How Our Schools Are Holding Black Girls Back


President Obama’s November report on Women and Girls of Color was an important step, inviting attention to reduce the barriers confronting them on the path to college and careers. On February 11, a panel of experts will gather on Capitol Hill to discuss the issue with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke. Following these examples, it’s time to give some attention to the unique obstacles these girls and women face.

Girls of color, and African American girls in particular, face many of the same challenges as boys inside the classroom, including huge differences compared to white students in the frequency and manner in which they’re disciplined. But they also face unique obstacles that until recently have drawn little attention. We need to understand these obstacles more clearly if we hope to find answers to surmount them.

Overall, we know from the latest federal data that black students are suspended at three times the rate of their white counterparts. We also know this disparity is not caused by black students engaging in more serious misbehavior, but rather by black students being punished more harshly for the same misbehavior as whites.

What’s received less attention in these statistics, however, is that black girls are suspended at a higher rate—12 percent—than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys. The rate for white girls is just 2 percent...

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