-17 now enrolled in school was conducted from March 18 to 28.
Under Title IX, all federally funded schools with athletics programs must provide equal opportunities and treatment in areas such as practice facilities, coaching and publicity. The majority of poll respondents answered “unsure” to questions that tested their knowledge about Title IX’s application and enforcement, such as whether the law covers all educational programs that receive federal funding (it does) and who can report Title IX violations (anyone).
Parents who said their children played sports differed little from other parents in their knowledge of Title IX.
Among respondents who had some familiarity with Title IX, most said their knowledge came from sources other than school officials or materials. Half of parents who knew about Title IX said they saw, heard or read about it online.
Students were somewhat more likely than their parents to learn about Title IX from school personnel. One-third said they saw, heard or read about the law online and 29% said their information came from a school coach or official.
The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing all aspects of Title IX. But its main enforcement mechanism relies on young athletes or their parents to know their rights, recognize violations and file a formal complaint with the federal agency.
About half of students and parents agreed that it was their responsibility to report a Title IX violation if they were aware of one, but many said they were unlikely to or uncertain about speaking up to the relevant officials.
Only a quarter of parents said they would consider submitting a complaint to the federal Department of Education, while 38% said they likely would not consider it and 34% said they didn’t know.
Parents were more likely to consider submitting a complaint to school personnel than to the federal government, but fewer than six in 10 parents said they would consider raising an issue with any kind of school official. A quarter of parents said they would not take any action if they witnessed a sports-related Title IX violation.
Parents who said they would be uncomfortable reporting a Title IX violation directly to their child’s school were largely concerned about negative repercussions for their child, the poll found. For students, too, fear of retaliation at school and negative reactions from peers were the biggest causes of reluctance.
The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism collaborated on a four-month investigation into Title IX and high school sports. Support their work at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.