Legislating Equal Access

This lesson uses the text of Title IX as a jumping-off point for students to explore how girls’ and women’s experiences in education have and have not changed in the 40 years since this landmark 1972 legislation became law.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • summarize a common understanding of legislative language.
  • understand the purpose of the landmark Title IX legislation.
  • research and explain Title IX’s impact on all types of learning communities.
  • compare and contrast educational communities before and after Title IX.
Essential Questions
  • What is the purpose of the landmark Title IX legislation?
  • How has Title IX impacted learning communities since its passage?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • The purpose of Title IX is to ensure that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, 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.”
    • Since its passage, Title IX has been credited with raising the opportunity of girls and women in educational environments. While it is best known for paving the way for female student athletes, Title IX also ensures an equal education for pregnant and parenting students, and for those seeking STEM careers. It calls for campuses that provide a safe environment for female students.
  • The central text for this lesson is Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark legislation that says, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, 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.” The text also outlines exceptions to the law.
  • 3” x 5” index cards
  • Computer(s) with access to Google Docs (or a Word document) so students can add their information to a group document


assistance [uh-sis-tuhns] (noun) help given, which may be in the form of money (called financial assistance)

benefits [ben-uh-fits] (noun) advantages gained

deny [dih-nahy] (verb) to refuse to give something

discrimination [dih-skrim-uh-ney-shun] (noun) unfair treatment of a person or group of people

exclude [ehk-sklood] (verb) to keep out

participation [pahr-tis-uh-pey-shuhn] (noun) the act of taking part in something


Suggested Procedure

Explore Word Meanings

Begin by discussing with the class how familiar words can become confusing when used in a different context. Ask students if they have heard of a law called Title IX, and—if so—what they know about it. Explain that Title IX is a portion of an education bill passed by Congress in 1972 and is written in legislative language.

List these words on the board: excluded, participation, denied, benefits, discrimination and assistance. (Note: These words appear in the vocabulary section above.) As a class, have students divide the words equally (three words each) into two like categories. Ask: “What do the words in each group have in common?” Ask students to develop a personal set of vocabulary cards by labeling each with one of the six words. Tell the pupils to draw a picture that demonstrates their understanding of each word’s meaning.

Pair up students and have them share their matching cards and discuss the following questions: “How do your pictures compare? How do your pictures contrast? Do they indicate the same definition of each word?” If students come up with different meanings, ask them to discuss until they reach agreement.

As a class, have students share their pair’s experience. Go back to each word on the board and talk about the definitions (Note: Consider using a strategy like number heads to choose students to explain.) Discuss all words until students agree on each word’s meaning.

Finally, have students read the 37-word “prohibition against discrimination” that begins the Title IX legislative document. It includes the six words they’ve defined as a class. Have volunteers explain their understanding of the sentence—both in the context of the vocabulary and the importance of non-discrimination in education. Ask: “Why do you think this particular wording was necessary in 1972?”


Tackle the Legislative Text

Explain to students that the language of Title IX can be difficult for those unaccustomed to legislative writing to understand during a first reading. Ask students to divide themselves into seven small groups and assign one of the following sections of the Title IX document to each group:

a) Section 1681 items 1, 2 and 3

b) Section 1681 items 4, 5 and 6

c) Section 1681 items 7, 8 and 9

d) Section 1682

e) Section 1683

f) Sections 1684, 1685 and 1686

g) Section 1687

Have each group read and discuss their assigned. Ask: “What wording do you find difficult to understand? How would you describe each section’s intent to somebody else in ‘plain’ language?” Tell students that when they are confident that they have understood their section’s intent, they should draft a summary of what it legislates to educational communities.

Set up a common document, like Google Docs, that everybody in the class can access. Ask each group to add its section summary to the document in the original Title IX order. Make certain they include all section numbers and headings.

Discuss the new “plain language” document as a whole class. Ask students: “Does it accurately reflect what the Title IX document calls for? Is everybody in the class able to understand your summary document’s intent?” Have students make any changes to the document that are needed to ensure it is accurate and understandable. Then ask students to share their document with others in the school community.


Explore the Law

Now review with students the meaning of the law they have summarized. Note that it essentially banned discrimination based on gender in educational communities. Then explain that it wasn’t until 1975 that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare wrote the regulations to implement the law.

As a class, have students discuss what they know about the effect of Title IX on educational communities. Ask: “In what area do you think it has had the most impact?”

Discuss what students know about the law’s impact on sports for girls and women. Ask: “Would it surprise you to know that athletics was never discussed or mentioned as Title IX language was drafted?” Have students share their experiences with the availability of sports opportunities for both girls and boys in their school district.

Explain to students the following: In addition to athletics, Title IX regulations seek equal opportunity and protection for both sexes in the following areas:

  • Access to higher education
  • Access to career education
  • Education for pregnant and parenting students
  • Employment
  • Learning environments
  • Math and science
  • Sexual harassment
  • Standardized testing
  • Technology

As a class, discuss each of these areas and students’ understanding of them. Ask: “What is a single-sex learning environment? What are some examples? How might they be discriminatory?”

In pairs, have students research one of these areas and find out the following:

  • Before 1972, how was each sex treated in schools? What are some examples?
  • How did Title IX address this discrimination?
  • What immediate impact did Title IX have in changing this discrimination?
  • How is each sex treated now?

Ask students to share what they’ve learned in an oral presentation. As a class, have students discuss their broader understanding of the impact of Title IX on learning communities.


Write Letters, Conduct Interviews

Tell students the following: “Members of your community may remember the days before Title IX. Prior to 1972, girls and boys didn’t have equal access to learning opportunities. For example, girls took home economics while boys took auto shop or wood shop.”

As a class, review the areas listed in Part 3 identified by Title IX to ensure equal access. Explain to students that they will write a letter to a relative or community member who went to school before 1975 asking for an interview. Tell students to include the questions they might ask based on their broad understanding of Title IX.

Have students conduct their interview in person, by phone, by email, or via Skype or chat. Tell them to determine the questions they want to ask during the interview. Some possible questions might be: “What does your interviewee remember about single-sex classes, such as shop, home economics or gym? Was she frustrated by them? Why? How were pregnant or parenting students treated in their school? If they left school, did they receive an equal education? How were girls encouraged to, or discouraged from, taking higher-level math or science classes? Were they encouraged to follow certain career paths? What were those paths?”

Make sure students let their interviewees know that they will share his or her experiences with the rest of the class and compare them with the learning experiences of his or her peers.

In a Q&A format, have students write the results of their interview. As a class, ask students to compare what they’ve learned. Ask: “Did you discover some common experiences?”

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS: R.2, R.4, R.5, W.2, W.4, W.6, W.7, W.8, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4, SL.5, L.3, L.4, L.6


Extension Activity

Do Something

Tell students that Title IX calls for the designation of at least one coordinator on campus who ensures that all regulations are being met and complaints are heard and resolved. In many areas, there is only one coordinator per district.

  1. As a class, find out the name and location of the coordinator at your school or within your district.
  2. Have students design a short student survey on equal access to educational opportunities, facilities, and funds at their school. Their questions should be designed to discover where there might be less than equal circumstances for students of each sex and in all life stages. The questions should cover all of the areas covered by Title IX, including sports, college and career preparation, classroom environments, choice of courses, and harassment-free environments.
  3. Have students conduct their survey. As a class, discuss what they found. Ask: “What areas could be improved at your school? Which are good examples of equal access?”
  4. Invite your school or district Title IX coordinator to your class. Ask her or him to describe the role’s responsibilities and provide examples of when they’ve worked to ensure an equal education for all students. Also, ask what the process is for reporting any inequities within your school or district.
  5. Have students share the results of their survey with the Title IX coordinator. Work together to make a plan for following up with and resolving any issues.
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