FOOTNOTES APRIL 2000
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Conference on Sociology and Education

The Spencer Foundation and ASA Join Forces to Look Ahead

On March 1-3, 25 sociologists met in retreat at the Emory Conference Center to examine the body of knowledge in sociology and education and to consider future directions of research. The conference was convened by The Spencer Foundation in cooperation with the American Sociological Association (ASA). Michael Hout (University of California-Berkeley), Pamela Barnhouse Walters (Indiana University), and Felice J. Levine (ASA) organized the conference which by design (including in the organizing team) sought to bring sociologists of education together with sociologists working in other areas relevant to understanding educational processes and systems.

The meeting was driven by two central ambitions: (1) to frame new sociological pathways of inquiry about education, and (2) to develop a research agenda that includes innovative ways of thinking about and increased opportunities for the next generation of research related to education. The Conference Center provided just the right setting for a creative and ambitious effort. From the outset, invitees were encouraged to think “out of the box” about important new questions, challenges, and opportunities. Prior to the meeting, participants prepared working memoranda in their areas of expertise that could serve as a catalyst for group discussion and exchange. The workshop focused on six core topics: Social Stratification and Education, Families and Schools, The Social Organization of Education, The Politics of Education, Learning and Achievement, and Labor Markets and Occupations.

Hout, Walters, and Levine could not have hoped for a research meeting where energy, engagement, and quality interaction were any higher. With many participants lingering long after evening events and well after the final wrap-up session, the group worked hard to address theoretical, methodological, measurement, and empirical issues important to future directions in the field. Issues of training, database needs, and quality of data were all parts of the discussion as attendees considered what we know and need to know to move the field forward.

The Spencer Foundation has been holding similar conferences with other disciplinary groups. The Foundation asks organizers to prepare a brief report and recommendations to The Spencer Foundation that is also disseminated on the Foundation’s homepage. The Foundation is committed to the support of field-initiated proposals and seeks the widest possible dissemination of ideas that might encourage the development of important new work. As with other such research conferences convened by ASA, the Association plans to publish a book addressed to future research in sociology and education. In agreeing to co-organize the conference, Hout and Walters will lead this writing effort. The goal is for a product of wide use and benefit to sociologists now and in the future.