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Title IX's passage outlawed policies and practices that discriminate on the basis of sex in education, including overt discrimination, sexual and gender–based harassment, and blatant bigotry. However, more subtle forms of discrimination that generally do not fall within Title IX's scope often contribute to a classroom climate that is 'chilly' or even shattering for females. Title IX, in large part, has paved the way for research regarding the chilly climate––including teacher expectations, interactions between teachers and students, and the content of what students actually learn. While many of these elements are not covered by Title IX, these factors have a great impact on the extent to which students can benefit from education programs. In this regard, an examination of the learning environment is critical to assessing the nation's progress toward achieving gender equity in education.

Classroom Effectiveness and Instructional Strategies. Twenty–five years ago, the co–ed classroom was filled with gender stereotypes and segregation. Class tasks like housekeeping or handling messages were designated by gender. Reading was deemed the girls' arena; math and science were set aside for boys. Textbooks to educate teachers reinforced stereotypes about male and female students and set the stage for disparate expectations of students. For example, one textbook informed teachers that girls had an advantage over boys in reading because they had an innate ability to sit still.

Even today, at all levels of education, males and females often are treated differently, even by the best–intentioned teachers. Girls and women typically get less attention, less praise, less criticism, and less encouragement. When males speak, teachers often engage in a dialogue with them, while girls and women are more likely to receive the ubiquitous 'uh–huh.' College women frequently are interrupted more often and called upon less in many classes. These and other subtle behaviors are often unnoticed by faculty or by students, but they create a chilly climate that dampens female students' ambitions and diminishes their self–esteem and confidence, which in turn, can affect their academic performance.

In elementary and secondary schools, these differences exist as well. Females frequently receive better report card grades, perhaps in part for their quiet and agreeable behaviors. Males, on the other hand, who are socialized to be active and aggressive, find that these same behaviors in the classroom are unacceptable. Thus, males, particularly males of color, get disciplined more often and more harshly. Paradoxically, this better behavior by females frees the teacher to focus upon males, not only for discipline, but for instruction as well. The result is that boys benefit with more chances to answer, demonstrate knowledge, and think critically. Just as in the context of higher education, teachers in elementary and secondary schools provide males with more frequent and more precise feedback, including acceptance, praise, criticism, and remediation, all of which promote and direct their achievement. Thus, as documented, for example, by a 1992 study by the AAUW Educational Foundation, females with special needs or talents are too often underrepresented in educational programs for students with learning disabilities or for gifted students. Similarly, male and female students of color are at an extra risk of being misplaced or overlooked in these programs.

Curricular Materials and Learning Environments. Until the 1970s, females and people of color would rarely find themselves reflected in educational materials that were dominated by the information and actions of males. For example, there was testimony during Title IX's hearings that 72 percent of stories in a total of 144 readers used in New York City schools focused on boys. The boys depicted in readers typically were active, playing games, making things, learning, or working with their fathers, for example. In contrast, the remaining stories about girls depicted them as passive, engaging in activities such as playing with kittens, getting into trouble, and being helped out by their brothers. There also was testimony that teachers made assignments to students that reflected gender stereotypes. Math problems for young women involved recipes, while such problems for young men involved high finance. Higher education was no better. For example, researchers Myra and David Sadker found in a targeted 1979 study that no teacher education textbooks discussed women's role in the history of American education.

The Unwritten Curriculum

A 1979 study of textbooks for educators found this grammar lesson for children that sends not–so–subtle messages about gender and ethnicity:

John works.
Julio gardens.
Mary teaches.
Ramon farms.
Enrique drives a truck.
Mr. Jones practices law.
Marianna cooks.
Mrs. Chacon makes dresses.
Mr. Acosta plays chess.
Larry studies at the university.

At the postsecondary level, women's studies programs emerged in the early 1970s as one challenge to the invisibility of women in the college curriculum. At that time, there were only 17 courses nationwide offered in women's studies in colleges and universities. According to the National Women's Studies Association, that number has mushroomed to thousands, with universities and colleges offering more than 600 programs in which students can major, minor, or earn a certificate in women's studies. Despite the emergence of women's studies, however, climate issues still affect women in higher education, particularly women pursuing math, science, or engineering. Women in these fields frequently encounter indifference, exclusion, and outright hostility in the form of gender–based and sexual harassment. This environment impedes women's access to math and the sciences, two areas with significant earning potential.

At the elementary and secondary level, there have been a number of strides made toward improving the learning environment for all students. For example, several schools have incorporated diverse learning strategies and reinforced a broader understanding of intelligences, so that expectations can be both high and realistic for all. Staff developers, teacher trainers, and teacher educators in some schools have integrated equitable and effective instruction that has enhanced classroom treatment for every student. Researchers continue to investigate the treatment of students and provide gender (and related diversity) focused research results for the whole educational community.

Similarly there have been advances regarding curriculum and classroom materials that have benefited all students. Several school systems have text selection committees that use objective assessment tools to analyze books for gender equity (as well as race, ethnicity, and class) to overcome underrepresentation, stereotyping, and other forms of bias. Educational leaders and curriculum developers have worked with publishers to develop better and more inclusive materials. Federal or other public funding has led to the creation of special programs and distribution of materials that are diverse and exciting. Advanced technologies (computer hardware and software and Internet access) that are gender attuned and avoid traditional and stereotypic products have been developed. Many teachers have supplemented biased or dated resources with new and better materials.

Research also caused educators to focus on the physical environment of the classroom as a barometer of the climate. For example, the desks and students are often segregated by sex. Teachers find themselves focusing instruction or management in 'hot' areas of the room, which is often the center or male section of the class. Images on the walls–from posters and pictures to prose and codes of conduct–reinforce the dominance and power of males and masculine activities. Linguistic bias supports females' invisibility, with words like 'he' and 'mankind,' terms that exclude and minimize the presence and position of females. The classroom is filled with messages and meanings, coming from the images that are displayed and the language that is used. If the range of materials used to teach students is gender–biased, it is inevitable that the learning will be.

Room for Improvement
  • Across the board, female students typically get less attention, praise, criticism, or encouragement than male students.
  • Teachers' focus on male students means that female students with special needs or talents are underrepresented in educational programs for students with learning disabilities or for gifted students.
  • Congress's decision to eliminate Title IV state educational agencies means that most schools are without a critical source of materials, curricula, and other resources to promote educational equity.

State educational agencies funded by Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have helped educational institutions address gender bias, as well as discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Title IV agencies have provided schools with materials, curricula, and strategies to improve the classroom climate. However, Congress decided not to fund these important activities for fiscal years 1996 and 1997. As a result, only four states have continued to provide this assistance, despite the great need for and Title IX's mandate to ensure that students are provided a non–discriminatory environment in which to learn.

Grade: C–


  • Congress should reinstate funding for Title IV state educational agencies, which have helped schools across the country improve the classroom environment for all students.
  • Educators should instruct students about individual similarities and differences, on acknowledging and respecting gender diversity, and on becoming advocates for themselves and others.
  • Educators should make achieving gender equity a key priority and continue receiving training to overcome bias and discriminatory practices in classrooms.
  • Educational institutions should comply with Title IX's requirements, including assessing and correcting practices that lead to inequitable treatment of students.
  • Scholars should conduct additional gender–focused research, examining student treatment in single–sex, dominant sex, bi–racial, multicultural, and 'homogeneous' classrooms.
  • American Association of University Women, Growing Smart: What's Working for Girls in School (researched by Sunny Hansen, Joyce Walker, and Barbara Flom) (AAUW Educational Foundation, 1995).
  • American Association of University Women. How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAUW Report (researched by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women) (AAUW Educational Foundation, 1992).
  • Robert W. Cole, ed., Educating Everybody's Children: Diverse Strategies for Diverse Learners (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1995).
  • M. Cole and P. Griffin eds., Improving Science and Mathematics Education for Minorities and Women: Contextual Factors in Education (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1987).
  • 117 Cong. Rec. 25,507 (July 15, 1971) (Remarks of Rep. Bella Abzug).
  • J. Eccles and P. Blumenfeld, 'Classroom Experiences and Student Gender: Are There Differences and Do They Matter?' in L. C. Wilkinson and C. B. Marret (eds.), Gender Influences in Classroom Interaction (Orlando, FL: Academic Press, 1985).
  • E. R. Hollins, 'Assessing Teacher Competence for Diverse Populations,' Theory Into Practice, 32 (1) (Spring 1993).
  • J. J. Irvine, Black students and school failure: Policies, practices and prescriptions. (Contributions in Afro–American and African Studies, Number 131) (Greenwood Press, 1990).
  • S.S. Klein, P. E. Ortman, with P. Campbell, S. Greenberg, S. Hollingsworth, J. Jacobs, B. Kachuck, A. McClelland, D. Pollard, D. Sadker, M. Sadker, P. Schmuck, E. Scott, J. Wiggins, et al., 'Continuing the Journey Toward Gender Equity. Educational Researcher, 23 (8) (1994).
  • Myra Sadker and David Sadker, Beyond Pictures and Pronouns: Sexism in Teacher Education Textbooks (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1979)
  • Myra Sadker and David Sadker, Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls (Touchstone, 1995).
  • B.R. Sandler, L.A. Silverberg, and R.M.S. Hall, The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide to Improve the Education of Women (National Association for Women in Education, 1996).
  • B.H. Stanford, in D. A. Byrnes and G. Kiger (eds.), Common bonds: Anti–bias Teaching in a Diverse Society (Association for Childhood Education International, 1996).


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