MSC Student Life Intern, Cheyenne
From the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to increased discourse about the criminalization of Black boys it is safe to say that conversations about African-American males in the school system have been abundantly abuzz. However, the unique challenges that Black girls face in America’s school system are often subsumed by those of their male counterparts, leaving their needs unattended to. Although it is assumed that girls generally fare better than boys in school, much of the data that supports this fact fails to dis-aggregate data by race, which would reveal that African-American females are actually doing worse than the national average for girls on almost every scale of scholastic achievement.
In response to the persistent underachievement of African-American girls, groups such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Women’s Law Center, and the African-American Policy Forum have released reports that comprehensively demonstrate how the gendered racism, combined with poor school resources cause Black girls to experience higher disciplinary, suspension and expulsion rates than any of their other female counterparts. The release of such data has shed light on how America’s educational system has historically underserved Black girls and has emphasized the importance of policymakers, educators, and school administrators paying attention to girls of color.
Stereotypes and Discipline
Similar to Black boys, Black girls have also suffered the burden of negative stereotypes that cast them as aggressive, angry, promiscuous, and hyper-sexualized. Despite statistics that show that African-American girls tend to have higher self-esteems than their White counterparts, the racialized and gendered perceptions that their teachers may use to analyze and understand their behavior in the classroom can negatively impact their educational experiences and cause them to feel less committed to continuing their academic journeys in the future. Oftentimes disciplined for behavior that does not conform to white middle-class norms of femininity, the dispositions and attitudes of Black girls that may demonstrate academic engagement and excitement are instead coded as “disruptive” behavior, thus showing how the educational potential of Black girls is often limited due to their failure to conform to the norms of the dominant culture. Thus, Black girls face a “Catch 22” situation in which in they are either unnecessarily disciplined for being “too assertive” or forced to conform to Eurocentric standards of girlhood that encourage passivity and quietness and therefore deprive themselves of educational opportunities.
Black Girls and Leadership
Despite the fact Black girls are more likely to consider themselves leaders, express a desire to be leaders, and already have leadership experience in comparison to their White counterparts, America’s public school system seems to present scarce opportunities for Black girls to hone their leadership skills, with only 12% of 12th grade African-American girls reporting “considerable” or “significant” participation in student government according to the report created by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and National Women’s Law Center.
Although Black women and girls have been on the forefront of movements to fight against racial inequality in public schools, organizations and initiatives designed to foster the leadership and self-confidence of Black girls are scarce in America’s public schools and may further reinforce the academic struggles of African-American girls along with long-held stereotypes.
Black Girls and Educational Disparity
Despite the groundbreaking ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that deemed the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional in the racial segregation of schools, African-American students are still enrolled in schools lacking adequate resources, qualified teachers, college-prep classes, and diverse extra-curricular activities at higher rates then their white counterparts. Data shows that the access and retainment of these resources are key to student success and although statistics on the impact of school disparities on students is not dis-aggregated by gender, school resources (or the lack of) serves as an important factor in considering the status of Black girls in education. In comparison to their peers from other racial and ethic groups, both African-American boys and girls are more likely to attend racially-isolated, high-poverty schools which are socioeconomically isolated and have a lower proportion of highly-qualified teachers. These disparities begin as early as pre-school, thus showing how the academic inequalities Black students face to be cumulative.
Although Black students may share some similar challenges in education, recent data and statistics clearly demonstrate that African-American females face very unique situations in public schools distinctly separate from their male counterparts. If policymakers and educators are serious about increasing the academic achievement of Black students, they must be willing to challenge and take into account societal norms that marginalize the life opportunities of Black females in order to truly increase the effectiveness of public school education.