5. Research Focus Of The Proposed Program

The primary research focus of the proposed doctoral studies program will be on increasing our knowledge of the processes and practices of urban education. Doctoral candidates, in close cooperation with the research programs of the faculty, will be prepared to undertake studies of curricular issues and policy issues in urban education. The special focus of the program will be the intersections of these two principal research agendas: (1) issues of curriculum and instruction, and (2) policy analysis research on issues which set the context for curricular and instructional practices.

As social institutions, schools operate as one component of a diverse complex of educational institutions in modern urban society and they function in interdependence with other more broadly political and economic institutions. Both curricular and policy research in education today must be grounded in a sophisticated analysis of these social-institutional networks.

Research in these fields presents profound intellectual challenges which can only be met by creating a partnership among disciplines. No single disciplinary tradition provides the range of conceptual foundations or analytical research techniques needed to respond to the complexity of urban education. In the more detailed discussion which follows we identify a wide range of relevant disciplinary perspectives and exemplify the kind of research topics and questions which doctoral candidates will pursue.

To effectively pursue research in any of these areas, doctoral candidates will need effective preparation across a wide range of conceptual perspectives and their associated methodologies. None of these issues can be fruitfully investigated without some degree of sophistication with regard to their historical, cultural, sociological, political, and ethical dimensions. No one today can read the best research literature on these questions without a grounding in methods of analysis of documentary and interview data and direct observation, as well as in statistical methods and the use of quantitative measures.

Research on urban education should be expected to contribute to the development of fundamental theoretical perspectives in many disciplines other than the field of Education as such, as well as to provide genuinely useful knowledge and new critical discourses for policymakers and educational leaders and practitioners. The lists of Research Areas (below) and Sample Topics (Appendix B) provided here offer many examples that meet these stringent dual criteria of research significance in Education.

The institutions of urban education, the discourses and practices of its participants, and the intersection of curricular and instructional concerns with policy issues provides the unity of focus for this multi-disciplinary program. Education as a field of scholarly research with a long and distinguished tradition has never defined itself by an exclusive body of theory or a single methodology, but by its object of investigation. Whatever perspectives and methods are needed are brought to bear. Many current members of the faculty of the university are already doing outstanding research in curriculum and policy studies in education. Like their colleagues in educational sociology and psychology and developmental psychology, these scholars and their research need a proper institutional base within the university in order to effectively develop programs for training and mentoring future researchers. The mission of this distinguished urban university invites us to provide such a base for research and teaching programs that can contribute so directly to the welfare of the community that supports us.

Specific Research Areas

In our judgment the following broad research areas include many of the issues of greatest potential theoretical and practical importance for the study of urban education in the decade ahead. These are areas in which CUNY faculty already have or are developing strong research programs. The list is not meant to be complete or exclusive, but illustrates some of the areas that will provide an initial focus and coherence of the doctoral program's research agenda. This list will be extended to include other areas deemed important by the faculty.

Schools and Other Social Institutions

The operation of schools is intimately interdependent with social processes ocurring in institutions at various levels of government and in the private sector, in religious institutions, community organizations, labor organizations, etc. Studies of such inter-institutional relations, not just in their ideal and formal outlines, but in their real-world interactions are of great importance for organizational theory in general as well as grounding effective educational practice and policy-making.

Schools and Other Educational Institutions

Particularly in large urban centers, schools are only one of many social institutions with significant educational functions; libraries, museums, professional institutes and academies, and the media provide educational opportunities and environments whose actual and optimal integration with school-based education is not yet well- documented or theorized.

 Evaluating New Policy Paradigms

There is an urgent need to develop well-understood and agreed upon criteria and methods for the evaluation of new paradigms for public education policy, such as those being introduced as part of the current 'educational restructuring' and 'systemic reform' initiatives. These new alternative paradigms cannot produce the outcomes data required by traditional program evaluation methods, but policy-makers still need research guidance as they commit substantial resources to specific programs ostensibly within the new policy paradigms. Research is needed into alternative evaluation schemas that can offer useful guidance under these new policy conditions.

Systemic Educational Reform

The development and implementation of national and local curriculum standards, more democratic school governance, professionalization and board certification of teachers and administrators, performance assessment and accountability for all participants, use of new educational technologies, and equitable and compensatory school financing all converge in the recognition that systemic reform in education must integrate these components to be successful. Substantial research needs to be done to document and analyze what actually happens in the various reform programs now being planned or already begun and to assess the consequences of these reforms for learning in urban classrooms. The educational reform process offers researchers a treasure-house of data for the development of basic theories of social, institutional, and technological change and patterns of adoption and resistance.

Education for Students with Special Needs

How can schools best provide for the education of students with disabilities and special needs? What are the policy and implementation implications of addressing the needs of these populations of students? in teacher education and professional development, deployment of assistive technologies, and with regards to standards and assessment issues?

Implications of New Educational Technologies

Every aspect of formal and informal education, from curriculum and instruction to policy and politics, is likely to be influenced by the rise of new communications and information technologies: educational costs, the role of teachers and other mentors, on-site vs. off-site learning, access to information, assessment, collaborative learning, curricular uniformity vs. individuation, etc. A wide diversity of visions, experiences, and reactions to the new technologies will need to be studied. Fundamental theoretical issues concerning social learning, interaction with intelligent objects, educational ecologies, and technological change will need to be addressed.

Critical Multimedia Literacies

From early childhood through continuing adult education, our society places a premium on complex literacy skills that today include not just the literacy of the written word but literate use of diverse multimedia genres, printed and electronic, in every specialized occupation and activity. While merely technical skills suffice for low-level uses, genuinely critical and reflective multimedia literacies will be necessary to influence policy and evaluate content. Educators have as yet only begun to consider how to teach and develop such literacies for non-verbal media, or how to integrate verbal, visual, and other literacies appropriately in the curriculum. Fundamental issues of multimedia semiotics, genre and discourse theory, and media studies will be addressed by such research.

Curriculum Theory: History, Policy, and Paradigm

How do contemporary curricula reflect the history of social, cultural, and political processes in modern America? What are the interactions between the political processes of curriculum policymaking and the intellectual processes of curriculum content development? What are the origins, uses, and limitations of curricular paradigms based on conceptions of social and individual needs (what should be learned), learner abilities (what can be learned), and learners' rights to shape their own educational development (what we wish to learn)?

Early Childhood Education

What is the impact of child-rearing practices on school readiness and school progress in primary and pre-primary urban classrooms serving immigrant children? How does children's school progress vary with particular, theoretically-based early-childhood curriculum approaches? What are the relative effects on children and their families of such educational services programs as Head Start, pre-kindergartens, day care, and private and parochial pre-schooling? What are the implications for primary curriculum of the establishment of pre-kindergartens in public schools?

What are the policy issues at stake in public funding of family day-care, group day-care, and vouchers for private day-care? What are the policy implications of differential salaries and standards for various categories of adults working with children up to age eight in diverse settings? How do new curriculum standards in academic subject areas affect expectations for learning outcomes in early childhood education? How should standard for state-approved teacher preparation programs reflect differences in primary vs. pre-primary programs?

How should responsibility be shared between families and other social institutions for the early education of our youngest citizens? What are the educational rights and needs of children of pre-school age? Will new educational technologies advance learning readiness or otherwise make possible new levels of achievement for very young learners?

Expectations and Achievement

Many educational and political leaders today believe that many more students can achieve much higher levels of sophistication at much earlier ages than previously thought. There are some theoretical, historical, and cross-cultural grounds to believe that almost any set of social expectations for student achievement can be met under appropriate learning conditions. It may even be that previously dominant views of a hierarchy of difficulty and stages of readiness represent limited cultural perspectives and an ideological commitment to overvaluing the achievements of a favored few. Situated learning theory and actor-network theory suggest that anyone can learn to do anything, and that no symbol-processing task or skill intrinsically requires greater inherent ability than another, given participation in the right network of persons and artifacts. Other theories propose fundamental limits on achievement as a function of ability or developmental readiness. Research on these questions may determine whether higher expectations will lead to higher levels of achievement or higher levels of frustration, and what kinds of institutional support would be required for success.

See also Appendix B. Sample Research Topics