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Education Opinion

How Should Schools Respond to Discipline Disparities Affecting Black Girls?

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 21, 2019 3 min read

The new question-of-the-week is:

How should schools and districts respond to discipline disparities affecting black girls?


Editor’s Note: Today’s introduction is written by Dr. Terri N. Watson, who is also guest-editing the series. The three-part series of responses will appear next week, beginning on Sunday.

Dr. Watson is an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at the City College of New York. A Harlem native, her research examines the practices of successful school leaders and the impact of education policies on children, specifically black girls. Dr. Watson is currently serving as the guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Educational Administration and History. The special issue, A Seat at the Table, will be published in summer 2020. Importantly, it will celebrate the impact, ingenuity, and leadership practices of black girls and women in school contexts in the United States and abroad.

During the American Educational Research Association’s 2016 meeting, Adrienne D. Dixson, Shaun R. Harper, Bettina L. Love, and I sat down with Education Week to discuss the overrepresentation of black girls in school discipline data throughout the country. Despite the fact that black girls make up less than 16 percent of the student population[1], they are punished more than all other girls and most boys in every state in the nation[2]. In addition, in comparison to white girls, black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school and account for one of three school-related arrests[3]. As part of my conversation, I proffered, “The challenge is not how do we change black girls, ... but how do we make sure that [schools] celebrate ... and view them as assets as opposed to problems.” Since our commentary, while many schools and districts have implemented policies to decrease the use of zero tolerance, a punitive approach included in school discipline policies to intentionally exclude students from their learning environment, little has been done to improve the schooling experiences of black girls.

Scholars have consistently, insistently, and persistently demonstrated how the intersection of race and gender negatively affect black girls’ schooling experiences. Recently, researchers at Georgetown University’s law school found that adults view black girls as “less innocent” and “aggressively feminine” in comparison to white girls of the same age[4]. Hence, this week’s blog begs the question, since we cannot change society’s (mis)perceptions of black girls, “How should schools and districts respond to the discipline disparities affecting black girls’ schooling experiences?”

Part One of this series will feature the voices of black girls. Part Two will feature practices schools and districts have and/or should implement to improve the schooling experiences of black girls. Part Three will spotlight the work of education researchers and social-justice activists. For each part, we hope that readers will share their thoughts and knowledge about innovative efforts to improve the schooling experiences of black girls.

[1] Morris, M.W. (2016). Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. New York: The New Press.

[2] National Women’s Law Center. (2017). Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls of Color. Retrieved from https://nwlc.org/resources/stopping-school-pushout-for-girls-of-color/.

[3] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot: School Discipline. Retrieved from https://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC- School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

[4] Epstein, R., Blake, J.J, & González, T. (2017). Girlhood Interrupted: The Eerasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. Center on Poverty and Inequality, Georgetown Law. Retrieved from http://www.law.georgetown.edu/academics/centers-institutes/poverty- inequality/upload/girlhood-interrupted.pdf.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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