Black girls do not present more frequent or serious discipline problems. They are not slower learners; nor do they struggle academically more than any other student. But according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center, black girls are twice as likely as any other student to be suspended, and 5.5 times more likely to be temporarily kicked out of school than their white counterparts.
The National Women’s Law Center is an organization that has worked for over 40 years promoting equality and opportunity for women and families. In its new report, “Stopping School Pushout for Girls of Color,” the group analyzed education data from every state and found that black female students face disproportionately harsher punishments in school.
The results are startling. In Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, black girls are 8.5 times more likely than white girls to be suspended, according to U.S. News & World Report. In Washington, D.C., black girls are 73 percent of the school population but 94 percent of all girls suspended. That means they are 17.8 times more likely than white girls to be suspended.
The report’s authors say that a number of factors contribute to this situation, including these:
- “Stereotypes of black girls and women as ‘angry’ or aggressive, and ‘promiscuous’ or hypersexualized, can shape school officials’ views of black girls in critically harmful ways.”
- Black girls are punished for challenging what society deems “feminine” behavior, like being candid or talking back.
- Implicit and explicit biases about black children’s behavior and capacity to learn.
- Black students are more likely to attend under-resourced schools.
Assertiveness, while an asset in males, is often suppressed in black girls at school, according to the report:
Ironically, the quality of assertiveness generally has led to positive public perceptions of Black women in leadership roles. In fact, the Let Her Learn Survey found that Black girls were more likely than any other group of girls to see themselves as leaders. However, in the school setting, assertiveness can often be misidentified as “talking back” or “defiance,” which puts them at greater risk for inequitable discipline.
The report highlights how the underfunding of black schools manifests itself in how girls of color are educated. The study’s data show that as the percentage of black student populations rises at schools across the country, schools statistically hire fewer counselors per student and more law-enforcement officers.
How do these biases manifest themselves? NWLC data reveal how black girls are excluded from participating in programs that are thought of as traditionally male, increasing barriers to educational and financial success. For instance, almost a third of black girls attend high schools with no chemistry or calculus programs, while only around 18 percent of white girls do. This is part of the reason that women of color are underrepresented in STEM—or science, technology, engineering and mathematics—fields.
The report recommends educating teachers on implicit bias, enforcing anti-discrimination policies and reporting data, among other things. The NWLC also suggests that lawmakers focus on data, increase school funding in minority areas and find ways to implement policies that tackle discrimination.
It is up to schools, legislators and officials to tackle these issues so that black women have the same opportunities as the rest of society. Of course, the conservative counterpoint to this will be ... umm ... I really can’t think of how anyone could come up with an argument to redirect blame on this one. I can only think of one thing black girls could do to stop getting kicked out of school at five times the rate of white girls for the same behavior:
Maybe they could just stop being black.