Have Black Girls Been Overlooked?

Recent test scores, statements from parents and Black girls, and visits to urban school districts have shown that we’re in the midst of a crisis among Black females. Yet, almost nothing gets reported; their situation seems of little consequence to the general public. We have done very little to encourage, respect, support, and appreciate Black girls’ development. Their situation and their academic achievement cries out for substantive change. What is the status of education for Black females? Here’s a brief rundown.


Why Are Only 18 Percent of Black Females Proficient in Reading?

Why are Black girls having such a difficult time learning to read? Why has America been so silent? We hear so much about the fact that only 12 percent of Black boys in eighth grade are proficient in reading. While we understand Black boys are on life support, Black girls are in critical condition. Have Black girls been overlooked? Is 18 percent an acceptable level of proficiency? How can this be acceptable? I believe this is a crisis and bordering on a catastrophe.

Hundreds of books, articles, conferences, and seminars exist about the plight of Black males. Even the White House has chimed in with My Brother’s Keeper. Where are the books, articles, conferences, and seminars about the plight among Black females? How are Black girls going to be economically competitive with only 18 percent proficiency in reading by eighth grade?

Who is going to teach Black females how to read? Why are schools having such difficulty? Who is going to teach Black girls to love reading? Who is going to expose them to the beauty of Black literature? Who is going to make sure Black girls are reading short stories, autobiographies, poetry, essays, and other Black literature? Who is going to introduce them to the brilliance of Black female writers? Who is going to help get Black girls so passionate about authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, Eloise Greenfield, and their own writing that Black girls’ literary groups become their number one way to spend free time?

Is it possible that Black females know how to tweet, text, e-mail, and write comments on Facebook, but lack proficiency on Common Core tests? Do schools understand and appreciate Black female learning styles? Are schools expecting Black girls to behave and learn like White girls? Do some schools and teachers have low expectations for Black females? What percentage of America’s teachers are Black female? How important are Black female teachers to Black girls? How important are Black girls to Black female teachers? Does the presence of Black female teachers raise Black girls’ test scores and enhance self-esteem?

If literacy were of no consequence, why did Frederick Douglass, Phillis Wheatley, and countless others—enslaved and free—remain determined to read? What has happened to this determination among Black people? Why is proficiency in reading critical to societal development? Or have we in America decided proficiency doesn’t matter to our future as a nation?


Why Are So Many Black Girls Suspended from School?

We have heard that 16 percent of Black males are suspended from school. Did you know that 12 percent of Black females are suspended? Are Black females being overlooked? We know Black males are on life support, but Black females are in critical condition.

Does America hate Black females? Do most schools dislike Black females? Are schools and teachers expecting Black females to act like White females? Do White teachers expect Black girls to act like their daughters? Do some schools and teachers think Black girls are too loud? Do they believe they have too much “attitude?”

What are some of the prevalent reasons schools and teachers give for suspending Black girls? Many Black girls are suspended because they wear their hair natural. A Black girl in Orlando, Florida was threatened with expulsion because she was bullied about her natural hairstyle, the school thought it best that she straighten her hair and she refused to do so. In another instance, a Black girl was suspended because she juxtaposed Frederick Douglass’ views of education during slavery with present-day views of education. Are these understandable policies for suspending Black girls?

Are schools fair to Black girls? Do some schools have double standards? Why do White girls get a warning for a school uniform infraction and Black girls get suspended? The same applies to using a mobile device. Many Black girls are suspended because they rolled their eyes at the teacher, put their hand on their hip and rotated their neck. Some Black girls are suspended because they were chewing gum and said, “Whatever.” For White girls to be suspended it requires bloodshed or possession of a weapon.

Are some White female teachers afraid of Black girls? Do some schools use suspension of Black girls the way they use special education for Black boys? Is suspension a way to remove unwanted students from the classroom? How can Black girls excel academically in environments where they are not liked, respected, culturally understood, and appreciated? In most schools, 20 percent of the teachers make 80 percent of suspension referrals. Is the problem with Black girls or with this 20 percent?

Why are suspension policies critical to a school’s culture? What happens within that culture when a small percentage of teachers implements the greatest number of suspension referrals—and is successful at doing so? What does this say about the school’s leadership? And what happens to Black girls when they experience this policy and threat (since they see their peers getting suspended) as they go through school? What can schools and teachers do to move away from suspension and toward education?


Why Are 40 Percent of Black Females Dropping Out?

Why has America and the Black community been silent about this epidemic? We hear so much about the 47 percent dropout rate among Black males, but I believe a 40 percent dropout rate among Black females is outrageous and unacceptable. Black males may be on life support, but Black females are in critical condition.

What are the factors causing so many Black girls to leave school? Could one factor be that only 18 percent of Black girls by eighth grade are proficient in reading? Could another factor be that only 13 percent are proficient in math by eighth grade? What about the fact that 21 percent of Black girls are retained at least once? How does retention affect the psyche of Black girls? What effect does Black girls’ suspension rate of 12 percent have on their dropout rate? Black girls’ pregnancy rate had been considered a factor in their dropout rate. But then in-school and alternative school programs emerged. Are these programs succeeding at helping young Black mothers join the ranks of college students?

Are some schools hostile environments for Black girls? Do schools like Black girls? Do they respect Black females? Do they understand and appreciate Black female culture? Do they appreciate Black females’ hairstyles? Do they encourage Black female expression? Are Black females dropping out or being pushed out? Why are so many suspended Black females being moved to the juvenile justice system? Black girls should be treated like students, not criminals.

When Black girls encounter hostile, unrewarding school environments, what awaits them if they drop out? What is their likely short- and long-term future? Can they access highly paid jobs? How will they acquire skills for jobs? How will they access housing in safe, multi-functional communities? What means will they have for establishing their own businesses, accumulating a financial portfolio and building toward their retirement years?

Black females are crying out for help. So much attention is being given to our males while our girls are being overlooked. Black girls need more Black female teachers. They need all teachers to give them higher expectations. They need schools to treat them fairly. Their suspension and dropout rates are four times greater than those of White girls. Black girls need Black female mentors. They need to be taught the beauty of their history. They need an education that embraces all determined efforts to keep Black girls in school, including: mediation, schools that feature alternative learning styles and STEM careers, all-girl schools that demonstrate high success rates of graduation and college entrance, and a change in school culture. Black females need to be encouraged not to drop out.


Why Are Only Two Percent of America’s Doctors Black Females?

Dr. Mae Jemison, the brilliant astronaut, once said, “How can the richest country in the world send someone to the moon, but can’t teach its children math and science?” Only 13 percent of Black females are proficient in math by eighth grade. We have heard only 12 percent of Black boys are proficient in math. Are Black females being overlooked? While it is true that Black males are on life support, Black females are in critical condition.

How can Black females gain a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) with a 13 percent proficiency? On the threshold of access to advance placement courses—and beyond that, college and careers—an overwhelming number of Black girls lack proficiency in subject areas representing some of the fastest growing, best paid careers of today and the future.

Can Black females master math and science when over 28 percent of their teachers are not certified in math or science? Can Black females pursue a STEM career if they attend schools that do not offer trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, and physics? Can Black girls become doctors and engineers if only 34 percent of the chemistry students and only 22 percent of the physics students are female? Can Black females pursue STEM if they have not met someone in those fields? Can they pursue STEM if their school doesn’t have a mentoring, internship, or job shadowing program in STEM?

Are boys really better than girls in math and science? Do males really have superior spatial intelligence? Is it genetic or environmental? Do some schools and teachers lower their expectations of females in math and science? Do teachers understand and appreciate female learning styles? Do boys and girls respond the same to dissecting frogs in biology? What do females do in STEM classes that suggests their strengths? Do males dominate the lab experience? How can we improve females’ spatial intelligence?

Is the math and science disparity by gender based on nature or nurture? Have schools made math and science attractive to Black females? Have they made it relevant to Black females? Do Black females have the confidence to pursue STEM? Could Black females benefit from cooperative learning in math and science? Should schools offer cooperative learning based on gender? Should schools offer single-gender classrooms in math and science? What would be the best grade to introduce STEM to Black girls? Should school districts create single-gender STEM schools?

Do single-gender STEM schools offer critically needed answers to proficiency in reading, suspensions and dropouts among Black girls? What happens to Black girls when they experience an education that embraces their full potential? What might the future look like for America if this held true for all Black girls?

These questions and more are addressed in my new book, Educating Black Girls. Our girls can no longer be overlooked. They need our help now!

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu is the author of more than 30 books including the national best sellers Raising Black Boys and Understanding Black Male Learning Styles. He has been a guest speaker at many universities and has been a consultant at most urban school districts. His work has been featured in Ebony and Essence magazine, and he has been a guest on BET and Oprah.