Friday, July 17, 2015

Racial implications of the Chicago Public School District agreement

On Monday, I wrote about the agreement between the Chicago Public School District and OCR that will hopefully move to immediately increase the number of sport opportunities for girls in the district. The 10% gap between opportunities by sex and proportion of enrolled female students is equal to just over 6,000 spots.

What none of the coverage of the agreement mentioned was the huge (potential) racial impact of this agreement. This spring, The Boston Globe published an article about the discrepancy in sport involvement between white girls and girls of color focusing on Massachusetts were 27 percent of heavily minority schools (I did not see a definition of this categorization) had large gaps (also not definition) in athletic participation between boys and girls versus 6 percent of heavily white schools.Scholars have been talking about these gaps and disproportionate racial effect of Title IX for many years. Recent survey data show that across the country 40 percent of heavily minority schools have large participation gaps.

Chicago is clearly part of that statistic. Recent demographic information shows that African-American students comprise nearly 40 percent of the district and Hispanic students 45 percent. So when opportunities to play sports are being created for girls it should follow that these spots will be filled by minority girls. This is a positive given, of course, the known health and social benefits of sports.

My worry regarding Chicago, and potentially other similarly situated school districts, is that a reliance on prong three may have a disparate racial impact. It is true that the Chicago Public School District is seeking proportionality, but one of the provisions is that a certain number of schools must show compliance with only one of the prongs in the immediate future. The district will also be surveying students regarding their interests. But in heavily minority schools, there may be lots of unmet interests but also certain inabilities to participate based on situations which reflect the intersection of gender, class, and race. For example, cash-strapped schools across the country are instituting fees for sports. Students in poorer neighborhoods may not be able to afford such fees or a family may not be able to afford fees for both a son and daughter. (Yes, waivers based on income are sometimes available in pay to play situations, but they are not always taken advantage of due to the stigma of poverty and a host of other reasons.) In families where older children have care taking responsibilities for siblings and other family members, participation in sports may be desired but not possible. Girls in a family are more often called on in these situations.

In other words, Chicago, and really any school district interested in racial equity, must go beyond simply creating opportunities. There need to be structures in place to enure that girls with the desire to play are not facing additional impediments to participation.