Washington Area Women's Foundation

A Back-to-School Checklist for the Girls in our Community

back to school crayonsWith many kids in our area headed back to school today, we thought it would be a good time to re-visit some educational statistics that Washington Area Women’s Foundation shared in our most recent report 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area (Portrait Project 2010).

The report found that our region is one of the most highly educated in the country – yet there’s a stark divide between those with high and low levels of education and that divide becomes even wider when race is taken into consideration.

Portrait Project 2010 looked into fourth graders’ proficiency in reading and math.  The report found that the District is far behind the rest of the region and the U.S. overall in both reading and math.  Girls are performing slightly better in reading and about the same as boys in math.  But taking race into account once again showed a greater divide, with fourth graders of color lagging far behind their white counterparts.

4th grade reading & math

Portrait Project 2010 also found that 10 percent of the girls in our region don’t complete high school.  “Among girls of color, high school completion rates are especially low: African American and Asian girls are twice as likely (12 and 14 percent, respectively) as white girls (6 percent) to lack a high school diploma.  And almost four in ten (37 percent) Latinas in our region do not graduate from high school (US Department of Commerce 2008).”

The lack of a high school diploma or other degree greatly impacts future earnings.  Women with graduate or professional degrees have median annual earnings ($70,787) that are more than three times the earnings of those who do not graduate from high school ($18,283).

In spite of the obvious struggles that some students in our community face, women in the region have much higher-than-average educational levels; half have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, compared to a little more than a quarter of women in the U.S. overall.

So how do we bridge the gaps and ensure that all girls in our region are on a path to prosperity?  Portrait Project 2010 highlights the importance of starting early, pointing out that quality early care and education can prepare children for later grades and increase their chances of finishing high school.

Portrait Project 2010 also shows that 26 percent of girls who drop out of high school say pregnancy or parenting was behind their decision to leave school without a diploma.  Providing young parents with innovative opportunities to finish school while receiving child care supports may ensure that young mothers have better opportunities to provide for their families.

The report also points to community college and job training as additional ways to  help women earn the skills and credentials they need to improve their career and earnings prospects.

Portrait Project 2010 has some valuable lessons about ways we can use educational attainment to improve the lives of girls, women, their families and our entire community.  Here’s my back-to-school wish list for our region:


Do you have a back-to-school wish list for the girls in our community?  Tell us what’s on your list in the comments below.  And for more details you can read the full Portrait Project 2010 online by clicking here.