EPE/SOC 661: sociology of Education


Instructor: Joe Ferrare, Ph.D.

Fall 2015, Wednesdays 4:00pm - 6:30pm, DH 129

Office: 145C Taylor Education Building

Office Hours: Wednesdays 2 - 4pm or by appointment



Syllabus in PDF

Education Policy Links



This course introduces a range of sociological problems related to schools and schooling practices, and presents a set of theoretical and methodological tools to serve as a foundation for analyzing these problems. A key problematic in this course will be to interrogate the multiple social and cultural spaces through which students, parents, policy-makers, and other actors navigate the education system, and to understand how these spaces systematically structure the distribution of resources needed to flourish in modern social structures. Thus, we explore questions such as: How do economic, social, and cultural inequalities become re-translated into educational inequalities? How do educational inequalities, in turn, sustain and/or transform existing social hierarchies exogenous to the education system? These abstract theoretical questions will be explored through specific practices such as: parent/school relationships, inter-generational mobility, academic achievement, curricular differentiation, student socialization, identity, segregation, and system expansion. Our exploration of these practices will proceed holistically across all institutional levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary) and through a variety of urban, suburban, and rural contexts.


The following represent the primary learning objectives for this course:

  1. To gain a substantive understanding of the problems sociologists of education seek to understand and the tools they use to understand them;
  2. To practice this craft through model building, case study analysis, writing, and application to specific educational policies and practices;
  3. To understand how educational practices and trajectories differentially impact students based upon race, gender, class, ability, and other cultural identities and social positions;
  4. To take intellectual risks through course assignments and discussions.


The primary format for our class meetings will be seminar-style discussions, debates, and small group problem-solving scenarios. Typically I will attempt to motivate these discussions through the use of Socratic lecture at the beginning of the class meeting. 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. In addition, I will pose problems through case studies in order to provide you with opportunities to apply theoretical and methodological tools to analyze key questions in the sociology of education. At times the latter task may require that we meet in a computer lab in Taylor Education Building.


Your work in this course will be evaluated through multiple modes in relation to each of the four learning objectives. The specific modes of evaluation and corresponding grading weights are described below. Grades will be assigned using the following distribution:

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

1. Participation (15%)

My expectation is that you will come to class regularly (< 2 absences) having closely engaged with the assigned readings and ready to make substantive contributions to discussions and group work. Missing two or more class meetings and/or not engaging in class activities will negatively impact your participation grade.

2. Critical analysis (20%): Due date varies

During the first meeting you will each sign up to write a critical analysis that you will also present to the class. The due date and presentation of your analysis will correspond with the date we discuss the article. Please upload your essay as a Microsoft Word document to the Canvas site with the following file title: [Your Last Name]661Critical. Your analysis will focus on a single research paper from the syllabus. My expectation is that your analysis will be approximately 1,200 words and contain a brief summary of the objectives, methods, and findings, along with a more extended analysis and discussion. Additional details can be found here. On the date of your presentation you will be allotted approximately seven minutes to present a summary of your analysis to the class and eight minutes to field questions from others. These presentations will be used as points of departure for our collective discussions and debates during the remainder of the class meeting.

3. Inter-generational mobility lab and group assignment (15%): Due Friday October 2 @ 4pm)

On September 23rd we will meet in TEB 140 during our regularly scheduled time (4pm – 6:30pm). During this class meeting we will form groups and work with actual data to examine basic patterns of inter-generational education mobility, and then bring these patterns into conversation with the assigned readings. In addition, each group will be expected to write a short (~ 4 pages) summary that describes the results through a theoretical narrative (e.g., social and cultural reproduction theory). More information about the lab and written assignment will be provided in the weeks leading up to the assignment. Please note that prior experience with this type of basic data analysis is not required. The primary objective here is to give you an opportunity to collaboratively engage with data and practice the craft of sociology.

3. Seminar paper (35%) and presentation (15%): Proposals Due Oct. 14 / Paper due Dec. 11 @ 4pm / Presentations will be given on December 2 & 9 during class

The culminating assignment in this course is a seminar paper (not to exceed 20 double-spaced pages) and presentation. The paper can take the form of an empirical analysis, theoretical argument, policy brief, or a literature review. We will discuss these forms in detail during class. A brief proposal (~2 pages) will be due shortly before the midterm. The proposal should include the following: research question(s); identification of relevant area(s) of literature and theory (if applicable); expected sources of data and methods (if applicable); intended audience; and things you would like me to consider when providing feedback. During the week following the due date I will schedule a meeting with each of you to discuss your proposal. This can be done in person or via Skype for those who commute. Please submit proposals and papers using the format of citation that is most appropriate to your intended audience (even if hypothetical). If your audience does not have a specific format of citation then use ASA. The last two weeks of class will be devoted to formal presentations of the papers. The goal is to provide each of you 12-15 minutes for the presentation followed by 3-5 minutes for questions.


There are no textbooks for this course. The assigned readings will consist of journal articles and selected book chapters posted to 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.