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Crunching the Numbers: Why We Need More High School Data

National Girls and Women’s Sports Day is a day to celebrate all the successes that girls and women have had so far, but it’s also a day to think about the obstacles we face. One of those is the lack of data surrounding girls in high school athletics – so I sat down with our own Title IX expert, Neena Chaudry, and our data whiz, Kate Gallagher Robbins, to get a better understanding about what we’­­­­­re missing.

Becka: When I e-mailed Kate to talk about sitting together to chat, she joked, “I could do the interview right now – in short, we need more data!” What is the number one aspect you each wish you had more data on?

Neena: I have a list! But the number one thing I wish we had was data for each individual school. Only some schools have data available from the U.S. Department of Education, but many don’t. I’d love to get participation rates broken down by sub= groups – particularly to see the numbers of girls of color on high school teams.

Kate: I would really love to dive even deeper and get some individual-level data. The school has the numbers – how many girls who are playing sports are also taking AP Classes, et cetera. More detail would help us determine some interesting correlations and where the gaps are.

Neena: Could we get that? Aren’t there privacy concerns?

Kate: There’s a way to do it while respecting privacy – it would be a different data set. Information about the individual, but without any specifics – for example, Becka would be student number 379 in this region of the country, and I would know that she played lacrosse and took AP Literature, but if I met Becka, I would have no idea she was student number 379.

Becka: Gotcha – so a deep level of anonymous detail.

Neena: I would also love to know how much schools are spending on boys versus girls’ teams. That would give us some insight into whether female athletes are getting the same benefits and services as the boys. Right now, you have to file a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request with your school to get information, and it can take months to get a response.

The fact that even the basic information and data aren’t publicly available is why we need to pass high school data bills. In 1994, Congress passed the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires colleges to make basic statistics publicly available, and you can look up your college or university online. If we had bills that required this reporting on the high school level, communities would be able to easily know what’s going on in their schools. That’s why we’ve been pushing for these bills for years.

Becka: So, why is there such a big difference in the availability of data between high school and college sports?

Neena: Well, the fact that colleges are required by law to report it publicly is the major reason. It probably helped that when Title IX first became law, many of the first cases were focused on college athletics

Kate: The money spent at colleges was probably a huge factor, as well.

Neena: Because of the amount of money funneled into college athletics, it’s easy to see the breakdown and where women are being shortchanged by millions of dollars.

Kate: In general, there was also more of a push from college students. The activism was there at the college level.

Neena: A similar law like this applying to the high schools would be useful for parents, students, and for us! Communities could see what is going on in their schools, which is helpful because we always encourage people to tro to address problems with their schools directly. Believe it or not, a law could actually help avoid litigation.

Kate: By and large, schools don’t necessarily want to shortchange girls, and having to report their information publicly would force them to take a closer look at what they’re doing.

Neena: To be clear, schools already have this information, but having to make it publicly available would force administrations to pay more attention to it.

Kate: We want more of an incentive for schools to police what’s going on.

Neena: We call it a “sunshine law” – a way to shine a light on it. It might also motivate schools to get a Title IX Coordinator, which they are required by law to have, although many don’t.

Administrators in states with such data laws estimate that it would take them 2-8 hours a year to put this information together – certainly not a big pull on school resources, as many believe.

Becka: Can you tell me a little more about exactly what Title IX Coordinators do?

Neena: Title IX regulations make it clear that schools must “designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out Title IX responsibilities” – the Title IX Coordinator.

Kate: Right. Some of these data are available, but in a spotty way. The data that are out there don’t go through rigorous testing. It’s an availability versus quality issue, and Title IX Coordinators are key – they ask questions, gather information at the school level, et cetera. I’d love to see some breakdowns on race and ethnicity, the grades of students, the classes they’re taking, and how long they stay on sports teams. All of these are key to understanding the impact of athletics on women and girls, and the impact of increasing the availability of opportunities.

A public push and interest for this would also certainly help. It’s tough to make the case, because we’re lacking data. Girls and parents want to know about their schools and sports opportunities. People overestimate the drain it takes on resources of the schools, and that’s where a key problem lies. Like Neena said, Title IX Coordinators – which schools should already have by law – can compile these data quickly. Most schools have this information digitally already; it’s a matter of simply putting it on the internet.

Neena: Many schools may not want this information to come to light. A law would require schools to disclose it publicly and give people important information.

Becka: That makes perfect sense, but the first thing I think of is the fact that logically, wouldn’t we get information from wealthier districts and schools? Would that skew the results?

Kate: Yes, wealthier schools and districts might be more likely to report right off the bat. But biased samples are an issue for all kinds of surveys. Analysts know how to weight data based on this and other issues to make it more accurate, though unfortunately the CRDC does not currently do this for the athletics data sets that are available.

Neena: There has been an explosion of girls playing sports at earlier ages, and an increased awareness of the inequalities so many girls and young women face on the field.

Kate: Girls didn’t play sports at a young age for a long time – it just wasn’t done, or considered unladylike, et cetera. But more and more inspiring female athletes have inspired girls to start playing. I remember watching the Mia Hamm World Cup when I was in high school and being so stoked!

Becka: I remember that! Everyone in my class had a Mia Hamm jersey.

Neena: Way to make me feel old, guys! I was already here, in D.C., working on Title IX issues.

Kate: It’s all about seeing [these athletes] succeed and have value in society and the national conversation. It is interesting to see how some sports have been feminized, and how other female athletes in other fields still have difficulty getting attention and endorsements – like Sarah Robles [the Olympic weightlifter who lives in poverty].

Becka: Do you think that high school data would result in any shocking revelations about girls in sports?

Kate: I think that people would be most shocked to have some hard data on things those of us entrenched in this data suspect, like the disparities in participation in racial groups, particularly African-American athletes, who are less likely to participate.

Neena: People might also be shocked by regional differences in participation.

Kate: Do athletes stick with teams through all four years of high school? Into college? I don’t even have a suspicion about that one. Data on the degree to which women and girls want to play wouldn’t really shock anyone, but could change some minds and opinions – many believe it’s a supply and demand issue, but I think that the data would show it’s the opposite! Girls would love more opportunities.

Studies have shown that athletics helps women increase their success and earning power later in life. It teaches you an ability to get up after you fall, it isn’t just some little after-school program. Not giving girls equal opportunities in athletics runs deeper than just sports.

Neena: We had a dad call just the other day who wanted to raise money for his daughter to start an ice hockey team at her school, and we discovered that the boys didn’t have to. He had started bake sales, organized events – and if he had just had that information about the funding for the boys’ team and participation opportunities on the internet, maybe he could have avoided all that.

Kate: Knowledge is power.

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