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Core Courses & Colloquium

Core Courses

All students in the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education will be required to complete four core courses:

  • Introduction into Research Methods
  • Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom
  • Historical Contexts of Urban Education
  • Educational Policy

The first two will normally be taken concurrently, as will the second pair of courses, for which the first pair will be prerequisite. .

In addition to the core courses there is one required one credit core colloquium seminar, that will be taken in the first semester.

The core courses are unified by two themes that run through them all: the interdependence of curricular and policy issues, and the connections between research methodology and fundamental questions of the nature and reliability of knowledge in the human sciences. All courses address issues of research methodology; all include cultural, historical, and political dimensions of inquiry.

By taking the core courses as cohort groups, students with diverse backgrounds and intended areas of specialization will begin the process of collaborative inquiry that 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 a brief course description and a fuller statement of the designer's rationale for the course. The links from each course title lead to more details. Note that the actual course may vary from the proposed outline in its details.

Course Descriptions

For each core course we present a brief course description and a fuller statement of the designer's rationale for the course. The links from each course title lead to more details. Note that the actual course may vary from the proposed outline in its details.

Core 1: Intro. to Research Methods in in Urban Education

(3 credits; 30 hours plus conferences; 15-20 students per offering)

Course Description
The course examines research design and methods appropriate for studies in urban education. Ethical issues pertaining to the conduct of research are examined, including issues of informed consent involving research with human subjects. Also, the course examines theoretical research and research designed to test innovations in education as ends of a continuum in which the methods studied are appropriate for addressing questions/issues at multiple levels (e.g., macro, meso, micro levels of society). The theory and methods included in the course are: historical, philosophical, ethnographic, hermeneutic/phenomenological, narrative inquiry, participatory action research, discourse analysis, descriptive statistical, and inferential statistical (parametric and non parametric). Each of the research methods will be examined in terms of the underlying theory (i.e., logics), procedures associated with the methods, and ways in which each the methods has been applied in urban education. In relation to all of the methods studied in the course, the potential of mixed methods will be studied.

As part of the self-study process and the subsequent external review of the program in 2009, the External Evaluation Review Team recommended that "the program incorporate formal and informal discussions of research, as well as experience with doing research, earlier in the program". This course addresses this recommendation and is designed to give students earlier experiences with doing research in urban education.

Core 2: Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom

(3 credits; 30 hours plus conferences; 15-20 students per offering)

Course Description
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 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 is paired with Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom and Historical Contexts of Urban Education, and will provide concrete situations for analysis though field studies that will be shared with Logics 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 3: The Historical Contexts of Urban Education

(3 credits; 30 hours plus conferences; 15-20 students per offering)

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 that emerge at a given historical moment.

Contemporary students of urban education need to be aware of the antecedents of the issues 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 that 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 that drove changes over time.

Historical Contexts is paired with Pedagogy and the Urban Classroom in the first semester in order that students not only gain the historical and philosophical depth needed for serious research study in urban education but also have the opportunity to refer to actual historical examples when discussing philosophical controversies and perspectives.

Core 4: Educational Policy

(3 credits; 30 hours plus conferences; 15-20 students per offering)

Course Description
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 analyze issues critically, including appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods.

Case studies of real-world policies and practical outcomes will be studied 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, that 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 fieldwork 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. They also must be able to examine alternative paradigms as well as interpret specific policies. They must be able to see policy issues within a broad sociopolitical context 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 "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 that are frequently competing or conflicting.

Policy studies, therefore, must be embedded in considerations that 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. A policy once formulated may never be implemented or, if implemented, may be carried out in a manner that undermines or contradicts that self-same 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 that offer instruction, and it includes all areas of public policy that have an impact on children and schooling, not just explicitly educational policy.

Core Colloquium

In addition to the to the four core courses taken in the first year, a colloquium is required. The Colloquium is a one one-credit seminar required of all students in the Urban Education Ph.D. Program. It is a very important part of the curriculum and help to prepare students for the rest of their work in the program, including researching and writing a dissertation.

The Core Colloquium is designed to:

  • Introduce students to the requirements and organization of the program, including opportunities for elective courses in other programs and the required program Examinations
  • Introduce students to the faculty and their research interests
  • Provide opportunities to reflect on the content of the core courses in relation to students' own experience and to relate the courses taken in the same semester to each other
  • Discuss the process of identifying a dissertation topic, finding a dissertation sponsor and committee, acquiring the research expertise to complete a dissertation, and planning the work of the dissertation itself
  • Discuss current issues in Urban Education with the faculty and invited speakers


Upon completion of these five courses students will be expected to pass the First Examination. They must take all parts of the examination before completing 30 credits in the program (excluding transfer credits) and may not continue in the program beyond 45 credits until they have passed all parts of the First Exam. The First Examination covers the same general topics as the required core courses, including an announced list of specific readings drawn from the core course bibliographies.

Second Examination: The second examination will consist of: 1) a two hour oral examination taken during the final semester of course work and 2) a second evaluation activity prior to the oral examination consisting of either a written assignment and/or formal scheduled meetings with the faculty sponsor. Under special conditions, by request of both student and sponsor, and approved by the Executive Committee, the Second Examination may be scheduled up to two semesters following the completion of the student’s course work.

Procedurally, the student names a faculty sponsor by the end of the first month of the semester preceding the last semester of course work. The faculty sponsor and the student negotiate the choice of two other members for the examination committee, develop reading lists in concert with those faculty members, and agree on a procedure for administering and meeting the requirements of the examination. They also set a tentative date for the oral examination and any other deadlines and conditions. A written plan for the examination, the reading lists, and list of faculty committee members should be submitted to the Executive Officer by November 15 or April 15 of the semester before taking the examination.

Second Examination Committee
: Sponsor (tentative dissertation advisor) must be an appointed Urban Education faculty member. One additional member of the committee must be an appointed Urban Education faculty member. The third member of the committee need not be a member of the Urban Education faculty, though he or she must be an appointed member of the doctoral faculty. According to Graduate Center rules, “…at least three members of the dissertation defense committee must be members of The Graduate Center doctoral faculty” (p.34). Additional members beyond the first three may come from faculty not appointed to the Graduate Center or who teach outside CUNY, but they must possess a Ph.D. and submit a c.v. for approval. Approval of committee rests with the EO with questionable cases brought to Executive Committee for a vote.


Students will complete approximately 27 credits of elective courses, chosen from: recommended courses offered at The Graduate Center across its many doctoral programs; the area and program seminars in Urban Education; and reading courses and special topics courses under the supervision of a member of the doctoral faculty (subject to approval of their Studies Committee).


The student is advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree after completing:

  • all program requirements
  • passing all parts of the Second Examination

Dissertation Oral Examination: The Ph.D. is awarded after the dissertation