Update 4

I spent the last week of July and the first week of August working with the ECLS-K, a dataset created by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center of Education Statistics. The ECLS-K works with a nationally representative sample of 21,409 students, focusing on children’s early school experiences beginning with kindergarten and following children through middle school. The survey includes responses from students, parents, teachers, and school administrators to provide a well-rounded view of each child’s circumstances. Upon analyzing this dataset using a few basic statistical procedures, I was able to reach some intriguing conclusions to questions that came up earlier in my research process.

Now that I’m home in Arlington, I’m working on tying together the conclusions I’ve reached in my own research with the wide range of information and insights I uncovered in my lit review. My most interesting results came in my analysis of how cultural capital affects black and white students differently. In my lit review, I came across many findings which suggested that cultural capital (which middle-class, white students tend to possess in disproportionately high levels simply due to their class background), offers those who wield it a significant advantage in school settings. My own research revealed cultural capital to be an even more significant factor in educational attainment than I had thought. As I found by creating an interaction effect between race and cultural capital, operationalized by participation in extracurricular activities and reading behaviors, a white student with a low level of cultural capital scores higher on achievement tests than a black student with the same amount of cultural capital, but at the highest levels of cultural capital, the score of a black student is actually slightly higher than that of a white student.

This result suggests that black students actually benefit more from elevated levels of cultural capital than do white students. However, research shows that the majority of black, working-class students are not, in fact, well-versed in the social scripts and practices of our society, which is in many ways driven by white, middle-class values. As such, it is crucial for teachers and administrators to consider how cultural capital creates a very different educational experience for those students who wield it adeptly than for those who do not. Teachers should plan accordingly, by devising lesson plans that ensure the lessons are understood and internalized by students with a wide range of cultural knowledge and understanding.

My paper is so close to being finished. I hope to have it done this weekend, so that I can put it away for a few days, then revise it a few more times before I turn it in to my advisor. It’s been truly exciting making connections and synthesizing the information I uncovered in my lit review with the results I reached in my own work with the ECLS-K. It’s a point that seemed so far-off early in the process—and, granted, it took me a few weeks longer to get here than I expected—but there’s a huge sense of satisfaction in reaching it. I will post one more time once my paper is done and submitted, to offer my reflections on the process as a whole. It feels great to be almost done!