MA Program in Education and Society


Beginning in the fall of 2019, the University of Chicago will offer a new opportunity for students to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Education and Society. To enroll in the program, students must first apply and be accepted into the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences. Once accepted into the program, students can declare a concentration in Education and Society.

The new MAPSS Education and Society concentration builds on the broad expertise of 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 concentration will complete a sequence of courses in key social science disciplines that brings these perspectives together in a coherent program of study, so they can understand the connections among them.

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 will particularly emphasize 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. Through these experiences, the MAPSS Concentration 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.

Structure of the Concentration

Our interdisciplinary curriculum allows students to specialize in one of 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?

Requirements for the Education and Society Concentration

Students who are admitted to the Education and Society concentration undertake a coherent program of study comprised of nine graduate courses, including the following requirements:

  • Perspectives in Social Science Analysis

This core course is required of all MAPSS students and provides an overview of the fundamental ideas and modes of inquiry that comprise the social science disciplines.

  • A minimum of five education-related courses

Students will select a minimum of five courses from a list of approved courses on the Committee on Education website. Three of these must be in their chosen area of specialization.

  • A methods course

All MAPSS students must fulfill a methods requirement that may be satisfied in a number of ways, as discussed below.

  • Up to two electives in any social science field
  • The Master’s Thesis

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

All students must complete nine graduate courses and a successful Master’s thesis to earn the MA degree. The courses that will be eligible and included will be reviewed annually to determine available coursework focused on education topics, faculty interest, and department foci. Approved, eligible courses for the Education and Society minor will be listed each year on the SSD website. (For a more detailed explanation of the methods requirement and the various ways of satisfying it, consult the MAPSS website.Students who choose to satisfy two requirements with one course may select an additional elective in any social science discipline to fulfill the nine-course requirement.

Additional Opportunities

  • Field Placement Practicum Course (Optional)

The Education and Society Concentration offers students a for-credit course consisting of field placement alongside professionals in educational practice, policy, or research 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. Students will meet regularly as a cohort to discuss their placement experiences and how these experiences relate to their research interests.

  • Education Workshop (Optional)

MAPSS students will also have the opportunity to participate in the Committee on Education’s 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. 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.

How to Apply

Prospective students for this concentration 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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