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African-American Girls Are More Likely To Be Suspended Or Expelled

Among other measures that illustrate education barriers, African American girls are twice as likely to be held back a grade

(JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns, age 16, led her all-black high school in a protest against unequal conditions in segregated schools. With counsel from the NAACP, she and her allies later joined the landmark case Brown v Board of Education. But decades after the Civil Rights Movement, the fight started in the 1950s is not done. African American girls are faring worse than other girls on almost every measure of academic achievement, according to a new report.

African American girls are more likely than other groups of girls to be suspended, expelled or held back a year, write the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Their report argues that racial and gender discrimination and stereotypes—as well as the unequal distribution of resources, teachers and activities—are to blame.

During the 2011 to 2012 school year, 12 percent of African American female students, pre-K through 12th grade, were suspended. That rate is six times higher than that for white girls. It’s also higher than for any other group of girls and higher than for white, Asian and Latino boys. (20 percent of African American boys are suspended, according to the original report.)

One of the report’s lead authors, Janel George, education and policy counsel at LDF, talked to NPR about how high suspension rates and other discipline disparities can affect education:

What we have is lost instruction time, lost classroom time, disengagement from the school environment, feelings of alienation, and a lot of times we see increased referrals to the juvenile justice system for often minor offenses.

One story we recount in our report is a quote from a young lady who says, "They have different rules for us, whereas other students can commit the same infractions, we will be disciplined harsher."

The result, the report suggests, is a lifetime of struggle for equal treatment and opportunities. In 2010, one-third of African American girls did not graduate from high school on time. In 2013, more than 40 percent of African American women over the age of 25 were living in poverty.

The report praises initiatives for African American boys but asks for more support, investment and attention to be given to African American girls. 

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