Thursday, September 5, 2013

Research: Through the Lens of a Student Blogger (Part One)

In the course of writing posts for this blog, I have interviewed accredited professors who have performed significant research and have been able to see how their work has culminated into a tangible conclusion.

I am not a professor, and I very much enjoy being given the opportunity to have conversations with those who have been through the research process.

This summer, however, through the Charlotte Research Scholars program, I myself was given the opportunity to perform my own research, in conjunction with a professor on campus and his existing research goals.

My name is Kristina Drye, and I am the author behind the past few posts on The Light in the Mine. I am a junior at UNC Charlotte. This post will focus upon my research, rather than the research of those much more accomplished than myself.

Though I am a double major in international studies and political science with a minor in Russian, I was placed with Dr. Chance Lewis and Beth Etters; the former is a professor in the Education department, and the latter is a doctoral student who also teaches at the university. Though I am not majoring in education, it is something that I am passionate about and that I am proficient at- I was not at all nervous about performing research in education.

Below is my final research poster.

In order to perform research well, I learned, you must have an inclination for that which you are researching. The official title of my project was “Education Access and Equity in Urban Schools: A Focus on Course Enrollment Patterns in K-12 Settings.” Using the Civil Rights Database provided by the government, the goal was to map patterns between socioeconomic levels, demographics, and student enrollment in courses and programs that typically indicate some level of higher achievement.

In public education, quite a lot is defined by the relative socioeconomic status of a school’s student population. Students that are poorer typically have lesser access to fewer opportunities; students that are from wealthier families typically have greater access to more opportunities.

It is a self-perpetuating cycle, and one that exists regardless of demographic affiliation. It was my job to delve deeper into this reality, to play a game of hide-and-seek of sorts, finding the hidden patterns and seeking solutions that could be implemented to affect some sense of real change.

As an indicator of socioeconomic status, I used a school’s level of FRPL, or free-and-reduced-price lunch (these percentages were provided by the Civil Rights Data Collection, which was my primary source of data). I then looked at enrollment within courses such as Algebra I in 7th and 8th grade, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus; I also looked at the Gifted and Talented Programs. For Algebra I in 7th and 8th grade I used the 2009 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) data provided for all CMS middle schools; for the others, I used the 2009 CMS data provided for all CMS high schools.

I looked at the percentage of students in the school enrolled in these courses, and I then looked at the percentage of students per demographic enrolled in the courses.

The final report is 30 pages long, and I am still continuing research on the subject.

While a link did exist between demographics, socioeconomic status, and enrollment within courses, there was not a statistically significant link between a student’s qualification for FRPL and their potential enrollment within these courses.

More simply put: Whether or not a student qualifies for FRPL is not solely predicative of their enrollment, or lack thereof, into courses that indicate higher success.

This is not to say, however, that a pattern was not indicated. It was. The Black demographic within CMS experienced lower enrollment across the board than other demographics; it also increased as FRPL decreased at a much lesser rate than other demographics. The Hispanic demographic displayed similar trends.

What must be remembered is that a student’s ability to – or not to- pay for lunch is not directly indicative of their socioeconomic status. Many more things define that value. And what defines a student’s performance- or potential performance- within school is not their socioeconomic status alone.

More significantly, it is the environment that they experience at home. A student spends  30 hours a week at school, under the teacher’s influence, but they spend 138 hours a week in an outside, uncontrolled environment. A student spends the first five years of development in this environment; these first five years are, arguably, the most important in the process of their becoming.

Last summer, I worked with the International House of Charlotte in conjunction with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide reading programs to English-as-a-second-language students. Below you can see this experience, one that directly related to the research I completed this summer.


My research will look at patterns that exist in urban education. But it is impossible, through any single program, single report, or single body of research, to find and solve the vast set of problems that are created through cultural values, environmental realities, and lack of proper nurturing.

We have already begun to apply the research that I have done to plan and implement programs that will, hopefully, help to combat the problems that exist. In my next post, I will elaborate upon those programs, as well as provide further information on the research.

Researching as a student has been an invaluable experience, and one that I hope to have again. It brings one closer to an issue, allows for connections to be made because you are given time to give yourself a deeper understanding of the problem you are researching, how it affects the community, and, more importantly, how it affects yourself.

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