Most of my readers know I am an interested in the social and academic challenges urban black male high school students face. Recently, however, I have begun to examine studies on black girls, and it has became painfully obvious that they also face a number of academic hurdles. Unfortunately, their educational experiences are often overlooked as the plight of black boys has captured the attention of scholars for sometime. Seeking to learn more about black girls I developed a single research question – We know that black boys tend to struggle in the classroom, but what does the research say about black girls?
A number of researchers conduct studies on what they call “school readiness”, which in simplest terms means they want to know if children are ready for kindergarten. While the school readiness gap between black and white children appears to be closing, both black boys and girls still tend to be less prepared for kindergarten than their white peers. We know that black boys are typically viewed as larger and more aggressive than white males. Yet, a new and interesting study has revealed that black girls, even as young as age 5, are seen as “less innocent“. Black girls are also perceived to be more independent, and know more about adult topics and sex. These findings are crucial since our perceptions determine how we treat people. This is particularly true of teachers who play a vital role in the academic trajectory of black girls.
Data provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress clearly shows that 4th, 8th, and 12th grade African American students lag behind their white peers in reading. Twelfth grade black girls scored 10 points higher than black boys in reading (272 vs. 262). Yet at the same time their score was lower than Asian, white, Hispanic and American Indian students.
Some people think black females have a hard time making headway in the classroom because they are more likely to live in poverty, attend poorer segregated urban schools, live in urban neighborhoods, or be taught by an unqualified and inexperienced teacher. But their performance issues could also be tied to the fact that that when compared to their peers, black girls are more than 2 times as likely to be suspended. Black girls in the District of Columbia constitute 73 percent of students enrolled in school, but are roughly 18 times more likely to be suspended than white girls. Researchers argue that not all of the suspensions can be attributed to bad behavior, but instead point to the racist and sexist stereotypes of educators. Black females, particularly those in middle and high school are often described as “head strong”, “sassy”, “promiscuous” and “disrespectful.” Regardless, black female students who aren’t in school will miss out on valuable instructional time, which could hurt their test scores and GPAs.
Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Woman’s Justice Institute contends that black females are being pushed out of school. That is, instead of receiving instruction and guidance at school, black girls are often viewed negatively, degraded and humiliated. Morris highlights how black females are mistreated in society and in school in her book book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. Although I have not read her book, reviewers have maintained that the text should be mandatory reading for scholars, teachers and administrators who want to better understand black females students.
Despite the negative statistics black female students have found a way to persist in school and make it to college. Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that in 2014-2015, 8811 black women received doctoral degrees. During that same year, they received 2081 law degrees and 1717 medical degrees.
My brief investigation of black female students helped me gain insight into what they up against when they travel through the educational pipeline. The vast majority of black female students find a make it through school, but this does not mean their academic journey easy, it just means they are resilient. More research needs to done to illuminate their educational experiences.