Now that I can see the light at the end of the data tunnel and the end of U.Discover is on the horizon, I thought I’d sum up a few things I’ve gotten out of this program.
1. Doing research on public K-12 schools and expecting to complete it during the Summer months is not the best idea.
While I didn’t need IRB approval since I only needed to ask if the school was named for MLK and what year it was so named (basically public information), I vastly overestimated my ability to get people on the phone at the end of the school year and into the summer. If I had it to do over, I would have started with the more available part (sifting through mounds of data) instead of the hard part (contacting real humans). Luckily, I don’t need that data to complete something reasonable for U.Discover and I’ll be able to do the remaining work to expand the U.Discover research during the Fall in time to present at Ideafest.
2. Sifting through data is tedious and time-consuming, especially to ensure a good, solid sample that can maintain integrity for analysis.
I started with so many MLK schools, I thought even after weeding them down to have a consistent sample of neighborhood-style schools, where children attend based on where they live, that I would still have over 100 MLK schools. After excluding alternative/continuation, vocational, selective, magnet and charter schools, as well as schools without 2007-08 data available, my MLK sample dwindled to 75 schools.
3. Coming up with a strong research design takes time and is harder than it looks.
While I spent too much time in the beginning trying to collect data that would be easier (actually possible!) during the Fall, I also underestimated the time needed to ensure consistent sample and a good design. Creating a good design requires thought about what is bad in one’s design, then trying to fix it, repeat that process about 10 times. It takes awhile, but is very satisfying once it’s done.
4. Unexpected data and ideas for future research
Since a majority of the students at MLK schools are minorities (at least it seems that way in the raw data so far), there were a fair number of schools whose students were solidly one minority or possibly two minorites. In many of these schools, there were significant differences in the assessment data that didn’t comport to what one would expect from what is learned in the Sociology core classes. It seems that research on minority students in schools made up solely of that minority group, possibly one more, could show drastically different results than the research done in the past when white students were a majority in most state/county/districts and minority students couldn’t be studied as a majority in a regular public school. Anyways, the point of this is that I have found more areas to research later that also interest me. This is good!
5. One big, huge, invaluable learning experience
The reason I applied for U.Discover (beyond tripping over the sign in the hallway) is that I thought it would be a way for me to learn more about research from the presentations and my fellow students. I was going to try to do this research on my own this summer (before I fell over the sign) and I thought the structure, faculty mentor, and weekly lecture would be an extra bonus. The U.Discover program provided exactly what I had hoped for and also made me think about the projects my fellow U.Discover people were working on and apply it to my interests and discipline, as well as contribute my thoughts on their projects and incorporate their thoughts about mine. While we still have a couple weeks left, I’m ready to call the program and my research a real learning experience and I’m really thankful that I was given the opportunity to participate!