This month marks two very important 40th anniversaries -- the Watergate burglary and the signing of the 1972 Education Amendment known as Title IX. The Watergate episode resulted in bringing down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, however Title IX was the catalyst in giving girls the same access to athletics as their male counterparts. With a stroke of his pen, the 37th President of the United States turbo-charged opportunities for women.
Simply put, Title IX states that no one in the United States can be “... excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..” on the basis of sex. This legislation literally opening the floodgates of opportunity for girls in our nation’s schools.
According to “Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal, National Update 1977-2012,” in the year before Title IX was enacted, only about 310,000 U.S. women played high school or college sports, and in the 1972 Olympics, U.S. female athletes won a total of 19 medals, with 13 in silver or gold. In comparison, now there are over 3,370,000 female athletes in U.S. high schools and colleges, and in the 2008 Bejing Olympics, U.S. women competitors earned 40 medals, 26 of them in gold or silver.
But making sports programs available to women students has had an even bigger impact in the classroom. Studies show that students who participate in physical education perform better academically, and student athletes have better attendance records than their couch-potato peers. However, other factors also contribute to giving female athletes a leg up in the classroom. Participation in sports is a real confidence booster. Plus, learning the skills to work in a ‘team’ situation is widely recognized as something that translates into better academic performance. In addition, those students who ‘make time’ for physical activity or team sports learn valuable time management techniques. The bottom line is that female student athletes have higher GPAs than women who opt to sit out the game.
Research shows that Title IX has also had another positive impact on U.S. women students: because athletic programs have expanded to offer more options for women, so have scholarship funds targeted to attract female talent. Of course, these funds still lag behind the one available to their male peers, but with more women than men enrolling and graduating from colleges, this situation is overdue for a make-over.
One cautionary note -- U.S. educational institutions have been greatly impacted by the current economy and schools and universities are struggling to pay their bills. When money gets tight, cuts usually start with what many consider to be ‘extras’ -- music, art and sports programs. But research shows that students who regularly participate in arts and sports curriculum have higher GPAs and perform better on standardized tests. With so much focus on U.S. students failure to achieve mastery in reading, math and science, perhaps educators would be well advised to keep the budgetary axe from falling on arts and sports programs.