MAPSS Certificate in Education and Society


Beginning in the fall of 2019, the University of Chicago will offer a new opportunity for students enrolled in the University’s MA Program in the Social Sciences to pursue a certificate in Education and Society. To qualify for the certificate, students must first apply and be accepted into the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS). Once accepted into the program, students can declare their intention to complete a certificate in Education and Society.

The new MAPSS Education and Society certificate program builds on the broad expertise of Committee on Education faculty across the University, whose work probes questions of fundamental significance to education using the tools of the social science disciplines. Institutional and social contexts, notably schools, shape child development and learning. Understanding this process requires an interdisciplinary lens that combines perspectives from multiple social science disciplines. For example, psychologists are interested in individual development, economists study skill formation (or the development of “human capital,”) and sociologists investigate the role of schooling in processes of social stratification. Consequently, a psychologist looking at schooling might see how children gain cognitive skills and develop identities and attitudes toward learning; an economist might think about how incentives shape teacher and student effort and how such effort pays off in skills and labor market returns; and a sociologist would see how school organization shapes social networks, aspirations, and opportunities.

Each of these perspectives is valuable, but a deep understanding of child and youth development within school settings requires understanding each of these perspectives and how they interact. Students in the Education and Society certificate program complete courses in a range of social science fields that regard educational questions from diverse disciplinary perspectives.

Our curriculum offers coursework in three areas: Courses in the Individual Development and Learning area focus on processes of child and youth skill formation, including such questions as: How do children learn to speak, to read, and to reason mathematically? How can classroom instruction promote such learning? How can school organization support such instruction? How do processes of identity formation and mindset development shape student learning? Coursework in the area of Schooling and Society focuses on a different set of questions, related to schools as social institutions: Does schooling increase or reduce social inequality? How do various cultural, family and neighborhood contexts shape the aims, processes and outcomes of education? What are the social functions and purposes of schooling? Finally, courses in Educational Policy and Evaluation focus on strategies for improving schooling and methods for the evaluation of educational interventions, including principles of research design, statistical analysis, and program evaluation. These courses probe questions such as: What works for improving reading instruction? Are charter schools more effective than traditional public schools? What are the best ways to attract and retain talented teachers to work in under-resourced schools?

At the heart of the Education and Society curriculum is a concern with how schools reconcile the tasks of child and youth cognitive development, identity formation, and socialization with the changing role of schooling in society and widespread concerns about social inequality and mobility. The program particularly emphasizes the need to improve schooling for young people growing up in cities, and, drawing on resources from the Urban Education Institute, in Chicago in particular. Completing a certificate in Education and Society will prepare students for PhD study in education or a social science discipline or for professional positions at research institutions, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations.


Requirements for the Education and Society Certificate

Students who complete the Education and Society certificate program undertake a program of study comprised of four graduate courses, including the following requirements, in addition to fulfilling the basic requirements of the MAPSS program.

N.B. as well that courses used to fulfill the requirements of the Education and Society certificate may also be used for the MAPSS requirement of taking at least one social science methods course; many of our courses in the ‘Educational Policy and Evaluation’ strand are able to fulfill this MAPSS requirement (in addition to counting towards our own course requirements), and are denoted as such in our course listings. 

  • Education and Social Inequality

This course introduces students to foundational concepts and empirical studies that probe the relationships between schooling, social organization, and social inequality.

  • A minimum of three education-related courses

Students select a minimum of three additional courses from a list of approved courses on the Committee on Education website. 

  • Education Workshop

The Committee on Education hosts a weekly Workshop on Education Lecture Series, in which leading researchers from both the University of Chicago and other institutions present cutting-edge research and discuss methodological advances for understanding the interplay of human development and the social institution of schooling. Students in the Education and Society certificate program are required to consistently attend the Education Workshop over a period of at least two quarters during their year of study. The Workshop provides a common intellectual foundation for students and faculty, who have the opportunity to hear presentations of new work by renowned faculty and promising emerging scholars, prior to publication.

    • The Master’s Thesis

    Students write their MA thesis with a member of the faculty whose research examines education using the tools of social science.

    Additional Opportunities

    • Field Placement Opportunities (Optional)

    The Education and Society Certificate Program offers students the opportunity to receive field placements alongside professionals in educational research or practice and to develop their MA thesis based on this experience. Students will be placed with one of several education-related laboratories, research projects, or organizations at the University, based on their interests, including: the UChicago Consortium on School Research; UChicago STEM Education; educational programs within the Office of Civic Engagement; the UChicago Science of Learning Center, the Urban Labs, the TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health or any number of ongoing faculty-led projects.

    How to Apply

    Prospective students for this certificate must first apply and be accepted to the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Application to this program requires the following:

    • Online graduate application, which can be accessed here.
    • Official transcripts from all undergraduate institutions.
    • Candidate Statement (1-3 pages).
    • Three letters of recommendation.
    • $90 non-refundable application fee. 
    • International applicants to the University of Chicago must meet the English language requirements outlined by the Division of the Social Sciences. To see how this applies to you, please follow this link.
    • A writing sample is strongly recommended.
    • All supporting material – including letters of recommendation, transcripts, supplemental material, and writing samples – must be submitted electronically with your online application.

    Sample Courses by Area

    Individual Development and Learning 

    PSYC 33750. Seminar: Skill Acquisition and Sensorimotor Learning

    Instructor: Howard Nusbaum

    Skill acquisition has been studied scientifically for well over a hundred years although the vast majority of memory research focuses on learning facts and declarative memory.  This seminar will examine how we learn skills both the kind we use routinely without much thought such as walking and language use and the kind that represent expertise resulting from practice and experience. We will read and discuss the research literature on the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying sensorimotor learning.  We will consider specific topics such as the interaction of sensory systems and motor systems in learning and the role of sleep in consolidation of learning.  Course requirements will include class presentations of research papers, weekly writing assignments, and a final paper.

    SSAD 44800. Urban Adolescents in their Families, Communities, and Schools

    Instructor: Melissa Roderick

    Early and mid-adolescence is a critical stage in the life course. Urban adolescents face special risks and often have fewer supports and opportunities to guide them through this critical period. As the United States population becomes increasingly diverse, particularly in urban areas, families, communities, and schools may need to create new social institutions and relationships to meet the needs of this new population. This course focuses on three central questions. First, how are the education and developmental trajectories of adolescents shaped by their experiences in their families, schools, and communities as well as the interrelationships among these domains? Second, what are the special needs or issues that arise for adolescents who are from immigrant families, who are cultural, racial, or ethnic minorities, or who are from educationally and economically disadvantaged households? And third, how do we translate an understanding of the needs of adolescents and the conditions in families, communities, and schools that foster positive development into the design of policies and practice?

    Schooling and Society

    CHDV 40315. Inequality in Urban Spaces

    Instructor: Micere Keels

    The problems confronting urban schools are bound to the social, economic, and political conditions of the urban environments in which schools reside. Thus, this course will explore social, economic, and political issues, with an emphasis on issues of race and class as they have affected the distribution of equal educational opportunities in urban schools. We will focus on the ways in which family, school, and neighborhood characteristics intersect to shape the divergent outcomes of low- and middle-income children residing with any given neighborhood. Students will tackle an important issue affecting the residents and schools in one Chicago neighborhood. This course is part of the College Course Cluster: Urban Design.

    SSAD 63412. Cultural Studies in Education

    Instructor: Shanta Robinson

    Using cultural studies as the point of departure, this course explores the intersection of culture, power, and language (both oral and written) within schools and school systems. In accordance with the tenets of cultural studies, the course is guided by the presumption that culture (as it is realized through the functioning of schools and their agents and the experiences, knowledge, expressions, dispositions, and meaning-making of people of color, women, and low-income or working class individuals) is critical for understanding and intervening in the reproduction of social and economic inequality.

    In order to understand the reproduction of inequality we will examine theories and empirical investigations that explore how structures of domination and subordination are reproduced and social difference and inequality are reinscribed through the cultural practices that are reflected in schools. We will also analyze the extent to which the cultural practices and experiences of marginalized individuals simultaneously contribute to the process of reproduction and also affirm the emancipatory possibilities of resistance.

    The course begins with an introduction to the history, development, and basic tenets of cultural studies. Throughout our work together, we will examine how social class, race/ethnicity, and gender are represented in literacy, language, and cultural theories and research that examine reproduction and resistance. We conclude with a more in-depth examination of the active role schools and other learning settings (might) play in the processes of reproduction, agency, and resistance. The potential for social transformation will be taken up throughout the course in class discussion.

    Educational Policy and Evaluation

    PPHA 40700. Early Childhood: Human Capital Development and Public Policy

    Instructor: Ariel Kalil

    The goal of this course is to introduce students to the literature on early child development and explore how an understanding of core developmental concepts can inform social policies. This goal will be addressed through an integrated, multidisciplinary approach. The course will emphasize research on the science of early child development from the prenatal period through school entry.

    In this course, students will critically examine historical trends, current challenges, and new directions in developmental science and early childhood policy. Through directed readings, written work, and class participation, students will have opportunities to grapple with the complexities of connecting scientific research to the formulation of evidence-based policies that advance the healthy development of children, families, and communities and bring high returns to all of society, in the United States and around the world.

    SSAD 47922. Innovations in Data Use and the Development of Practice Communities to Drive Continuous Improvement

    Instructor: Melissa Roderick

    Over the past decade, data and better data systems and use have become a central reform strategy in education, social services and health. In a short period of time, many barriers to data access have been removed. The internet, software, and other technological advances have made getting, assembling, analyzing and disseminating data cheap and easy. In education, data use has transformed educators’ work environment and districts’ approaches to reform. In a relatively short period of time, access to data has shifted from the problem of not having enough data to the problem of having too much. On the one hand there are many compelling examples of where professionals have used data to transform practice, On the other hand, there are many more examples where professionals struggle to make sense of the deluge of information and “data” that they face daily: incomprehensible Performance Management decks, data dashboards, packaged test and survey reports all in three colors with beautiful graphs but little guidance, and school report cards filled with trends on 20 different indicators that don’t seem to provide any insight beyond whether a school is red, yellow or green.

    In this course, we will focus on three questions:
    1. What makes data actionable? How do we create systems of data use that support ongoing improvement?
    2. How do we build professionals’ capacity to use data effectively to drive change and embed data use within innovative practices in change management and leadership?
    3. How do we develop approaches to data use that are flexible and do not rely on a one size fits a? What problems can we and can’t we solve with data use and how do we develop frameworks that create flexible approaches?

    This course will draw on examples in education, medicine, social services and business about developing effective approaches to building the capacity of professionals to use data effectively to drive change. Just as importantly, the course will engage students in approaches to leadership, change management and the creation of practice communities using networks that both promote data use and create new approaches to reform. The course will draw most heavily from examples in education and the success in Chicago on using data to drive substantial improvements in increasing high school graduation rates and college enrollment particularly a model developed at SSA around high school reform, the Network for College Success. The class as a group will choose one project to work on that will bring together the pieces of the course.


    Charles Abelmann

    Director, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools


    Elaine Allensworth

    Lewis-Sebring Director, Consortium for Chicago School Research, Urban Education Institute

    Interests: High school graduation, college readiness, school leadership, school improvement

    Margaret Beale Spencer

    Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education, Department of Comparative Human Development

    Interests: Resiliency, identity formation in youth, development of coping strategies over the course of life

    Susan Goldin-Meadow

    Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Psychology and Comparative Human Development

    Interests: Language development and creation, gesture’s role in communicating, thinking, and learning

    Guanglei Hong

    Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development

    Interests: Quantitative methods, social causation, educational policy effectiveness

    Micere Keels

    Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development

    Interests: Race-ethnicity, inequality, poverty, and the integration of quantitative and qualitative methods.

    Susan Levine

    Rebecca Ann Boylan Professor in Education and Society, Dept. of Psychology

    Interests: Cognitive development, development and plasticity of spatial skills, early quantitative development, language development and functional plasticity in children with early brain injury

    John List

    Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor, Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics

    Interests: Experimental economics, field experiments, education, youth violence, economics of charity, environmental economics, experiments in firms

    Derek Neal

    Professor, Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics

    Interests: Labor, black-white wage inequality, economics of crime, education policy.

    Stephen Raudenbush

    Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor, Dept. of Sociology and the Harris School of Public Policy

    Interests: Sociology of education and quantitative methods

    Melissa Roderick

    Herman Dunlap Smith Professor, School of Social Service Administration

    Interests: Urban school reform, high school reform, high-stakes testing, minority adolescent development, school transitions

    Dana Suskind

    Professor, Departments of Surgery and Pediatrics

    Interests: Language development, child development, cochlear ear implantation

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