T210X: Foundations of Urban Education Professor Meira Levinson January 2014 – final

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T210X: Foundations of Urban Education

Professor Meira Levinson

January 2014 – FINAL

Professor Meira Levinson

Office: Gutman 413 Phone: 617-496-1562 meira_levinson@harvard.edu

Office Hours: http://levinsonofficehours.wikispaces.com

Cherise Kenner, Faculty Assistant

Office: Gutman 424 Phone: 617-495-2675 kennerch@gse.harvard.edu

Aaliyah El-Amin, Teaching Fellow ase350@mail.harvard.edu

Chris Buttimer, Teaching Fellow chrisbuttimer4444@gmail.com

Shauna Leung, Teaching Fellow sbl850@mail.harvard.edu
Course Description Urban schools are complex political constructs. Many actors from many different vantage points have tried to create, protect, reform, eliminate, and reassess them over time. In many cases, these efforts to shape urban schools reflect broader efforts to shape American schools in general; in other cases, urban schools have been the target of specific initiatives. Some of the most profound effects on urban schools have resulted from decisions that were ostensibly not about education at all: immigration, housing, and zoning regulations, for instance. It seems fair to say that the results for urban education have been mixed at best.

Against this backdrop, and as a means of exploring the political and historical dynamics of urban educational institutions, we will investigate a single question over the course of this module, namely: How have people tried to achieve equity in urban schools over time? We will look at equity in attendance (including desegregation initiatives and dropout rates and policies), curriculum provision and pedagogy (including tracking, detracking, and differentiated instruction initiatives), the historical and contemporary status of teachers, school and district financing, centralization and decentralization of school governance, and school-family partnerships. By considering the relationship among intentions, school and social contexts, and outcomes with respect to these issues, students will gain important understandings that will help them be reflective and effective actors in a variety of urban educational contexts. Instructional methods will include on-line lectures, whole class and small group discussion, simulations, case studies, and other pedagogies.

Course goals By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the complexities underlying apparently simple decisions about how to achieve measurable equity in where children learn, what they learn, and how they learn it.

  2. Analyze urban schools and districts as complex historical and political constructs.

  3. Discuss the roles that educators (teachers, administrators, schools, districts, etc.) versus others (families, economy, culture, social structures, etc.) play in reducing, causing, or exacerbating educational inequities.

  4. Distinguish intentions from outcomes in judging and justifying urban educational practices and policies.

  5. Interpret features of their own teaching and school-based experiences in the broader historical and political context of US urban school policy and reform.

  6. Apply their learning through the choices they make as teachers and other educational actors (administrators, curriculum developers, policy makers, partners) in urban settings.

Course Expectations You must meet the following expectations/complete the following assignments in order to pass this class:


Daily attendance and class participation: I expect you to attend all classes, on time and in full, and to participate appropriately. Class participation matters because it helps both you and your peers master the material and meet the course goals. Each day will offer a number of opportunities as well as a wide variety of ways to participate: thinking, writing, talking, presenting, doing, solving, etc., individually, in small groups, and with the whole class. If you are having a hard time finding your niche and participating in class appropriately, please talk to Meira or your TF as soon as possible.

Daily readings and e-lectures: Please read all assigned texts before coming to class, and bring your readings to class each day. Use the framing questions to help guide your reading. There is often a lot that is of interest in the texts that we won’t address; focus in on the arguments and evidence in the texts that help you answer the framing questions. Read “actively” – i.e., highlight the text, take notes, write marginal comments, talk with others about the material, ask questions, draw connections, etc. in order to comprehend and process the readings before class begins. In class we will usually use the texts as resources to push our knowledge or skills further rather than spend time on direct discussion about the texts themselves. Activities will sometimes, but not always, help you comprehend, analyze, or synthesize readings. You will therefore have to do some of the “heavy lifting” on your own. If you complete the readings well before class (e.g. over winter vacation), please make sure to take sufficiently detailed notes on the readings to be able to skim them before class and remind yourself who argues what and why.

On-line lectures: When I first debuted these a few years ago, I gave long explanations about how these were intended to respond to students’ diverse backgrounds, interests, and knowledge/skills, and why it made no sense anymore to force a group of people to assemble in the same place at the same time simply to listen to one person (such as a professor) mono-directionally deliver information. But now that the “flipped classroom” has become common parlance, I don’t have to provide such elaborate justifications! So, watch, think, and learn. 

The admonition to “think” is important; even e-lectures should enable active rather than passive learning. Hence, we invite you to post questions or comments on our class discussion board. Feel free to request clarification, but also to extend, apply, or challenge what was covered in the lectures. The T210X teaching team will respond to all postings on a regular basis.


Two one-page, single-spaced analysis papers: You are responsible for writing one-page, single-spaced analysis papers for two of the topics listed on the syllabus below. Each paper should present an analytic response to some combination of the assigned readings, e-lecture or other on-line resources, and in-class activities related to that topic. An analytic response will not just summarize the readings; rather, discuss how what you’ve learned may apply to a specific situation, justify why you think a text or argument is particularly compelling or misguided, unpack the assumptions made by an author or set of authors, introduce counterevidence from your own teaching practice, relate the insights you’ve gained from this topic to another topic, etc. These papers are due by 10 p.m. the day after the relevant class.

Take home final essay exam: This will be posted on the T210X iSite by early January. Please read it before our first meeting on Jan. 9, as it demonstrates our expectations for your learning in this course. Your completed final is due in the course dropbox by noon on Friday, January 24. Please read the directions included with the final exam for more information.
Where to find readings and e-lectures: E-lectures can be found under the E-Lecture tab of the T210X iSite. For readings, if there is a link in the syllabus, just click on the link itself to get to the assigned text. If not linked or otherwise marked, assigned readings can be found under the iPac tab on the T210X iSite. There are a couple of articles that are marked [iSite]; you should be able to access these under the tab for that day’s class.
Thursday, January 9, 1-4 p.m. Segregation and Desegregation

How segregated were American schools in the past, and how segregated are they today, especially in urban areas? What explains these patterns? What relationships exist between school segregation, on the one hand, and educational quality and equality, on the other? How have people over time tried to address these relationships, and what are the costs and benefits of each approach? How should the answers to these questions influence our work as urban educators?

E-Lecture: School Segregation and Desegregation

Hochschild, Jennifer and Nathan Scovronick (2003). The American Dream and the Public Schools. Oxford University Press. Ch. 2, “School Desegregation,” pp. 28-51.

Eaton, Susan (2006). The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial. Algonquin Paperbacks, pp. [3-30—if we can get copyright clearance], 39-68, 249-285.

Kahlenberg, Richard D. (2012). “Turnaround Schools and Charter Schools That Work.” In The Future of School Integration, edited by Richard D. Kahlenberg, The Century Foundation Press. Ch. 8, pp. 283-308.

Grant, Gerald (2009). Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh. Harvard University Press. Ch. 4, “There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh,” pp. 91-133.

Friday, January 10, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. School Finance

How are suburban, urban district, and urban charter schools financed in the United States, and what do they do with the money? What are the relationships between educational funding and student and community demographics? How significant is equitable financing for achieving equitable educational outcomes? How should the answers to these questions influence our work as urban educators?

E-Lecture: School Finance

Hochschild, Jennifer and Nathan Scovronick (2003). The American Dream and the Public Schools. Oxford University Press. Ch. 3, “School Finance Reform,” pp. 52-76.

Childress, Stacey (2010). “Investing in Improvement—Strategy and Resource Allocation in Public School Districts.” In Frederick M. Hess and Eric Osberg, eds., Stretching the School Dollar. Harvard Education Press. Ch. 8, pp. 209-233.

Murnane, Richard J. and Frank Levy (1996). “Evidence from Fifteen Schools in Austin, Texas.” In Gary Burtless, ed. Does Money Matter? The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement and Adult Success. Brookings Institution Press. Excerpt of Ch. 4, pp. 93-96.

Friday, January 10, 1-4 p.m. Student Identity and Curricular Access

What difference does a child’s identity make in what he or she needs to learn, and how s/he needs to learn it? Why are so many apparently integrated (i.e. diverse) schools internally segregated by class, race/ethnicity, language, and/or perceived ability? What are the results of such separation/segregation? How can we best respect student diversity while achieving equitable results?

E-Lecture: Who Should Learn What? Why?

Sleeter, Christine E. (2005). Un-Standardizing Curriculum: Multicultural Teaching in the Standards-Based Classroom. Teachers College Press. Ch. 1, “Standards, Multicultural Education, and Central Curriculum Questions,” pp. 5-27.

Oakes, Jeannie (2005). Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, Second Edition. Yale University Press. Chapter 1, pp. 1-14.

Powell, Arthur G., Eleanor Farrar, and David K. Cohen (1985). The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace. Houghton Mifflin. Introduction, pp. 1-7.

Common Core Standards Initiative (2010). http://www.corestandards.org/. If you do not already know the Common Core, spend time familiarizing yourself with the standards themselves, as well as the reasoning and rhetoric behind them.

Jigsaw Case Studies: Instead of doing a city-oriented case study for this class, we will look at four different school-based approaches to educating a diverse student body. Don’t worry—you won’t be responsible for all four cases! Instead, by the first day of class, you will also be assigned to a group to read about one approach. The readings will be posted on the iSite under today’s class tab.
Monday, January 13, 3-6 p.m. Teachers

How does teacher quality in urban district schools compare to teacher quality in other settings (suburban, rural, charter, parochial)? What does teacher quality even mean, and how does one measure it? Assuming it can be measured, should low teacher quality in urban schools be addressed by changing who teaches, or how they learn to teach, or by making schooling teacher-proof? How do institutions such as unions, charters, education schools, and district bureaucracies promote or impede the recruitment, training, and retention of high-quality teachers in urban areas?

E-lecture: Teachers

Education Equality Project (2009). “The Education Equality Position Paper Series on Improving Teacher Quality.” http://eep.3cdn.net/c4c05f3b9720af56c7_01m6bnf92.pdf.

Goldstein, Michael (2012, Winter). “Studying Teacher Moves.” Education Next 12(1). http://educationnext.org/studying-teacher-moves.

Hill, Heather and Corinne Herlihy (2011, November). “Prioritizing Teaching Quality in a New System of Teacher Evaluation.” AEI Education Outlook No. 9. http://www.aei.org/files/2011/11/09/-eduo-november-2011_130927384655.pdf.

Payne, Charles M. (2008). So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools. Ch. 1, “Dimensions of Demoralization.” pp. 17-47.

Duncan-Andrade, Jeff (2007). “Gangstas, Wankstas, and Ridas: Defining, Developing, and Supporting Effective Teachers in Urban Schools.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20: 6, 617-638. [iSite]
Tuesday, January 14, 4-7 p.m. Centralization and Decentralization

How have various urban districts over time tried to govern large numbers of schools in order to achieve efficiency, effectiveness, and equity? What are the advantages and disadvantages of controlling from the center versus distributing autonomy to schools? How do current governance trends in urban districts—such as mayoral control, strict accountability regimes, or portfolio districts including charters and other self-governing schools—reflect, extend, or diverge from prior approaches? Given the cyclical nature of centralization and decentralization, is there reason to think that governance structures even make a difference in achieving equity or excellence among schools?

E-Lecture: Centralization and Decentralization

Tyack, David B. (1974). The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Harvard University Press. Excerpt of Part II, “From Village School to Urban System: Bureaucratization in the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 29-59, 72-77.

Elmore, Richard (1993). “School Decentralization: Who Gains? Who Loses?” In Jane Hannaway and Martin Carnoy, eds. Decentralization and School Improvement: Can We Fulfill the Promise? Jossey Bass. Ch. 2, pp. 33-54.

Payne, Charles (2008). So Much Reform So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools. Harvard Education Press. Ch. 5, “‘You Can’t Kill It and You Can’t Teach It’: Bureaucracy and the Institutional Environment,” pp. 121-152.
Wednesday, January 15, 4-7 p.m. Inequities Beyond School

In what ways do students’ and families’ background characteristics and experiences influence their in-school achievement, and why? How can schools, families, communities, and other institutions mitigate these differences—independently or in partnership—in order to promote equitable educational outcomes? What is currently being done?

E-Lecture: Inequities Beyond School

EITHER: This American Life, episode 487, “Harper High School” Part 1. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/487/harper-high-school-part-one [Be warned that Part 2, episode 488, may feel like an essential follow-up once you’ve listened to Part 1!] OR: Elliott, Andrea (2013). “Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life.” Parts 1-5. New York Times. December 8-12, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

Heckman, James (2012). “Lead Essay: Promoting Social Mobility.” Boston Review. http://www.bostonreview.net/forum/promoting-social-mobility-james-heckman.

Foreman, James Jr. (2009). “No Ordinary Success: The Boundaries of School Reform.” Boston Review (May/June 2009). http://www.bostonreview.net/no-ordinary-success-boundaries-of-school-reform-james-forman-jr.

Warren, Mark R. (2005). “Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform.” Harvard Educational Review 75(2): 133-173. [iSite]

Curto, Vilsa E., Roland G. Fryer, and Meghan L. Howard (2011). “It May Not Take a Village: Increasing Achievement Among the Poor.” In Greg J. Duncan and Richard J. Murnane, eds., Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances. Russell Sage Foundation and Spencer. Ch. 23, pp. 483-505.

I rarely if ever provide editorial commentary on the readings I assign. In this case, however, I feel compelled to note that while the data and arguments presented in this chapter are crucial to consider (and hence merit assignment), the rhetorical and political framing of the argument are, in my view, deeply problematic. For those of you who feel intensely uncomfortable in reading this chapter, as I admittedly do, I urge you to consider whether and how the authors’ arguments apply if presented through an asset- rather than deficit-oriented frame.

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