Report: Black girls falling victim to systemic barriers in education

Cyril Josh Barker | 10/2/2014, 4:10 p.m.

Tiambrya Jenkins, a 16-year-old Black high school student in Rome, Ga., was a straight-A student in ninth grade, with a dream of becoming a nurse. However, when she got into a fight after school with a white female classmate, Jenkins received a harsher punishment.

Both girls were transferred to an alternative school as punishment. The white classmate returned to regular school after 90 days, but Jenkins was held at the alternative school for the entire school year. Now Jenkins is in danger of not attaining her dream.

“It was like being in prison,” said Jenkins. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me. Now, I’m flunking math, my favorite class. I’m slipping further behind day by day and doubt I’ll ever catch up.”

Jenkins’ story is just one of many that are the focus a recent report released by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, revealing that African-American girls are faring worse than the national average for girls in general in academic achievement.

The report, “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity,” outlines what are sometimes insurmountable barriers to staying in school and how poor educational outcomes result in limited job opportunities, lower lifetime earnings and increased risk of economic insecurity for African-American women.

In 2013, 43 percent of African-American women without a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared with 9 percent of African-American women with at least a bachelor’s degree.

“Our educational policies and practices must open the doors of opportunity for all, regardless of race or gender,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Only then will we fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark ruling that invalidated legal segregation in America 60 years ago.”

Barriers, according to the report, include lack of access to college- and career-preparatory curricula in schools, limited access to athletics and limited access to other extracurricular activities.

The report also highlights disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices that exclude African-American girls from school for minor and subjective infractions, such as dress code violations and wearing natural hairstyles, and discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and pervasive sexual harassment and violence.

“The report’s findings complement the important, ongoing work to improve educational outcomes for boys and men of color and provide additional information about the challenges facing African- American children in education,” Ifill said.