Appendix B. SAMPLE RESEARCH TOPICS IN FOCUS AREAS
1. Policy and Curriculum Intersections
Curricula for Literacy Education
The Whole Language vs. Phonics Debate. Comparative case studies of the Massachusetts and California controversies with the New York experience. What are the curricular and instructional consequences of literacy education programs which emphasize contextual-functional methods vs. coding and decoding skills? What are the values, priorities, and political agendas of various professional and non-professional groups which have argued and lobbied for one or the other of these two approaches? In what ways are these curricula genuinely incompatible and to what extent have they been effectively combined? What should the role of legislative policymakers be in determining specifics of curriculum and instruction at this level? What kinds of information are needed to formulate appropriate policy options?
Educating Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Populations
How do students at various ages make the transition from their home and community language or dialect to bilingual or bi-dialectal interpretive and productive competence in speech and/or use of written text? Which features of the second dialect are most easily and quickly acquired? least easily? Which features of the first dialect are most/least susceptible to interference from the second, and vice versa? Which specific cognitive requirements of basic and higher literacy skills depend most sensitively on features by which specific dialects differ, and which are relatively insensitive to common dialect differences?
What are the policy considerations relevant to deciding the length and amount of special curricular and instructional support to be afforded students at various levels of the educational system whose first language is not the majority language of instruction, or whose home dialect is not the standard dialect? What are the most pressing research questions whose answers are relevant to making realistic policy decisions on this matter in particular school and community contexts? What is the role of diverse and possibly conflicting community values regarding educational and language-and-culture goals in making policy which will be acceptable to local communities and beneficial to students?
How do immigrant groups which arrived in the U.S. at different times and under different conditions (compulsion, hardship, voluntary migration) react to existing curricula and educational priorities in the schools? What are their own values and priorities for the education of their children?
Development and Implementation of State and National Standards
Are higher standards a boon or bane for those now failing in school? Are state standards a further tightening of top-down bureaucratic control which will stifle teachers' professional creativity and responsibility, or are they part of an alternative system of accountability which will enable schools and teachers to have more creativity and autonomy in deciding on educational practices? Does it make a difference which policy body sets the standards, how they are determined, and how sanctions and incentives are implemented? What is the experience of those states which are applying a "standards-based" approach to school reform?
Cross-discipline articulation. What are the potential and real consequences for cross-discipline curricular coherence of developing and implementing discipline-based national curricular standards? What potential measures of cross-discipline curricular coherence exist and what are the policy considerations relevant to adopting these in addition to discipline-based standards?
Implementation experiences. Which aspects of national standards rubrics in various disciplines are most/least subject to widely varying interpretation during their implementation at the local district, school, and classroom level? What kinds of interpretive work must be done, and by whom, and with what perceived or measured success, to convert general standards statements into specifically implementable curriculum? into reliably testable outcomes? What are the implications for state- and national- level criteria for adoptable standards of real implementation experiences?
What are the appropriate and actual roles of national and local standards in the overall systemic reform of U.S. education?
Uses and Implications of New Educational Technologies
Interactivity. What are the most significant differences in how students interact with other persons, with inert media such as books, and with active media such as computer software for various learning purposes? What are the consequences of these differences for the integration of new educational technologies into instructional programs? for the role of various technologies in meeting curriculum goals in different subject areas? What are the policy implications of greater reliance on software-mediated rather than teacher-mediated instruction where comparable learning outcomes are produced? What kinds of curriculum goals are likely to be better met by greater reliance on teacher-mediated learning vs. software-mediated learning? What are the possible gender-specific, culture-specific, age-specific, and social-class differences in modes of interaction with persons and media and the student users' interactional preferences in various contexts?
Diversity and design. How can designers of interactive and intelligent educational software and multimedia most effectively take into account age-, gender-, class-, and culture-specific differences in learning preferences and styles of media interaction in the design of interfaces, content presentations, interactional opportunities, flow logic, feedback, and user-control and customizability? How do relevant student-user preferences differ as a function of prior familiarity with subject, interest in content, and the user's own action agenda?
Semiotic ecology. What are the shared and group-specific social practices by which student users assign meaning and value to text, image and multimedia combinations displayed by interactive computer systems? How do these meanings and values depend on the particular combinations of these media's semiotic resources which are deployed or perceived? How do student users associatively link multimedia presentations and interactive experiences to spatially and temporally immediate and distant contexts and to other texts, images, and multimedia objects? on what principles of relatedness? for what purposes? and how differently according to the intellectual and personal background of the student? What is the role of the immediate material and activity context in modes of use of interactive computer systems? How are such systems used to mediate joint and collaborative learning and creation by two or more student users? How are stand-alone systems used differently from networked systems?
Alternative Assessment Issues
What are the implications for curriculum change and instructional methods of embedding performance and task-product assessments into normal teaching practice? How can performance and portfolio assessments as curricular components function to provide descriptive and comparative data needed for policy analysis and decision-making by individuals, communities, and government? What are the experiences of schools and districts that have adopted these approaches? What is the place of assessment reform within larger educational reform programs?
Primary Curriculum and Instruction Focus
Multimedia Literacy Across the Curriculum.
What do teachers and students need to know about the role of multiple representations and their integration in the specialized written genres and professional practices of various subject disciplines? How can critical perspectives in the use of multimedia materials be developed in the subject-area curricula?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of curricula that are specifically responsive to the cultural backgrounds and heritage of diverse urban populations? How can such curricula be developed to ensure that common standards are met while special interests are addressed? What are the policy implications of multiple curricula? the larger political implications?
Gendered Curricula and Pedagogies
In what ways do current practices in education reflect the gradual masculinization of curriculum and pedagogy during the school years? How does the historical masculinization of the disciplines translate into curricula and pedagogies that subtly exclude the interests and viewpoints, and undermine the intellectual status, of traditionally feminine, contemporary feminist, or non-heterosexually oriented male and female students? What are fair characterizations of the interests, values, priorities, and learning styles of this majority of students by contrast with traditional patriarchal ones? What changes in policies and what forms of empowerment are needed to ensure that educational policy and practice do not continue to be distorted by the special interests of a patriarchal minority?
Primary Policy Studies Focus
Educational Restructuring and Systemic Reform
What are the theoretical bases of the current educational restructuring and systemic reform movements? What is the nature of the new alternative policy frameworks being proposed? How can they be evaluated as new paradigms before implementation yields outcomes data? How can individual components of the reform such as: higher state and national standards, professional-board certification of teachers and administrators, increased responsibility of students for their own learning, performance assessment and accountability for professionals as well as students, school-based budgeting and management, new collaborative relations among schools, families, and communities, increased choice, equitable and compensatory school financing be evaluated, given their close mutual interdependence in practice?
What are the dynamics and politics of this kind of change process in comparison to improvements within existing policy frameworks? How do various participants perceive and respond to these changes under different conditions? What is the best balance between top-down leadership or control and bottom-up initiatives in bringing about systemic change? What kinds of training are needed by various participants in these changes?
Chicago, Kentucky, New York -- Comparisons on Systemic Reform: These and other systems are now attempting varieties of decentralization, higher standards, parent involvement, choice, etc. How do these various approaches to systemic reform differ and what can be learned from their varied experiences?
Equity, Choice, and Privatization Issues:
Equity has been a priority educational policy issue at least since the 1954 Brown decision. But what is "equity"? "Equal protection of the laws" is only one cluster of concepts (which itself includes such diverse policies as desegregation, affirmative action, bilingual education, gender equity, fiscal equity, etc.). Other variously defined concepts, such as "equal educational opportunity," equal input, equal outputs or results, compensatory education, special education for special needs, etc. provide a confusing array of values and policy options for policymakers to deal with. How can these be sorted out by policy makers, practitioners, and the public?
Choice has become increasingly prominent in educational policy in recent years. It seems an obvious value in a "free" society, and some see it as a necessary part of restructuring public education; others, however, fear that it might undermine and destroy a democratic public school system.
Increasingly public school systems are turning to private organizations, both profit and non-profit, to undertake various aspects of public education. What policy and research questions should be examined in regard to this trend? What can be learned from the experience thus far?
Although public education abolished sex-segregated schools decades ago, and eliminated many discriminatory practices in textbooks and teaching, there still remain many concerns that girls are not treated fairly, that school organization embodies an overly-male mentality, and that women remain underrepresented in policy positions. Meanwhile, separate schools for girls and boys are once again being established-on a small scale so far, but with considerable support from the public.
Private Investment in Public Education.
How can we determine what factors should be assessed and weighed in policy decisions regarding private-sector financial and in-kind contributions to public schools? How is public control of policy and political accountability best maintained when schools become dependent on private investments and contributions? What are the implications of private-sector interests for their role as stakeholder in public education? What impact do commercially identified resources in schools have on student perceptions of contributing firms and of the private-public relationship?
Democratic School Governance.
What are the available models and options for more democratic models of school governance, including policy roles for all stakeholders from students and teachers to parents and community institutions? What are the historical and ideological determinants of the conflict between the 'strong-leader' model and the 'stakeholder consensus' model?
Resource Equity and School Funding Issues
Although state education aid formulas have been and continue to be under intensive scrutiny by scholars and various law suits, the allocation of resources within school systems and individual schools remains comparatively unexamined. School-based budgeting may begin to illuminate some of these problems in New York City, but non-financial resources, such as leadership and teaching talent (as opposed to salary levels), degrees of staff commitment, caring, accountability and responsiveness to parents, may remain invisible to budget comparisons.
How can we determine which factors should be assessed in formulating policy regarding equitable funding of schools? How do economic and learning-needs factors combine to determine what is equitable? What are the possible formulations of ultimate policy objectives in this area and what are the implications for assessing various possible funding models?
There is a resurgence of interest in character, citizenship, and values education (vis. President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union). Why, after being one of the prime purposes of public education in the 19th century, has this goal almost disappeared from many schools? Why is it reappearing today? Are there special problems with such education in pluralistic communities? Why are some states, despite the public interest in this goal, leaving it out of their state standards? What are various ways of dealing with these difficulties?
Schools as public forums
First Amendment rulings in recent years have required schools to allow speakers, student clubs, and other activities which many school authorities and parents believe are inimical to their educational values, goals and responsibilities. Policy-makers are caught in a dilemma of respecting First Amendment rights and at the same time respecting the rights of parents to have their values respected by the school, and to have a school which stands for certain values. Should schools be conceived of in the same terms as the "public square," or as special institutions with a special community purpose and different ground rules? Should schools (for children) be considered any differently in this regard from universities?
Coleman I Revisited
The original Coleman Report (The 1966 Congressionally mandated study on "Equality of Educational Opportunity" led by James Coleman) has been one of the most widely cited social science studies of the 20th century. Yet it has been attacked as a serious misuse of social science, and Coleman himself later publicly repudiated one of the most commonly cited "conclusions" of the report (that schools cannot make much difference in the face of socio-economic factors). The seminar would study the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the study for lessons on how social science interacts with social policy, and what can be done to improve such interaction.
Public Schools and Community Education.
What should the role of public schools be in adult literacy and basic education? in continuing adult education? What are the policy factors to be considered in extending such responsibilities from community colleges to local public schools? What potential benefits for school-community-family partnerships can be expected? What potential costs arise?
Priorities, Values, and Policies.
What are the educational priorities and values of the various diverse stakeholder groups in urban educational settings? What are the primary areas of agreement and conflict? In what forum can these differences be aired and what policy options exist for accomodating conflicting philosophies of education? Is it possible to abandon the goal of uniform, compromise policy in favor of the co-existence of alternative models within the same administrative system?