Tag Archives: research

Reflections on Summer Research

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!

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.

Trials and Tribulations

I may have vastly underestimated the difficulty of my summer research. After all, making a list of public schools named for MLK and comparing them to other area schools doesn’t really sound that hard. However, I have decisions ahead of me!

Magnet schools? Should I include them? The national stats consider them public schools but they aren’t a traditional school. However, it appears some of the newer MLK schools are in this category. I’m leaning towards including them (and the charter schools) as long as the assessment data is there.

What about MLK schools that have closed in the recent past? For instance, there is data available for MLK Elementary in Toledo, OH up to 2006 when they closed the school, but obviously this is not a currently-operating school. Toledo is reopening the school in a new building this Fall, however. Toledo also re-drew its school boundaries this year so the new MLK school will not be the old MLK school. There is also the matter of the MLK Elementary in New Orleans, LA. This school is listed as “temporarily closed” since Hurricane Katrina. I haven’t determined its future status or current condition beyond being currently non-operational. Data for MLK New Orleans is available up to 2005. I’m strongly leaning towards removing these schools from the sample since they are currently closed.

And what about schools named after two people? Oh yes, this exists! We have a set of King-Chavez schools in San Diego, CA and King-Kennedy schools in NY and MO. There is also a King-Elcan in GA that I am still trying to determine if it is named for MLK. I’m inclined to include these schools, but I’m completely uncertain what to do with these schools.

Making that list of MLK schools is definitely turning out to be a bit messier than I had anticipated.

On the upside, it appears that JSTOR is not the final word in scholarly sources because I actually found (quite randomly too) an article in Urban Geography written on MLK schools. It appears Dr. Derek H. Alderman used the same sources I’m looking at (yay!) in the 1997-1998 publishing by CCD. The first thing I noticed is that it appears that MLK schools have both come and gone since then and it will be interesting to have his starting point for some of the data. His research is a different direction than mine but the demographic parts are certainly the same tack. He also referenced a study on MLK schools in 1988 but I haven’t pulled that yet. I’m kind of excited that there may be something to build on when I (and Dr. Niemonen) thought it had never been done. In any case, JSTOR certainly didn’t list these articles so thank goodness for Google!