My Dissertation Topic


Well it’s official: my dissertation will focus on the association of black male students, urban neighborhoods, religiosity and academic achievement. I am currently working on my proposal and I can’t wait to start collecting and analyzing data.

I think I first became interested in the academic and social plight of black boys after I came across Jawanza Kunjufu’s Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys on the floor of my mother’s bedroom. I think the year was 1980 or so, and social scientists were really just starting to investigate why African-American males were academically behind their peers. My mother was a teacher, and although I never asked, it is possible that she purchased this book in an attempt to learn more about how she could help her sons and her black male students. The black male conspiracy theory has been hotly debated and challenged over the years, yet it is clear that black boys are struggling. Research suggests that more than any other group black males are more likely to drop out, be suspended or expelled from school or be placed in special education (Skiba, Michael, Nardo & Peterson, 2002; Mendez-Raffaele & Knoff, 200; Russo & Talbert-Johnson, 1997). Studies also reveal that black boys are academically behind their white peers in math and reading and just about every other academic indicator.  I don’t think African American males are somehow genetically or cognitively inferior to other students. However, they are clearly facing some challenges in the classroom and something needs to be done if they we are to close the achievement gap.

I have selected to examine the association of black boys, urban neighborhoods, religiosity, and achievement because we have known for some time that there is a link between urban neighborhoods and school performance.  We also know that racial identity can play and important role in student outcomes.  While these studies are informative, they do not specifically focus on black males.  Hopefully, my research will shed light on the academic challenges they face and help us better understand the link between education and place.

In my study I will use a mixed methods (both quantitative and qualitative) approach.  This design has its advantages and disadvantages, but I would argue that this approach, at least for me, is the way to go.  As Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) point out, “The goal of mixed methods research is not replace either of these approaches, but rather to draw from the strengths and minimize the weakness of both in single research study and across studies” (p. 15).  More clearly, I am using a mixed methods design because I think it is a good idea to use different lenses to photograph a landscape or in this case examine a social problem.  I know it will take me a while to conduct my research and write my dissertation, but in the end I believe it will all be worthwhile.


Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26.

Mendez-Raffaele, L. M. & Knoff H. M. (2003). Who gets suspended from school and why: A demographic analysis of schools and disciplinary actions in a large public school. Education & the Treatment of Children, 26(1), 30-51.

Russo, C., & Talbert-Johnson C. (1997). The overrepresentation of African-American children in special education: The resegregation of educational programming. Education and Urban Society, 29(2), 136-148.

Skiba, R., Michael, R., Nardo, A, & Peterson R.L. (2002). The color of discipline: Sources of racial & gender disproportionality in school punishment. The Urban Review, (34)(4), 317-317-342.




4 responses to “My Dissertation Topic

  1. Excellent topic, Marc. I am very much interested in your findings. One thing that I have noticed in all of my experiences growing up and working in an urban environment is that all of my friends or students who were inclined to go to church, or at least had a profound sense of faith, were academically superior to those who weren’t. What is the correlation between religiosity and academic performance? I believe that it is an intellectual response to the question, ” Is God really watching me and if so, how should I behave?”.
    What do you think?

    • Thanks for your comments! It lets me know that someone is reading my stuff! I think church helps for a number of reasons. Kids who go to church are often surrounded by caring adults, folks who in some cases might tell a kid, “now you know God wants you to do well in school. C’mon you can do it!” The other more practical issue is that kids who are in church aren’t in the streets. Their time is occupied and they are busy serving the Lord or in my case sitting in the back of the church making fun of everyone.

  2. Wow! Is it that time already? I remember speaking to you not so long ago about your dissertation topic. I love your story of what sparked your interest in researching this topic…two thumps up to mom and author, Jawanza Kunjufu! Looking forward to reading and learning more about your research.

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