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SAC Syllabus 2017

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Course Syllabus, Spring 2017

Education 266:  Schools in American Cities


Jody Cohen                                                                                                                            

TTH 12:55-2:15                                                                                                                    

Office: Bettws-y-coed 302    

Meetings by appointment                                                     



The course

An elective offered through the Education Program that also meets a requirement for Cities and Sociology majors, this course is designed for students to investigate the issues, challenges and possibilities of urban schooling. The purpose of the course is to create a community of learners who will conduct inquiry into both theory and practice to build an understanding of critical issues in urban education. Through readings, writings, field experiences and discussions, participants will address a range of factors that create the conditions for teaching and learning, policies and reform, stakeholder engagement and in/equities in city schools.

In the first section of the course, we address socioeconomic, legal, and other structural issues in terms of their impact on urban education. The second part of the course examines students’ and teachers’ identities and perspectives and issues of curriculum and pedagogy in urban settings, especially in contested terrains such as language and literacy and mathematics. In the final stretch of the course, we investigate current topics and strategies for change in urban schools and districts.

Since we are located right outside Philadelphia, a key site for urban schooling, the course utilizes Philadelphia as an illustrative “case”; we consider recent initiatives and pay particular attention to the city’s current effort(s), politics, and policies. Field placements in school settings and conversations with urban educators and students offer us opportunities to explore the relationship of macro-conditions to particular people, places, and programs. Students engage in a Praxis field placement, which provides us with practice-based experiences to extend and deepen our knowledge. The Praxis dimension ensures that we grapple with real issues, using these to inform and revise theory, and that we use our resources to address felt needs in the field.  We will be working with Nell Anderson (, Praxis Coordinator, on this aspect of the course.


Class requirements and Policies

The course is demanding in terms of reading, writing, and participation. Priority goes to students in the Education Program and to Sociology and Cities majors. Students also complete a Praxis field experience in an urban education setting.

This course will involve students as critical readers and writers of texts, active participants in class discussions, and participants in other education-related settings.  Your presence and active engagement are essential. If the need arises for you to miss a class, be late or leave early, please email me ahead of time if possible.  Missing more than three classes may lower your grade; excellent attendance and participation will enhance your grade.

Students are expected to turn in all work on time. If there is a reason why you cannot complete a paper by the due date, speak to me about an extension before the date that the paper is due.  Please limit your use of this option to one paper. Course papers may be revised and re-submitted for a new grade based on the revision.  Please consult with me on the revision process.  Revisions are due the last day of classes. In all written assignments, please take care to edit and proofread your work so that needless errors do not distract readers from the strength of your thinking.

Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester.  Students who attend Bryn Mawr may contact Deb Alder, Coordinator of Access Services, at 610-526-7351 or Haverford students may contact the Office of Access and Disability Services ( If you think you may need accommodations because of a disability, you should contact Access and Disability Services at


Course Assignments

All course writings referring to your field placement must use pseudonyms for all teachers and students. All sources must be cited completely and properly, usingAPA, MLA, or Chicago style guidelines. (For instruction in citation style, pleaseconsult

1. Field-based writing/experiences: These will provide a series of opportunities for you to examine what’s going on in your field site in the context of our readings and discussions. You will share these with your field group and they will be read by the professor and the content drawn on to plan discussions about field placements. Each field post should be between 500 and 750 words (approximately).

(a) Field log: You will keep a field log that includes entries for each time you enter your field site. Remember to use pseudonyms for people in order to preserve confidentiality. We will discuss a variety of ways to use your field log to document what you are learning. Field logs will provide a source for all field-based work. Please turn in three excerpts from this field log with your final research / field paper.

(b) Field post 1: Field Context - Briefly describe your field placement, using online resources as well as your early visits. You can include information about the neighborhood, the school building, the school culture, the structures (political, social, institutional, etc.) of the school, the classroom culture, the teachers, the students, the curriculum and pedagogy in use, etc.

(c) Field post #2 - A moment/experience for analysis: Select an incident from your field log that illustrates a key theme emerging in your field experience. Write this up as a focused narrative; then frame the narrative with interpretive commentary. Consider drawing on course texts for this week to help ground your analysis.

(d) Field post # 3: Your evolving question or focus: What question or issue seems most central to the school/classroom/student(s)? What information and impressions do you already have pertaining to this question? What kinds of knowledge would further your inquiry? What areas of literature research might better ground your topic? Please also share what research you’ve already conducted and what you still plan to collect / integrate.

(e) Final research and field paper: Use your fieldwork as a resource for extending and deepening your understanding of schools in American cities. Describe and analyze the data you’ve gathered over the course of the semester at your field site to elucidate approaches to teaching and learning in an urban context as well as policy implications that emerge from observations and practice.  What do you see as crucial challenges and how have educator(s) and/or students at the site met these challenges?  How does your deepened understanding of practice at the field site illuminate, and perhaps bolster an argument for revising current theoretical perspectives on policy and/or practice in urban education? Ground the concepts which emerge from your field in research and extend analysis to include studies others have done toward improving upon or strengthening current practice or policy. This should be 8-10 pages. You will share your emerging topic and data you have collected during the last class meetings in April. Also, please include 3 samples from your field notes.


2. Issue Analysis (5 pages): Use our readings and discussions to locate and analyze a “core issue” in urban education. For example, what is the so-called ‘achievement gap’ and how should educators address this? What are the dimensions and implications of the issue? How do legalities and funding impact this issue? Do you detect significant differences in the ways this issue gets discussed and defined across our readings? In the news? What questions and perspectives seem to you most useful in terms of addressing this issue in urban education? Draw on our readings, field experiences if relevant, and any other sources that inform your analysis. A short “initial ideas on key issues” post is due during the 4th week of classes to get started on this assignment.


3. Using the medium of film to re-view urban education (5 pages): Select one or more film(s) about urban education [including I am a Promise, Hard Times at Douglass High, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Lean on Me, The Wire, Season IV (choose scenes from one or more episodes)Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, American Promise, Take the Lead, The Education of Michelle Rhee] and use the film(s) to examine students’ perspectives, teachers and teaching, or issues in school reform. How do our readings and/or your placement experiences inform your viewing of the film, and conversely, how does your viewing of the film inform your reading of texts and/or of your placement experience? You may choose to focus on one or several scenes, in which case you should specify your narrowed focus. Additionally, please include specific references to all sources—filmic, textual, and experiential.


5. Strategies for Change (2-3 page serendip post, group presentation): During the course, we’ve considered the challenges of urban education at multiple levels, from the contextual issues of poverty, racism and public policy to the classroom-based issues of students’ and teachers’ experiences. Bearing in mind these challenges as well as the directions for change suggested by our readings, discussions and experiences, write a 2-3 page serendip post in which you propose a map for change; discuss your rationale for the strategies you recommend. You may focus at any level (e.g. the classroom, school, district, city, state or more broadly still), but wherever you focus, keep in mind the importance of linking levels in any ultimate plan for change. We will share across each of your posts and organize groups for in class discussion and collaboration toward each group building a “change” plan they present during an in class board meeting simulation. This assignment then moves from a short idea paper to in class brainstorming / grounding / collaboration to out of class group preparation for the final presentation.


6. Participation: Attendance, active involvement in class sessions, online posts and fieldwork attendance make up your participation in the course.  You are also required to attend two Ed Talks, student-led conversations about Praxis placements that are facilitated across classes.  More information on this forthcoming.


Assigned Texts (available at Bryn Mawr Bookstore and on reserve at Canaday Library):

  • Crawford-Garrett, Katherine. (2013). Teach for America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform: Searching for Agency in an Era of Standardization
  • William Ayers, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Greg Michie and Pedro Noguera (eds). (2008). City Kids, City Schools: More reports from the front row
  • All other readings are available in the protected reading file on our serendip site:  /oneworld/courses/schools-american-cities/2017


A note about preparation and technology: Bring each day’s readings to class with you so that you can use them in our discussions (this includes articles printed from serendip and/or articles on an electronic device you bring with you to class). Either way, it is very important that you annotate as you read and come to class ready to discuss key learnings, critiques and questions on the readings for the day. You are welcome to bring personal computers or tablets with you to class, but please be aware of what distracts you and do not let these become a distraction to y/our learning.


Class Meetings and Assignments

All assignments are due on the day they are listed.


Week 1

Tuesday, January 17:Introduction and Current / Local Context

  • Orienting to the course


Thursday, January 19: What is Urban Education?

Reading due:


Week 2

Tuesday, January 24: Key Issues – Poverty, Health and Policy

Reading due:



Thursday, January 26: Key Issues – Globalization, Mobility and the City

Reading due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al.)
    • Intro to Section IV (Ladson-Billings),
    • 26: Unnatural Disasters: Race and Poverty (Dyson)
    • 27: And what will become of children like Miguel Fernandez? (Noguera)
    • 28: Education and the New Urban Workforce in a Global City (Lipman)
    • 30: Little House in the ‘Hood (Williams)


Week 3

Tuesday, January 31: Praxis orientation


Thursday, February 2: Key Issues – Market-based Reform

Reading due:

  • Scott, J. and Holme, J. (2016). The political economy of market-based educational policies: Race and reform in urban school districts, 1915-2016.  Review of Research in Education, 40, 250-297.
  • Laracy, C. (2016). School district policy on charters is unconstitutional, PA court says.  The Daily Pennsylvanian.


Week 4

Tuesday, February 7:  Key Issues: Segregation and Resegregation

Visit this interactive map as well to see further segregation of elite families and some implications of segregation:


  • Writing Due: Initial Issue Post on serendip (due Tues by Midnight): Which key issues in urban education seems the most pressing so far? Why? How might you rethink this (these) issue(s)?

Thursday, February 9: Snow day!

Week 5

Tuesday, February 14: Key Issues - Race, Violence and Discipline

Reading due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al.), 31: Race War: Policing, Incarceration, and the Containment of Black Youth (Kitwana)
  • The Trouble with Black Boys (Noguera), Chapter 7: Schools, Prisons, and Social Implications of Punishment


Thursday, February 16: Key Issues: The So-Called “Achievement Gap”

Reading Due:

  • Urban Schools, Public Will (Fruchter), Chapter 2: The Achievement Gap and the Culture of Schooling
  • “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Dept” (Ladson-Billings)
  • “Burden of Acting Neither White nor Black: Asian American Identities and Achievement in Urban Schools” (Lew)
  • Teaching and Reaching Students in Poverty (Gorski) Chapter 6: “The Achievement – er, Opportunity Gap” 


Week 6

  • Writing Due: Field Post #1 on serendip (due Sun. by 5 pm)

Tuesday, February 21: Pedagogy and Curriculum

Reading due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al), 18: Practicing Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Ladson-Billings)
  • Tough Fronts, (Dance), Chapter 4: Social Capital, Cultural Capital and Caring Teachers
  • “Creating Environments of Success and Resilience” (Bondy)
  • “Proximal Processes in Urban Curriculums” (Wallace and Chuuon)


Thursday, February 23: Pedagogy and Curriculum

Reading Due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al), 22: “Coming From the School of Hard Knocks” (Morell & Duncan-Andrade)
  • “Beyond Print: Roaming the Known” (Strolin-Smith)
  • “Modeling with Cultural Data Sets” (Lee)
  • “I ain’t writin’ nutting’…” (Ladson-Billings)


Week 7

Tuesday, February 28: Pedagogy and Curriculum

Reading Due: Pedagogy and Curriculum

  • “Calculus as a Catalyst” (Werkema & Case)
  • “Transactions of Mathematical Knowledge in the Algebra Project” (Davis et. al)


Thursday, March 2: Special Ed and Urban Schools

Reading due:

  •  “The Intersection of Race, Culture, Language and Disability” (Blanchett et. al)
  •  Guest speakers:  Special ed lawyer and case manager


  • Writing Due: Issue Analysis on Friday March 3rd by 5 pm to


Spring Break


Week 8

Tuesday, March 14: Snow day

Thursday, March 16: Multicultural and Multilingual Approaches

  • “Linguistic Diversity in Multicultural Classrooms” (Nieto)
  • “Family is Here: Learning in Community-Based After School Programs” (Lee And Hawkins)
  • “Teaching (In)Justice: One Teacher’s Work with Immigrant English Learners” (Lee and Walsh)

Week 9

Tuesday, March 21:  Reform Strategies:  Multicultural/lingual Approaches continued

Reading due:

  •  “Social and Cultural Capital in an Urban Latino School Community” (Monkman et. al)
  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al), 19: A Mexican American student resists Subtractive Schooling


Thursday, March 23:  Reform Strategies: T he Teaching of Middle Class Values and “No-Excuses” Schools

Reading Due:

  • “Schools that Work” (Thernstrom and Thernstrom)
  • Golan, J. (2015). “Paradox of Success at a “No-Excuses” School.” Sociology of Education. 88(2), 103-119.


  • Writing Due: Field Post #2 on serendip tagged to your field group (due Sun. by 5 pm)


Week 10

Tuesday, March 28: Teacher Perspectives on Accountability and Curriculum

Reading due:

  • Teach for America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform (Crawford-Garrett)
    • Chapter 1: Problematizing the American School Narrative
    • Chapter 3: Confronting Factory-Style Education
    • Chapter 4: Managing Student Achievement In and Out of School


Thursday, March 30: Reading Due:  Reform Strategies – Teacher Quality / Recruitment / TFA



Week 11

Tuesday, April 4: Reform Strategies - Teacher Education

Readings Due:

  • Teach for America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform (Crawford-Garrett)
    • Chapter 6: The Transformative Potential of the Methods Classroom
    • Chapter 7: Conclusion
    • “Visions of Teachers Leaving No More Children Behind” (Duncan-Andrade) 


Thursday, April 6: Reform Strategies – Community and Parent Involvement

Reading Due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al.), 8: “To See Again,” and 23: Transforming the Role of Parents in Urban Schools (Hurtig)
  • Simon et. al, "With Our Powers Combined"


  • “Intervening with Children Exposed to Urban Violence” (Ceballo et. al)
  • “Parental Involvement in Children’s Education” (Shuang Ji & Koblinski)

Week 12

  • Writing Due: Strategies for Change post to serendip (due Sunday by 5 pm)

Tuesday, April 11: Panel of Educators  

Thursday, April 13: Reform strategies

Reading due:

  •  “Teaching Popular Culture” (Morrell) 
  • City Kids, City Schools:
    • Part II: City Teachers Introduction (Michie)
    • 9: Building Community from Chaos (Christensen)
    • 10: Mr. B (Ayers)
    • 12: Are Those Real? (Lubliner)
    • 13: The Curie 12: A Case for Teacher Activism (Hogan) 
  • Teaching and Reaching Students in Poverty (Gorski), Chapter 10: Expanding our Spheres of Influence”
  • Build Strategy for Change groups in class – based on ideas / interests expressed in posts.


Week 13

Tuesday, April 18: The Role of Students at the Center of Reform

Reading Due:

  • City Kids, City Schools (Ayers, et al.)
    • 2:  Holler if you Hear Me (Michie)
    • 25: Education in our dying cities (Boggs)
    • 32: Keeping Kids at the Center of Educational Policy (Au)
    • 33: Putting Education at the Center (Anyon)
    • Afterward (Cheng)

Strategies for Change Preparation


Thursday, April 20: Praxis panels


Week 14: Praxis

Sun. April 23 @ 5pm:  Writing due: Field post # 3 on your emerging research question or focus.  Tag to your field group.

Tuesday, April 25

  • Strategies for change presentations


Thursday, April 27

  • Praxis field group meetings and Closing


DUE: The Final Field / Research Paper is due via email ( on the last day of finals.