250-Word Abstract

A stereotype exists that schools named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) should be avoided as they are under-performing institutions serving poor, minority children. The stereotype regarding MLK schools is an extension of a broader perception that all MLK eponymous places are undesirable and should be avoided.  This stereotype is pervasive in society and has been mentioned in scholarly research, newspapers, a radio interview with an education professional, and even a popular comedy routine. This paper analyzes the actual academic performance of more than 100 public MLK schools in situ as well as in comparison to similarly situated public schools within five miles of each MLK school to examine the validity of the stereotype in general and by neighborhood. Data is analyzed by several variables including degree of social disclosure of toponymic status on school’s website, year school was named in honor of MLK, percentage of socio-economic disadvantaged students, as well as percentage of minority students and English learners.  Academic data is gathered from standardized testing that is required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Researcher hypothesizes that the oldest MLK schools will have the worst academic performance and the newest schools will have the best academic performance and the lowest levels of poverty and minorities. Researcher postulates this is due to the mainstreaming of MLK as an American hero to be honored by all citizens, not just Black citizens, which results in increase of MLK schools in more affluent areas and improvements to existing MLK schools.


12 responses to “250-Word Abstract

  1. Your abstract and blog posts are very interesting. Where are you going next in your research? Have you had difficulty obtaining the standardized testing scores? On another note, sometimes for education research, I use the ERIC database through ID Weeks. I don’t know if that would help you at all.

    I thought the question about magnet schools was very valid. This past semester I had the chance to visit a magnet school in Omaha, NE. It was very different from traditional public schools. I noticed that the curriculum focus was nothing like I had seen before. The behaviors of students were also very different from the “typical” South Dakota classroom. In one of my education classes we discussed reasons for the differences (economic status, location, curriculum, etc.). It’s hard to say what affects different aspects in schools/students. You’ve got an ambitious task ahead of you in general with looking at these schools.

    Good luck with continuing your research.

    • Thanks for your comment, Katie! I’m not familiar with the ERIC database, so I’ll definitely check that out. The standardized testing scores are made public and pretty comparable from state to state due to the NCLB requirements so it has been time-consuming, but not difficult.

      My mom heard someone on the radio the other day on her way to work talking about how schools named after MLK suck so she emailed me. I listened to it on the internet and the guy who said that established American Indian Charter School in Oakland, CA. His school is full of kids who live in poverty, who are minorities, and many don’t have English as their first language. The school is in a bad neighborhood, yet has some of the highest test scores in the state. I’m not sure that I agree with the guy’s methods, but it is hard to argue against them when he has such good results! It was interesting to listen to and I’m pretty happy to have one more instance of negative perception of MLK schools in media to cite.

  2. This sounds like a very interesting topic. I don’t know if it will be of any help (or valid,) but I believe that the Rosa Parks Elementary in Sioux Falls was going to be called Martin Luther King Elementary. Maybe they did not name it MLK Elementary because of the past schools. I look forward to seeing what information you are able to obtain in your paper!

    • Thanks for the comment! I’ve noticed quite a few schools named after Rosa Parks in the last few years. It is interesting to think about Rosa Parks being the alternative choice to avoid MLK stigma. It wouldn’t surprise me! I’ve found a few schools in my research so far that have closed down due to bad reputation and a couple that have been turned into magnet schools to try to improve their school.

  3. Hey, interesting topic. I was curious if in researching the schools you found a trend in the areas where the schools are located. I would assume there are areas of the country with increased numbers of schools named after MLK, but I feel that I could be surprised by the results. Thanks–Adam

    • Dr. Alderman’s research as a cultural geographer actually addressed in depth what you are wondering about. His findings were that in 1997-1998, MLK schools were most often located in the central cities of large and mid-size urban areas. They are also (at that time) clustered mostly in the Northern and Western states. It was a really interesting paper and thankfully did fully discuss the negative perception factor so I have something to use in a literature review, but really didn’t focus on academic acheivement issues, more race of the student body and location of the schools.

      • Hi, I was wondering how many schools in SD are named after MLK and is this number higher, lower or the same as the rest of the Northern and Western states?

      • South Dakota doesn’t have any schools named after MLK. It is in good company with Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Utah in not having one at all. Nebraska has two, both in Omaha. Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa have one each. Colorado has four. Dr. Alderman’s study was focused quite a bit on place and number of MLK schools by population. Obviously, California would have more schools to name and thus should have more MLK schools than its neighbors (and indeed does). Dr. Alderman has a nifty chart and map showing the locations of the schools as well as a breakdown of places where MLK is overrepresented in naming (such as NJ) and underrepresented. It’s pretty cool but definitely different than what I’m working on. I’ll have a copy his map and chart with me on Tuesday if you want to see it. Based on population and location, I don’t think it is somehow strange for these states to not have an MLK school. However, Mississippi really should have one considering population and relevance, but they don’t have one that I can use. They have some rural vocational school that is supposedly public and is registered with the government, but I can’t find any mention of it at all beyond that so it is either closed or a very small school with a specialized program. (Such is the case with the high school I graduated from, every time I need a high school transcript sent somewhere I have to talk to five different people until I find someone who has worked at the district long enough to remember the school’s first incarnation and remember that the transcripts were lost and then I have to send one to them to certify.)

        Anyways, there are a lot of fringe or experimental schools in this country and it appears Mississippi’s MLK school is actually just a limbo program like that, not a full school in the traditional sense.

  4. I know almost nothing about Sociology, so I apologize if I’m asking a very basic question, but how are you determining (once you’ve narrowed down which schools meet the criteria) which schools to use in the final assessment? I guess before that I should ask, are you capping the amount of schools examined? Is it too intense to examine them all? Your project looks like you’re making some good progress!

    • Any school that fits the criteria that also has the academic assessment data available from the 2007-08 school year will be used. In sociology, one wants to have 100 or more units in the sample, units being schools in this case, to be considered a large enough sample to be statistically relevant. Before I started weeding through schools, I had about 150 available MLK schools. I’m guessing there will be about 125 that will end up meeting the criteria and having data available. The data collection is a little overwhelming, but it will be worth it when it’s done! Thanks for the comment

  5. This is a unique and intriguing project. It is also quite an undertaking. Collecting data is not nearly as fun as numbers crunching and evaluating your findings. I am truly excited to learn your findings.

    My questions center on the difficulty of assessing the success of schools or students. In part, I believe that I have reservations on the mechanism which you use for analysis–standardized testing. I am not sure what you could use as an alternative or if you could use multiple mechanisms to compare the results. Consider my following argument as something to philosophically challenge your research method in order to make it stronger if it can.

    Standardized testing faces serious criticism for its incapacity to evaluate the potential of students and even schools. This argument is contingent upon whether or not standardized testing can evaluate if schools are meeting the needs of students or, alternatively, can demonstrate student aptitudes.

    I suppose it is equally important to understand whether or not actual knowledge or skills harnessed during the course of education are factors assessed in these tests in order to compare schools and their students performance.

    How does your study reconcile or controvert such arguments?

    • My study is limited by what the assessments given by schools are actually testing for. When the No Child Left Behind law went into effect, it did provide some nationwide testing/education standards and measurements to ensure this was being done. While it seems each state has it’s own tests and statistics, they should be in line as far as what is considered proficient since that is required by NCLB. Prior to NCLB, each state just did their own assessments with their own standards as far as I know. So, I guess my view on criticism of testing is, first, the tests are better than they used to be and, second, I haven’t heard of a better measure of student performance at an elementary school level. I do believe that if a student is not able to score proficient on the tests that there is a problem. In my opinion, if a child can’t read or do simple math well enough to be promoted to the next grade on his or her own merits, it is the school and parents failing the child, not the test.

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