ED to investigate charges of sexual discrimination in tech-ed programs

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) on June 6 said it would investigate allegations of sexual discrimination in the high school vocational and technology-education programs of 12 states. The statement came immediately after a nationwide report found female students often are discouraged from pursuing higher paying technology careers.

The report, “Title IX and Equal Opportunity in Vocational and Technical Education: A Promise Still Owed to the Nation’s Young Women,” written by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), states that female students have fewer chances than their male counterparts to participate in “high-technology” programs, such as Cisco Networking Academies.

In light of the 30th anniversary of Title IX—the legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination in all aspects of federally funded education—NWLC has asked ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate these and other charges of sexual discrimination in each state where the department has a regional office: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington.

“High school vocational and technical education programs can provide a path to economic independence for many young women and girls. Thirty years after Title IX, it is unconscionable that their dreams and futures are still being shortchanged,” said Marcia Greenberger, NWLC co-president, in a statement.

According to the report, 13 of the 18 career and technical education schools in New York City are segregated by sex. “The schools that are 70 percent or more male offer, on average, 3.89 advanced placement (AP) courses per school, while the vocational schools that are 70 percent or more female average only 1.75 courses per school,” the report said.

Further, of the city’s four predominantly female vocational schools, not one offers any AP classes in computer science, calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry, or physics. These types of programs operate in at least two of the predominantly male vocational schools, the report said.

Five New York City vocational high schools have adopted Cisco Networking Academies. The corporate-sponsored programs are designed to lead to industry certification in computer networking. Of the five schools that participate in the program, according to the report, three are more than 70 percent male and all of them are more than 55 percent male.

Chris Peacock, a spokesman for Cisco Systems Inc., said he was unfamiliar with the study but that the company does not intentionally favor one sex over the other.

“We offer a number of programs encouraging women to enter into the [information technology] job market,” he said.

According to NWLC, however, high-tech education has been and continues to be predominantly a young man’s game.

“The whole technology world has been traditionally dominated by men and [by] stereotypes discouraging women from pursuing these types of careers,” said NWLC spokeswoman Emily Goldberg.

The study said the inequalities it reported about New York City are not unlike those found in a number of states across the nation.

In Virginia, for example, female students have reported that vocational schools are not informing them of certain opportunities, nor are they incorporating technology into predominantly female programs such as cosmetology, according to the report.

Adding importance to these findings is evidence that future earning potential is directly correlated to the amount of high-tech, science, and computer training students receive in vocational programs.

“This sex segregation in the nation’s vocational classrooms—and the relegation of girls to traditionally female programs—has deep impact on the earning power and job prospects of the young women who graduate from the these programs,” the study reported.

Students who take part in Cisco’s program, for example, have the potential to earn from $42,000 to more than $100,000 a year, the report found. Compare this to a median salary of $8.49 an hour for the average cosmetologist, the report said.

The report also alleges instances of discriminatory guidance counseling and sex-based favoritism in the classroom.

According to Goldberg, the report shows clear evidence that male students were privy to more hands-on experience in vocational schools and greater teacher support in finding a job before graduation. NWLC hopes the 12 petitions it filed June 6 will prompt the OCR to perform a nationwide investigation of sexual discrimination in tech-ed programs.

“We hope that the OCR goes beyond the states we are talking about here,” said Goldberg, “and that they take their responsibilities seriously and open a full-fledged investigation.”

In some states where petitions were filed, officials were unaware of the requests.

“Maryland has had a long-standing non-discrimination plan,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for that state’s education department.

Reinhard added that his office was unfamiliar with the report and that the state would await the OCR’s findings before commenting further.

ED has committed only to investigations in states where the petitions were filed. “The Office for Civil Rights has an obligation to vigorously investigate each of the complaints filed by the National Women’s Law Center and determine whether the schools are in compliance with Title IX,” said C. Todd Jones, deputy assistant secretary for enforcement in the OCR.


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