7. The Five Core Courses

All students in the doctoral program in Curriculum and Policy Studies in Urban Education will be required to complete five Core courses:

1. The Structure of Social Knowledge

2. Historical Contexts of Urban Education

3. Logics of Inquiry

4. Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom

5. Educational Policy

The first two will normally be taken concurrently, as will the second pair of courses, for which the first pair will be pre-requisite. On completing these four courses, students will take Core 5, which will normally be offered in the summer term so that the Core requirements can be completed in one calendar year.

The Core courses are unified by two themes which run through them all: the interdependence of curricular and policy issues, and the connections between research methodology and fundamental epistemological questions in the human sciences. All courses address issues of research methodology; all include cultural, historical, and political dimensions of inquiry. One course in each of the first two pairs (Core 2 and Core 4) provides specific case-study contexts (historical examples and participant observation urban in schools, respectively) for the examination of the epistemological (Core 1) and methodological (Core 3) issues in the partner courses. Core 5 serves as a capstone course, building on the learning and experiences of the prior four courses to help students understand the complex multiple considerations needed in policy analysis research as well as the impact of policy on curricular and instructional issues. An important part of this course is a summer internship in an organization concerned with educational policy questions.

By taking the Core courses as cohort groups, across concentration and option lines, students will begin the process of collaborative inquiry which is central to the structure of this program. At every stage of their doctoral studies, students will learn to articulate their research questions, procedures, and outcomes with those of other students approaching related problems from different perspectives.

For each Core course we present below a brief course description and a fuller statement of the designers' rationale for the course.

Core 1

The Structure of Social Knowledge
(3 credits)

Course Description

In this course students will examine the responsibility of schools, curricula, and pedagogy to address issues of the epistemological foundations of knowledge and the economic, social, and political conditions for the production, legitimation, and dissemination of knowledge. Relationships among knowledge, interest, and agendas for action, as well as the changing nature of curricular knowledge in relation to changes in the workplace and broader cultural and economic developments will be considered.


This course addresses two closely related issues: What do we know and how do we know what we know ? and, What are the basic determinants of legitimate and non-legitimate knowledge? It draws on philosophy, anthropology, sociology, economics and history to answer these questions.

The course will survey various answers  to the question, How do we know? including Descartes' notion that Mind underlies knowing; Hume's challenge to Descartes' rationalism, insisting that knowledge refers not to a world independent of consciousness but that consciousness produces and organizes the world  more or less  according to contextually-derived needs and desires; Vico's idea, later developed by Marx and the Dewey that we know the world because we make it; and Kant's attempt to reconcile  Descartes idea of the fissure between mind and body by invoking  scientific method as  the way in which  an otherwise unknowable world may be apprehended.

A core issue under this heading is: What is scientific method? Approaches to this question range from  the view that only those propositions which may be refuted by means of rigorous procedures can be considered scientifically valid; rationalist theories which invoke logic as the core science; evolutionary theories holding that we know things by understanding their development; and the view that self-understanding is the means by which we know.

The second major issue in the course concerns the economic, social and political  conditions for the production and dissemination of knowledge.  It  considers  power and human interest  as  constitutive of knowledge. The issues of power and interest are particularly salient to the question of what is legitimate and what is illegitimate knowledge?


Core 2.

The Historical Context of Urban Education
(3 credits)

Course Description

This course will explore the emergence and transformation of urban educational institutions--public and private, inclusive and selective, fee-paying and free, religious and secular--out of the dynamic interplay of individual, group, and larger scale intellectual, social, political and economic factors. Students will study the formation of social identities in the history of education, specifically race, class, gender, ethnicity and religion, and the relationship of identify formation to current issues in education. The history of the politics of education also will be studied, especially as politics relates to defining educational mission, determining resources, including or excluding individuals and groups, providing equity of educational opportunity, and encouraging community participation in establishing and maintaining schools.

The course will develop the concepts and skills of historiographic research through an examination of prevailing concepts of education and schooling, schooling and identity formation, concepts of childhood and youth, perceived missions of schooling, alternative school structures and governance, available technologies, teacher recruitment and student enrollments, contemporary pedagogies and curricula, and the resulting educational institutions and programs which emerge at a given historical moment.


Contemporary students of urban education need to be aware of the antecedents of the issues which they now confront. As David Tyack has argued, current reformers both within and outside of the educational establishment act as if "history was something to be overcome, not a source of insight." Policy analysts need to be aware of the context (political, social, and economic) and actual alternatives which confronted institution-builders and decision-makers in the past; whether conscious decisions were made or if events dictated policy; and, if conscious choices were made, which alternatives were selected, which rejected, and which never seen. Analysts also must determine if and how policies were implemented and what the outcomes were, intended as well as unintended. Curriculum theorists need to be able to explore the past to see how knowledge was perceived, valued, transmitted, received, and validated within the crucible of educational institutions, and the dynamics which drove changes over time.


Core 3

Logics of Inquiry for Curriculum & Policy Studies in Education
(3 credits)


Based on participant observation in urban schools, students will carry out small-scale projects within which they will begin to formulate research issues and questions, produce sample data collections, and consider alternative approaches to the analysis of these collections. By reading exemplary research studies in Education and classic essays on the dilemmas of research methodology in the social and human sciences, students will advance their understanding of how to design and justify complementary combinations of research methods for prospective studies.


This course will help students develop the sophisticated understanding of methodological issues and alternatives needed to synthesize appropriate research methods for the dissertation studies they will eventually undertake. Building on discussions of the grounds of practical and theoretical knowledge of social phenomena in Core 1, and the introduction to historical method in Core 2, students will continue the process of developing critical judgment regarding the choice and justification of research strategies. This process will continue in subsequent courses in quantitative research methods (e.g. EdPsych U705-6; PoliSci U700, U713; Soc U715-6) and in specialized methods of other kinds from partner disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, linguistics, history, philosophy, etc. appropriate to the research interests of individual students. It is assumed that these students will already have taken at least one prior research methods course on the Master's degree level, which will have included some discussion of elementary quantitative methods.

Exemplary research studies using and combining approaches such as ethnographic, interview-based, discourse-analytic, case study, semiotic, phenomenological, historical, demographic, and quasi-experimental methods will offer opportunities for critical examination of their assumptions, uses, and limitations in curriculum and policy research. These studies will be read and discussed alongside thoughtful and classic critical essays on the methodological dilemmas faced by researchers in the social and human sciences. The aim will be to enable students to go on to other courses which deal with research methodology in various disciplines well-prepared with critical questions and a sense of what is ultimately at stake in the choice of research methods. Because the logic of quantitative and quasi-experimental methods is an integral part of other courses, at least one of which all students will be required to take, this course will focus on the logics of inquiry implicit in other frequently used methods in the field.

Each cohort of students will take this course simultaneously with Core 4 "Pedagogy in the Urban Classroom", and readings between the two courses will be co-ordinated so that methodological issues can be connected to the practical contexts and concerns of education to be addressed by research. Students will prepare as a term-project a design and justification of methods to be combined for the purpose of a hypothetical study of well-posed research questions in a particular real education site, dealing with issues addressed in the Core 4 parallel course. They will also write during the term careful critiques of articles from the published literature relevant to their chosen research questions, drawing on the critical frameworks developed in the readings and course discussions. Working in collaborative groups, students will also carry out small-scale 'pilot studies' in which they will gain first-hand experience with producing an initial data archive through such methods as interviewing, participant observation, document and data collection, etc. During and after this work they will consider the types of analysis of archive materials (discourse and multimedia analysis, narrative analysis, historical comparisons, quantitative modeling and hypothesis testing, etc.) best suited to the emerging questions of their inquiries.


Core 4

Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom
(3 credits)


This course examines the relationships through which knowledge is constructed and communicated in urban schools. It approaches pedagogy as a set of relationships among teachers and students mediated by culture, history, learning theories, assumptions about childhood and adulthood, and assumptions about knowledge and ignorance. Students will study pedagogical interactions in schools and the forms that knowledge assumes in the curriculum: in discourse, activities, texts, materials and technology. Students will also be asked to consider the ways that pedagogy is shaped by institutional culture and professional governance. Resources from cultural anthropology and comparative education will be studied to frame contemporary practice as particular versions of what is possible.


It is important to view the pedagogies of the urban classroom through a number of frames in order to understand the roots of current practice. Researchers are often asked to appraise methods of instruction without having any sense of the historical influences and cultural traditions that sustain these practices, giving them authority and persuasion in the minds of teachers, students and their families. It is important as well to introduce students to analytic frames through which the act of teaching may be viewed, such as: phenomenology, discourse analysis, cultural anthropology, object relations theory, cognitive science, intellectual history, epistemology, and social reproduction theory. This course will follow the core courses on the Structure of Social Knowledge and the Historical Contexts of Urban Education and will provide concrete situations for analysis though field studies that will be shared with the Core course, The Logic of Inquiry. By bringing a cohort of students to the analysis of a common problem in a school setting, we will prepare students for the collaborative work that they will do in their area seminars and dissertation research teams.


Core 5

Educational Policy
(3 credits)


This course will study educational policies and subsequent implementation as the intended and unintended consequences of many processes: ideological, social, judicial, scientific, political, and economic. Within the context of each issue, potential policy alternatives will be identified and actual policy and implementation decisions studied. Students will learn to use relevant concepts and methodologies from the social and behavioral sciences to critically analyze issues, including appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods.

Case studies of real-world policies and practical outcomes will be studied in order to explicate--within a specific temporal and political context-- complex urban educational problems. Through these cases students will learn the many methodologies--including cost-benefit, historical, and comparative-- which must be brought to bear in the study and resolution of educational problems. Case studies will deal with such issues as school choice, educational equity and opportunity, curriculum and standards, staffing and staff unionization, school-based budgeting and decision-making, school size and organizational structure, and the allocation of authority in school systems as reflected in school and system governance. The course will include analysis of the processes of public policy-making and implementation; team field work on policy problems, especially those involving the relationship between policy and power; seminars with education policy-makers, and an internship in public or private agencies connected to the field of education.


Learning to analyze and interpret education policy issues is essential for leaders to make effective policy decisions. But they also must be able to examine alterative paradigms as well as interpret specific policies. They must be able to see policy issues within a broad socio-political context in order to understand how policies are intentionally or unintentionally arrived at, and to comprehend links between policies and outcomes.

This course will approach issues of educational policy in terms of paradigms and paradigm shifts. Policy-makers must be able to examine alternative paradigms as well as interpret specific policies. A policy paradigm involves clusters of assumptions and fundamental approaches underlying the ways policy makers and analysts address goals, processes and outcomes of educational policy. Improving education may require major paradigm shifts. Such decisions entail significant shifts in the organization of images, the culture of institutions, communities and social structures. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz identifies these as 'symbolic sources of illumination,' which we use in order 'to put a construction upon events, to orient ourselves to the ongoing course of experienced things.' These sources are directly related to a society's centers of power which are frequently competing or conflicting.

Policy studies, therefore, must be embedded in considerations which lead to understanding the relationships between and among cultures, power, policy and practices. They must address alternative educational goals related to culture and power as much as methods appropriate to their realization. This course will proceed on the assumption that these are open questions, the answers for which are not always present.

Whether the result of intentional or unintentional processes, or of active or passive decision-making, policies need to be implemented. However, a policy may never be implemented, or, if implemented, may be carried out in a manner which undermines or contradicts that selfsame policy. Hence, connections between policy and practice must be closely examined within the same field of forces appropriate to the examination of policy-making itself.

This core course continues to develop the twin themes of earlier core courses: the integral relationship between curriculum development and educational policy making, and the construction and communication of knowledge, and how these relate to issues of schooling. The course treats education in a broad context. It includes traditional schools as well as other institutions which offer instruction, and public as well as educational policies which have an impact upon children and schooling.

In order to ensure that course discussions are informed by actual processes of policy making (and subsequent implementation), for the duration of the course each student will participate in a structured internship in an agency linked to the education sector. This includes public agencies such as the Central Office of the New York City Board of Education, Community School District offices, the Mayor's Office of Budget and Planning, the City Council's Education Committee, the Office of City Planning, the Department of Child Welfare, private foundations such as New Visions, and voluntary organizations such as the Public Education Association, United Parents Association, and the Education Priorities Panel. Some internships may also be taken with international organizations based in New York.

As part of the structured internship students will learn how to gather the systematic data and anecdotal information needed for policy analysis. This information will provide the empirical basis for in-class policy analyses and course assignments.


Note: Course outlines and bibliographies for the 5 core courses will be provided in Appendix A of the Letter of Intent. There will be links to preliminary versions of these materials from the Index Page.