Not All Girls Are Doing Fine

By Lenora Green

There is an African proverb that says when you educate a girl you educate a nation. The truth in this adage reverberates throughout the world and touches each and every one of our communities. Educated girls become educated women whose children are likely to be educated, laying a more sure-footed foundation for future generations to walk upon. However, we are witnessing in this country significant gaps in educational outcomes for girls of color resulting in economic and social consequences throughout their adult lives.

African-American, Native-American and Hispanic girls’ high school graduation rates are considerably lower than national averages and are lower than for all other girls. Further evidence from national assessments, such as NAEP, also confirm the underperformance of these girls compared to their peers. Education performance is only one of a multitude of variables that affect these girls from attaining more social capital.

They experience higher rates of school suspension, expulsion and are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, with African-American girls’ suspension rates exceeding that of all other girls combined. In addition, African-American girls represent the fastest growing segment of America’s juvenile justice system. Approximately 40 percent of Native-American girls, 39 percent of African-American girls and 30 percent of Hispanic girls live in poverty, compared with 20 percent of all girls. Poverty rates and low educational outcomes are also higher among Southeast-Asian and Pacific-Islander girls.  These are just some of the startling data about girls of color, and they defy the perception that girls are doing fine.

As a nation, we cannot afford to leave our girls of color behind. We need to help them achieve better outcomes so that they have every opportunity to succeed later in life and be future leaders of our communities.

The good news is that there is a movement underway and growing momentum to bring about change. The ETS Center for Advocacy and Philanthropy and Rutgers University-Camden, along with other advocacy and policy leaders, are working to address topics around improving the lives of girls of color. This month’s Bright Futures: Improving Education and Transforming Outcomes for Girls of Color Symposium convenes to expand the conversation around educational disparities, racial and gender discrimination, disparate discipline practices and other issues facing girls of color.

Our mission is to galvanize our community to improve the trajectory for our girls that will lead to lasting change.