African American girls are falling behind when it comes to educational outcomes and economic opportunities, according to a new study from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The data present a rare opportunity to shed light on how economic barriers and inequitable access to educational opportunities impacts African American girls when compared to their peers.

“The ongoing experience of African American girls in our nation’s schools are rarely considered or discussed,” the groups said. Though often overlooked, the NWLC and the NAACP-LDF report African American girls face myriad barriers to educational attainment, including high rates of exposure to sexual harassment and violence, lack of access to quality educational opportunities, and discriminatory disciplinary practices.

During the 2011-2012 school year, for example, 12 percent of all African American girls in pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 were suspended, a suspension rate six times the rate for white girls and higher than rates for white, Asian, and Latino boys. African American girls also disproportionately experience a school-related arrest, despite research that African American students are not engaged in more frequent serious misbehavior than white students.

Despite a well-documented history of African American women and girls as central characters in some of the most prominent legal battles for equal opportunity regardless of race or gender, data studying outcomes for black women and girls in the classroom and in the workforce are remarkably scarce.

“African American girls are faring worse than the national average for girls on almost every measure of academic achievement,” the report states. In nearly every state, the high school graduation rate for African American girls is significantly below that of their white counterparts. The graduation rate for African American girls is, on average, lower than all other groups of girls, except for Native American girls. African American girls are also held back at a rate double the national average for girls, and nearly three times the rate of white girls.

According to the report, black women’s educational attainments have a much stronger impact on their economic outcomes than white women. At nearly every education level, the higher the degree an African American woman is able to obtain, the more significantly she cuts her rate of poverty – even more so than her white peers. The rate of poverty for black women with just some college background drops by 8 percentage points compared to a 2 percent drop for white women. The poverty rate for a black woman with a bachelor’s degree drops another 12 points compared to just 5 percentage points for white women.

Despite an over-representation of African American womenpursuing associate degrees or enrolling in two-year programs, black women are grossly underrepresented in four-year college and university settings. However, the report states, “It isn’t until an African American woman has a bachelor’s degree or more that she is no longer disproportionately represented in the low-wage workforce.” Even African American women with some college background or an associate’s degree are significantly over-represented among low and minimum wage workers.

These findings have crucial implications for the families of African American women. In 2012, more than 40 percent of all households with children under 18 were led by mothers who were the sole or primary income provider. Another 22 percent of households were led by mothers who were co-breadwinners. In 2010, at least 53 percent of all African American wives earned as much or more than their partners, evidencing an extraordinary need to address the educational outcomes of black women in order to better outcomes for black women’s families.

The report concluded that widespread racial and gender stereotypes work in tandem with systemic educational barriers to create long term economic obstacles to success for black girls. “As a result, African American girls are uniquely vulnerable to a ‘School-to-Poverty Pathway,'” the NWLC and NAACP-LDF stated.

“The futures of African American girls are on the line,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center. The NWLC has designed a pledge of support, calling on individuals to improve the educational outcomes of African American girls. Read the full report, or sign the pledge at the National Women’s Law Center site.

Media Resources: National Women’s Law Center 9/23/14; “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call for Educational Equity” 9/19/14; Stand with African American Girls Pledge 9/2014

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