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Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity

Abstract

"Behind many of the most important battles for racial and gender equality in the United States — from school desegregation to sex discrimination — are African American girls. From the pioneers in school desegregation, such as Linda Brown and Barbara Johns, to the advocates for legal protections against student-on-student sexual harassment, like LaShonda Davis, African American girls have played significant roles in ensuring the availability of meaningful educational opportunities for everyone. Despite this proud history of leadership, the ongoing experiences of African American girls in our nations schools are rarely considered or discussed. Yet African American girls face significant barriers to educational attainment, including lack of access to quality educational opportunities; pervasive racial and gender stereotypes that affect the decisionmaking of school leaders and educators; discriminatory discipline practices that disproportionately push them out of school; high rates of exposure to sexual harassment and violence; juvenile justice system involvement; and lack of support for those who are pregnant or parenting while still in school. In almost all states, the high school graduation rate for African American girls is significantly below that of white girls and the national average for all girls, and African American girls are behind on a range of academic measures related to college readiness. These systemic educational barriers and challenges produce life-long economic obstacles, such as limited job opportunities, lower earnings, and disproportionate representation among those in poverty. As a result, African American girls are uniquely vulnerable to a 'School-to-Poverty Pathway.'

With Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity, the National Women's Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. shine a spotlight on the barriers that restrict and limit the educational opportunities of many African American girls, the impact of those barriers on the lives of African American girls and women, and the available interventions that present opportunities to fundamentally improve life outcomes for young African American women. This report — the result of a multi-year study — urges educators, school leaders, community leaders and members, advocates, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations to take action to advance the success of African American girls."

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