Dept. of Ed Offers Guidelines on Avoiding 'Underrepresentation' of Sexes in Careet & Tech Programs

By Joe Setyon | June 28, 2016 | 9:25 AM EDT



(– The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to guide educational institutions offering career and technical programs
on how to ensure that all students are given equal opportunities to succeed regardless of their gender.progra

The letter notes that even though “disproportionate enrollment” is not against federal law, institutions that receive federal funding “must conduct their admission, recruitment, and counseling practices in a nondiscriminatory manner” and address “any unlawful sex discrimination and sex stereotypes in their policies and practices.”

As examples, the letter points out that underrepresentation of women in CTE (career and technical) programs is a potential factor in the gender pay gap. Less than two percent of plumbers and less than three percent of electricians are women, DOE claims.

On the other hand, CTE programs that train students for careers in childcare and cosmetology are disproportionately filled by women, with females making up 90 percent of the workforce in these traditionally low-paying fields.

The DOE thinks that “discouraging men and boys” from fields that are “non-traditional for their sex” is a problem as well.

Since fewer men are enrolled in CTE programs for nursing and education, they make up a minority of these workforces. Less than three percent of early childhood education teachers are men, and males comprise just 10 percent of nurses and medical assistants.

DOE says it wants career and technical education (CTE) programs to be more gender-inclusive and increase “overall participation” in “fields where one sex is underrepresented.”

“As the father of two daughters, I want my girls - and all young women in this country - to have access to the careers of their dreams, no matter the path,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. said in a June 15 statement. “Career and technical education is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers, it’s about giving all students the tools to succeed.”

According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, CTE “prepares students to be college and career ready by providing core academic skills, employability skills, and technical, job-specific skills.” CTE uses high schools, career centers, and community and four-year colleges to guide students down a variety of career paths.

In the letter, The DOE offers several ways to end “disproportionate enrollment” in career and technical fields.   

When promoting their programs, institutions must not “create or perpetuate stereotypes.” Instead, they should try to “portray males or females in programs and occupations in which these groups traditionally have not been represented.”

Moreover, when admitting students, institutions cannot use “any test or criterion” that “has a disproportionately adverse effect on individuals of one sex.” Counseling programs must be non-discriminatory as well, as counselors cannot give students career advice based on their gender.

In accordance with Title IX, institutions have to explicitly state that they will not discriminate based on gender. They also have to designate a “Title IX Coordinator” to monitor and prevent potential discrimination.

Finally, the letter urges educational institutions to prevent sex-based harassment, and to treat students and applicants equally regardless of whether they are married, pregnant or have children.

The letter notes a potential situation in which an advanced manufacturing program will not allow pregnant women to take a machine lab course because of the danger involved.

However, DOE states that this would be a violation of Title IX which “prohibits schools from excluding students from classes based on pregnancy.”

On June 17, the Department of Education announced that ten schools were the prizewinners in the CTE Makeover Program, which called “on high schools to design makerspaces that strengthen next-generation career and technical skills.” As a prize, each school received $20,000 cash to improve their its CTE program.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Llahamon and Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Johan E. Ulvin both think that the guidelines will help reduce gender discrimination in CTE programs.

Ensuring equitable access to CTE programs by eliminating sex discrimination supports a pathway to high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand jobs for all learners, free from stereotype and consistent with our nation’s civil rights laws,” Llahamon said in the press release.

Ulvin added that “this guidance will improve equitable access, participation, completion and post-program outcomes in CTE by discouraging discriminatory practices and encouraging school communities to take proactive steps to expand participation of students in nontraditional fields.”

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