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High school vocational programs push girls into cosmetology and child care classes while boys learn higher-paying skills such as auto repair or carpentry, said a women’s rights group asking the government to investigate. The National Women’s Law Center petitioned the Education Department to study whether vocational schools and classes comply with Title IX, the 30-year-old law requiring schools that receive federal money to provide equal opportunities for men and women. If the government fails “to live up to its obligations,” the center stands ready to represent students with lawsuits, said co-president Marcia D. Greenberger. “The dreams and futures of many young women and girls, particularly low-income women, are being shortchanged,” Greenberger said. She added that boys interested in careers traditionally labeled “girls only” also are harmed. Education officials said Thursday they had not yet seen the petitions to the department’s 12 regional civil rights offices and could not respond immediately. A lawyer representing the nation’s principals said many factors shape girls’ choices. “The pressures, if they exist in the school, exist equally outside of the school as to what’s expected of girls and different gender roles,” said Andrea Bell, general counsel for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “To put it solely on the principal I think is unfair,” Bell said. “Maybe we all have to do a better job of encouraging girls to take classes that aren’t necessarily within the gender stereotype, and boys, too.” Ninety-six percent of cosmetology students and 87 percent of child care students are girls; boys make up 92 percent of automotive classes and 93 percent of welding classes, the law center found in a study of high schools in 12 states. Center officials pointed to Labor Department statistics that show cosmetologists earn a median hourly wage of $8.49 and child care workers $7.43, while carpenters earn $15.76 an hour and the median wage for auto mechanics is $13.70. The difference is starker at the top of those fields: master auto technicians can earn $70,000 to $100,000 per year. Title IX is best known for shaking up high school and college athletic programs, many of which had relegated women to the sidelines. Greenberger noted the leaps in the number of women studying law and medicine over the past three decades. Efforts to end discrimination in vocational training have lagged behind partly because “these areas of education are treated in a second-class way in school systems,” she said. “It’s been very hard to get attention paid to them.” Girls are discouraged by sexual discrimination by guidance counselors, harassment by students and teachers, and a lack of female role models, Greenberger said. She said school administrators tend to pass the blame to parents, construction companies that balk at hiring women, and girls who don’t initially express interest in learning traditionally male trades. But high schools are obligated to educate girls about their choices and earnings potential “at one of the most critical junctures in their education,” she said. The study of vocational classes looked at data from the education departments of Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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