Today, the White House with the U.S. Department of Education and The Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University Law Center are hosting “Front and Center,” a day-long conference aimed at addressing marginalized girls’ lack of access to STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE). 

The summit comes shortly after Education Week reported that although the number of students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam “skyrocketed” from 2013 to 2014, girls—particularly girls of color—remain underrepresented among test takers.  Female students in general were noticeably underrepresented among test takers, as well as Hispanic and African American boys: only 20% of the test takers were girls, only 9% were Hispanic, and only 4% were African American. In fact, in 12 states not a single Black student sat for the AP Computer Science exam; Mississippi, where African Americans make up 37% of the state’s population, is among those states, and Montana has the dubious distinction of not having had a single female, Hispanic, or African American student take the exam. 

These figures are the latest indicator that there are very real gender and race gaps in opportunities to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that create significant barriers for African American girls to advance in STEM fields.  As detailed in Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call for Educational Equity, a recent report from NWLC and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, “researchers have identified two root causes [for African American girls’ low participation] in STEM classes and careers:

(1)    a lack of STEM course offerings in low-income schools disproportionately attended by students of color; and

(2)    stereotypes attached to both race and gender that discourage African American girls from pursuing STEM education and opportunities.”  

Title IX requires that women and girls be given equal opportunities to pursue STEM fields free from discriminatory barriers.  We know that girls who participate in science and math courses are more likely to later pursue careers in STEM. However, many girls of color and low-income girls do not have access to meaningful opportunities to cultivate a passion for math and science.

Thankfully, advocates and policymakers are coming together today to address this troublesome trend.  The Conference will bring together researchers, advocacy groups, STEM professionals, and officials from federal, state and local government to discuss how to increase access to STEM and CTE opportunities for girls of color and low-income girls.

At the Conference, we hope to hear about approaches to ensuring girls of color have equal access to STEM and CTE classes, including some of the recommendations outlined in Unlocking Opportunity, such as:

  • Collection and reporting of school data on the number of students enrolled in STEM courses, disaggregated by sex, race/ethnicity, grade level, special education and English Learner status;
  • Increased oversight of schools and educational programs to ensure compliance with Title IX and that girls have equal access to STEM programs and curricula; and
  • Training for educators and school personnel to recognize and overcome implicit bias, to make sure they are not subconsciously discouraging female students from pursuing and excelling in STEM.

The conference provides an invaluable opportunity for NWLC and its partners to collaborate with the White House, federal agencies, and experts from around the country to ensure that all students in the U.S. have equal and robust educational opportunities.

For more information and recommendations about how to remove barriers to STEM for African American girls, read our report or tune into the live stream of Front and Center today, anytime between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM (EST).