EPE 602: Social Policy Issues & Education


Instructor: Joseph J. Ferrare, Ph.D.

Spring 2018, Mondays 4:00pm - 6:30pm, Room TEB 207

Office: 145C Taylor Education Building

Office Hours: Mondays 3-4pm & by appointment



Syllabus in PDF

Education Policy Links


This course will examine contemporary education policies from a multidisciplinary perspective, focusing on the contexts shaping the emergence of these policies at state and federal levels and the associated impacts on student outcomes across the K-16 system. We will begin with a general review of market-based reform within the realm of social policy and the specific ways these ideas have been applied to education. Next, we will investigate the increasingly complex organizational networks of philanthropic foundations, nonprofit organizations, and state actors working to proliferate choice-oriented policies such as charter schools, vouchers, and alternative teacher policies (e.g., deregulation, merit pay). We then examine the impacts these policies are having on student outcomes, such as test scores, degree completion (high school graduation, college enrollment), and labor market outcomes. The remaining part of the course will be dedicated to an investigation of the ways these reforms are transforming cities, race and social class relations, and a wide array of educational and housing market practices.


Students should expect to leave the course having accomplished the following:

  1. Develop an understanding of the intellectual and political foundations underlying market and choice oriented approaches to education and social policy.
  2. Develop an understanding of the empirical evidence supporting market and choice oriented policies, especially charter schools, vouchers, and alternative teacher policies.
  3. Situate the organizations and actors working to advance these policies within the network contexts in which they operate—and to construct these networks using basic techniques from social network analysis.
  4. Practice the craft of policy debate concerning the above issues through writing and public speaking. 


The primary format for our class meetings will be seminar-style discussions, debates, and small group problem-solving scenarios. During seminar-style discussions we will work together as a class, in small groups, and individually to raise critical questions and formulate connections across the course material. Given the seminar structure to the course it is crucial to come to class with the expectation that you will be an active participant in the discussion. If you are hoping to sit through this class without actively engaging in the discussions and debates then you will likely find this course annoying. Finally, I will periodically attempt to motivate our discussions through the use of Socratic lecture, and we may occasionally have guest speakers who specialize in various areas of the literature germane to this course.


Your work in this course will be evaluated through multiple assignments. The specific modes of evaluation and corresponding grading weights are described below. Grades will be assigned using the following scale:

A: 90% – 100%, B: 80% – 89%, C: 70 – 79%, D: 60% – 69%, E: below 60%

When evaluating your work I will consider criteria specific to each assignment. In general, though, I consider grade ranges to meet the following generic standards:

95% – 100%:  Exemplary work that exhibits mastery over the task

90% – 94%:    Excellent work that approaches mastery but falls short in one key area

85% – 89%:    High quality work that has ample room for improvement

80% – 84%:    Work that exceeds minimum expectations but contains a number of mistakes or lacks quality in key areas

75% – 79%:    Work that meets, but does not exceed, the minimum expectations   

70% – 74%:    Work that exhibits reasonable effort but falls short of the minimum expectations

60% – 69%:    Work of poor quality that shows little effort or understanding of the task

below 60%:     Work that exhibits no effort or understanding of the task

Required Assignments

1.  Discussions and Weekly Responses (15%, Due date: rolling)

My expectation is that you will come to class regularly having closely engaged with the assigned readings and ready to make substantive contributions to discussions and group work. I respect that some of you feel comfortable speaking on a regular basis while others prefer to listen. I do not expect that everyone will participate equally. However, the format of this course is structured in a way that will make it impossible for you to sit silently all semester. Please note that multiple absences and/or a failure to meaningfully participate in discussions will negatively impact this component of your grade.

The class will be divided into two groups for the purposes of writing and submitting short reading responses prior to class meetings. In the course outline, you will note that next to the heading for each class meeting (starting Jan. 29) I have inserted ‘Group 1’ or ‘Group 2.’ When your group is listed for a given date that means you are responsible for posting your reading response to the course discussion board on Canvas by 9am on Monday morning prior to the class meeting. For example, “Group 1” is listed for the January 29th class meeting, which means Group 1 must post their responses by 9am on January 29th. My expectation is that the responses (approx. 0.75 - 1 single-spaced page) will point to specific insights in the readings, raise critical questions, and/or make connections to other readings and concepts from the course. Rather than provide you with written feedback each week, I will incorporate your comments and questions into the discussion. The responses will be graded pass/fail.

2.  Education Policy in the News (25%, Due date: rolling)

Each of you will be responsible for writing a short paper and giving an informal presentation about a current news article covering some aspect of contemporary education policy in the United States. The paper and presentation should briefly summarize the article and then take a stance on the policy of concern. For example, you might find an article from the Chicago Tribune about school closures. Your task is to summarize the article and then take a policy stance concerning this particular situation. The paper should be approximately 1,200 words and contain a link the news story in question. You will have 5 - 7 minutes to present your summary and position to the class, which will be followed by 5-10 minutes of Q&A from members of the class. The goal is to take a stance with enough conviction so as to generate a productive debate. Please upload your paper to Canvas before class on the day of your presentation.

3.  Policy Network Analysis (25%, Due date: March 9)

In this assignment we will work in groups (both in and out of class) to construct and analyze an education policy network. The assignment will be completed over a four-week period (Feb. 12 – Mar 5). During this time we will work in groups to collect the data, learn the basics of social network analysis, and present preliminary findings to the rest of the class. In addition to the (informal) presentation, each group will be responsible for turning in a short summary of their policy network analysis along with a visual depiction of the network graph(s). The summary will be due to Canvas on Friday March 9 at 4pm.

4.  Policy Brief and Panel Discussion (35%, Due date: April 23)

The goal of this assignment is for you to review the literature on a specific facet of education reform (broadly conceived) and to offer a concise set of policy recommendations based on the evidence. Your paper should range from 8 – 10 double-spaced pages assuming 1-inch margins and 12-point Times New Roman font. The paper will be due as a Canvas upload on April 23rd by the start of class (4pm).

On our last day of class—Monday April 23—we will hold a series of panel discussions organized around themes from the policy briefs. The number of panel sessions will depend on the range of topics addressed in the papers. Each panelist will be given ~10 minutes (contingent on number of students enrolled) to summarize their argument(s) and I will serve as the moderator. Panelists will then have a chance to respond to arguments before Q & A is opened to the entire class.


The texts for this course consist of a mixture of books, selected book chapters, journal articles, and policy documents. The books for the course include:

  1. Chubb, John and Terry Moe. 1990. Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  2. Lareau, Annette and Kimberly Goyette (eds.). 2014. Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

All other readings will be available on the Internet through links provided in the Course Outline and Readings page.


If any student requires specific accommodations please do not hesitate to speak with me at any point during the semester.  This includes accommodations related to the curriculum, instruction, evaluations, or any other factors that would otherwise prohibit your full participation in this course. Any questions or concerns students have about this matter will be held confidential to the best of my ability. In order to receive specific accommodations in this course, you must provide me with a Letter of Accommodation from the Disability Resource Center (Room 2, Alumni Gym, 859-257-2754) for coordination of campus disability services available to students with disabilities.


All instances of academic dishonesty will be addressed according to standard UK policies on academic integrity. Please familiarize yourself with these expectations and the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Plagiarism is attempting to pass off others' work as your own, such as copying the words of others or paraphrasing without proper attribution; not giving credit to sources in oral presentations; and/or handing in a paper you completed for another class for a grade in this course (i.e. self-plagiarizing). For specific questions about plagiarism please see this document put together by UK's Office of Academic Ombud Services.


The University of Kentucky faculty are committed to supporting students and upholding the University's non-discrimination policy.

Discrimination is prohibited at UK. If you experience an incident of discrimination we encourage you to report it to Institutional Equity & Equal Opportunity (IEEO) Office, 13 Main Building, (859) 257-8927.


If you experience an incident of sex- or gender-based discrimination or interpersonal violence, we encourage you to report it. While you may talk to a faculty member or TA/RA/GA, understand that as a "Responsible Employee" of the University these individuals MUST report any acts of violence (including verbal bullying and sexual harassment) to the University's Title IX Coordinator in the IEEO Office. If you would like to speak with someone who may be able to afford you confidentiality, the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) program (Frazee Hall – Lower Level), the Counseling Center (106 Frazee Hall), and the University Health Services are confidential resources on campus.