Fall 1996


From the Chair

John Meyer

Our field, and the Section, continue to be very active, as was apparent at the recent ASA meetings. Much interesting research is going on. and there is a lot of willingness to help with Section activities--as can be seen in the range of committee foci listed below. The active interest of the members makes our Section much more lively than most (and greatly eases the tasks of the Chair).

It was obvious in the program, and in section discussions, that substantive interest in the core issues of the sociology of education remains very high. The interest is intellectual, but with very strong policy concerns. These focus on critical analyses of the main functioning of the educational system in this country on its main axes: the educational production of equality and inequality, and of achievement and failure. There is much concern about the ways American national (and local) structures and policies affect these outcomes.

It is notable that these concerns remain very much alive, and retain a nationwide focus, in a political situation in which the American national state has lost most of its policy focus on education. One might have thought the sociologists' involvement was more contingent on policy (and funding) opportunities controlled by the government. But it is clear that we will continue to have a nationally-oriented and policy-involved sociology of education research community whether or not there are 'Education Presidencies.' I think this reflects a considerable change from the situation a few decades ago, and parallels conditions in other countries. Researchers in our field will continue to see even very local events as instances of problems and solutions with national meaning.

It is interesting that, in a rapidly globalizing world, so little of our research (and policy) concerns address issues beyond our national boundaries. Some 'attainment' studies of achievement and equality in other countries appear in our program, but relatively few: we are much more concerned with the progress of Hispanic students in, say, Texas, than with educational conditions a few kilometers away in Mexico, though the inequalities involved are much greater. My own concern with this issue has been more theoretical and intellectual than policy-oriented: I think we would understand American education much better if we attended to broader variations. We would begin to think about things like why American students tend to "like school," and retain (what seem to be unrealistic) high educational and occupational expectations, more than our theories and our analyses of their circumstances suggest they should. And our thinking about our relatively low educational standards and high actual inequality in attaining them might see these circumstances as contructions of high purpose, rather than the outcomes of failure (read inefficiency and sloth) and perversion (read power and sin) of purpose.

Just in time for the holiday season: the new Sociology of Education section home page! Set your bookmarks for http://www.asanet.org/educat.htm in December and explore!!

Get Involved In Your Section: Some Things You Can Contribute

  1. Papers and paper proposals for the 1997 meetings can go, by January 10, 1997, to Francisco Ramirez, School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. 94305 ramirez@leland.stanford.edu
  2. Your nominations of sociology of education books (published 1994-6) for the 1997 Waller Award should go (by Feb. 1) to David Post, College of Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. post@pop.psu.edu
  3. Your suggested nominations for Chair-Elect and Council can go to Amy Wells, Graduate School of Education, UCLA, Moore Hall, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA. 90095. aswells@ucla.edu
  4. You can nominate graduate student papers for our award. We need to encourage a broader set of nominations (by Feb.1), and it would help if you'd think about it, talk with your students and colleagues, and encourage submissions. Barbara Schneider, NORC/U. of Chicago, 1155 E. 60th St., Chicago, Illinois, 60637-2799. schneidr@norcmail.uchicago.edu
  5. Interest in our various ad hoc committee activities can be expressed directly to the Chairs listed below.

Sociology of Education Section Committees: 1996-97

Graduate Student Paper Award
Barbara Schneider (Chair: schneidr@norcmail.uchicago.edu)
G. Farkas, R. McNeal, L. Salganik, D. Brunsma, E. Stewart.

  • The award goes to an outstanding paper in the field by a graduate student (s). The first author must be a graduate student at the time of submission, and all authors at the time of writing. Nominations are needed. Send by Feb. 1, 1997 to Barbara Schneider, NORC/U. of Chicago, 1155 E. 60th St. Chicago, Illinois, 60637-2799

Amy Wells (Chair: aswells@ucla.edu)
S. Dornbusch, K. Dougherty, W. Velez, A. Orr.

  • Send nominations for Chair-Elect and Council to Amy Wells.

Willard Waller Award (Book)
David Post (Chair: post@pop.psu.edu)
A. Pallas (ex officio), H. Olsen, E. Cohen, P. Riddle.

  • This year, the Waller Award goes to an outstanding book in the field published in the last three years. Nominations (or self-nominations) are needed, by February 1, 1997. A brief note supporting the nomination would also be appreciated. Send to David Post.

Francisco Ramirez (Chair: ramirez@leland.stanford.edu)
J. Meyer, A. Pallas (ex officio), E. Epps (ASA program representative).

  • Papers for consideration for the 9197 ASA and Section programs can be sent to Francisco Ramirez, School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. 94305. The regular ASA deadlines apply. The ASA program coordinator in the sociology of education is Edgar Epps, University of Chicago. Papers can be sent either to him or to Francisco Ramirez--they will coordinate program planning.

Local Arrangements, Toronto
Rosin Mickelson (rmicklsn@email.uncc.edu)

Ad Hoc Bylaws Revision
Sally Kilgore (Chair: skolgore@hudson.org),
A. Lareau

Ad Hoc Study Committee on the State of the Sociology of Education
Joyce Epstein (Co-Chair: jepstein@inet.ed.gov)
Aaron Pallas, (Co-Chair: ampallas@msu.edu)
E. Cohen, S. Dauber, G. Dworkin, G. Farkas, V. Lee, W.Murphy, G. Natriello, A. Sadovnik, C. Schmitt, J. Snider, B. Useem, B. Wilson

Ad Hoc Government Relations (e.g., NCES)
David Baker (baker@cus.edu). Others as needed.

Continuing Committee on Research/Policy/ Practice Conference Planning
Kathy Borman (Chair: kborman813@aol.com)
D. Baker, K. Dougherty, and others.

Gary Dworkin(soclk@uhupvml.uh.edu)

From The Editor

The Sociology of Eduction Section home page should be fully operational by early December. Thanks to the efforts of Bob Ross and Carl Schmidt at NCES, we will be linked to the Sociology of Education icon on the ASA home page which can be accessed at the following address: http://www.asanet.org/educat.htm

In addition to "hot links" with other educational organizations such as the American Educational Research Association, our web site will contain items such as section newsletters and names of past award recipients. Many have also expressed an interest in having a directory of section members appear on the web site. Please complete the form which appears at the end of this newsletter informing me of whether you wish to appear. Also please share your thoughts concering what you would like to see on our home page. Thanks.

David L. Levinson

Sociology of Education Section Officers 1996-7

Past Chair


John Meyer (meyer@leland.stanford.edu)
Joyce Epstein (jepstein@inet.ed.gov)
Aaron Pallas (ampallas@msu.edu)
David Baker (baker@cua.edu)
Elizabeth Cohen '97 (kd.exc@forsythe.stanford.edu)
Rosin Mickelson '97 (rmicklsn@email.uncc.edu)
Kevin Dougherty '98 (kd109@columbia.edu)
Alan Sadovnik '98 (sadovnik@adlibv.adelphi.edu)
Amy Wells '99 (aswells@ucla.edu)
William Velez '99 (velez@csd.uwm.edu)
David Levinson (dlevinson@bergen.cc.nj.us)

Sociology of Education Asssociation

Conference on Affirmative Action: February 21 - 23, 1997

The Sociology of Education Association (SEA) is an informal group of scholars and educators from both the fields of sociology and education, who meet annually to engage in discussion of issues at the intersection of sociology and education. The SEA exists outside of the formal structure of any of the major professional organizations. To belong to SEA you do not need to be a member of ASA, AERA, or any other organization. Dues are $15.00 per year which entitles you to a conference discount, access to the Sociology of Education LISTSERV, and any newsletters or mailings. The mission of SEA is: 1) to provide an inexpensive annual meeting (held at Asilomar on the Monterey Bay Peninsula, California) in which colleagues from education, sociology, and other social sciences can come together for discussion of topics of common interest; 2) to provide an organizing vehicle for people interested in education and sociology to get to know each other and to communicate outside the conference; 3) to introduce graduate students and new Ph.D.s into this community of scholars; 4) to service as an information conduit for person interested in education and sociology to hear about recent research, job openings, and other news of interest to the membership.

The theme of this year's annual conference, on February 21-21, 1997, is "Stratification of Educational Opportunities in an Era of Waning Affirmative Action." Keynote speakers include Troy Duster of the University of California at Berkeley and Gary Orfield of Harvard University. Panel presentations include: Historical Perspectives on Affimrative Action; Comparing Affirmative Action Programs In higher Education; Affirmative Action in the Family and Community Contexts; Ethnic Identity and Attitudes About Affirmative Action, and Affirmative Action in the Trenches: How the Curriculum Affects Minority Outcomes.

Asilomar is scenically located along the Pacific Ocean, south of Monterey, California with easy access from San Francisco and San Jose, California. The conference begins Friday evening February 21 and concludes Sunday February 23 at lunch, with all meals included. The deadline for abstract submissions is passed, but those interested in attending the conference should fill out the following pre-registration information or contact the Conference Registrar, Siri Loescher, at the address below for additional information.

Home Address:

Work Place:
Work Address:

Home Phone: Work Phone: Fax:

Send to:

  • Siri Ann Loescher
    SEA Conference Registrar
    PO Box 9500
    Stanford, CA 94309

Or send email to:

To keep informed about the SEA conference and other SEA happenings, please consider subscribing to the SEA mailing list. To subscribe, simply send an email to: listproc@lmrinet.education.ucsb.edu On the first line of the message type: subscribe sea-1 A confirmation will be sent back to you automatically.

Sociology in Elementary and Secondary Schools

This announcement is a call for help for those who would like to use their professional expertise in a normative context to strengthen our discipline. The quality of sociological curricula and sociological instruction in secondary schools is bound to influence the way the entire discpline is perceived. Can we expect to draw the best and brightest into our field with a poor public image by high school students? Concern about these issues initially led to the creation of an ASA Task Force, and now to the establishment of an ASA Committee on Sociology in Elementary and Secondary Schools. (We are now in our third year as a standing committee.) Our agenda is large, and given how very far we are behind other social science disciplines in providing support to secondary teachers, the task sometimes seems overwhelming.

Our charge includes: 1) sponsoring workshops for high school teachers of sociology courses; 2) producing curriculum materials for high school courses, especially those with a title "sociology," but also for integrated social studies courses; 3) establishing curriculum standards for what sociological concepts should be introduced at each level of primary and secondary education (We especially need help with this project!); 4) establishing standards for the credentials a teacher should have in order to teach a course called "sociology." (ASA has recently endorsed our recommendation that in order to teach a course entitled "sociology" the instructor should have completed at least nine credit hours in sociology. That recommendation was sent to state boards of education, but without local follow-up, it probably will not go far. We need sociologists to press state boards of education on this matter); 5) establishing an Advanced Placement course and test for high school students. The lack of such a course and test listed with ETS puts sociology in an inferior position in terms of public image and student perception. ASA is now moving ahead n this issue , but a task force will soon be needed to help with the creation of the test itself and with other support tasks.

We are hoping we can entice some people in the Sociology of Education section to enlist in our casue and to share their expertise. The task of our committee is important not only to improving sociological instruction in the schools, it is also important in shaping the image of the discipine itself. We need hlep, and we think all sociologists stand to gain from the initiatives the committee is charged to undertake.

If you would like to help with one or more of these tasks, contact Keith Roberts, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hanover College, Hanover, IN 47243 (robertsk@hanover.edu) or Barbara Karcher, Department of Public Administration and Human Services, Kennesaw, GA 30144-5591 (bkarcher@ksumail.kennesaw.edu). We serve as co-chairs of this committee.

Eight SOE Researchers Take Extra Effort in Presentations at ASA

Sosha Vedd

It was my pleasure to hear many good papers in sociology of education paper sessions at the annual ASA meeting in August. Things are improving. Many presenters timed their presentation so they were able to include their results and implications before time was called. Some presenters joked about the fact that they knew no one could see their overheads! Awareness is the first step toward improvement.

Of about 40 sociology of education paper presentations (yes, education was well represented), all made serious contributions to the field, but ** 8 ** colleagues made special efforts to reach all members of their audience. Let's call that a 20% baseline rate of responsiveness. They (a) created overheads that people could see in the back row (check 24 point type) and/or (b) had enough handouts for all, not just those who sit in front. In alphabetical order, the excellent eight were: Will Jordan, Patricia McDonough, Chandra Muller, Tony Tam, Meredith Phillips, Stephen Russell, Katie Schiller, and Pam Walters. Did you hear others who should be recognized for kindness to audiences? If you are presenting a paper at ASA or any other conference, try following these leaders. Your audiences will THANK YOU!

Discussants for sessions at the Annual Meeting play important roles in raising themes, issues, and implications from the papers that are presented.

Several discussants at the 1996 annual meeting not only made helpful comments, but raised some provocative points. From time to time, the newsletter will feature provocative points that stretch our thinking or raise debates. If you have a concise (maximum one page) conclusion, implication, or provocative point that is emerging from your research, you are invited to submit it to me for "Running Commentary." Here is one example from Aaron Pallas's comments on papers at the annual meeting in Session 257: Teachers and Their Work Implications for School reform. This comment was sparked by a paper by Richard Ingersoll, University of Georgia, "Whatever Happened to the Teacher Shortage?"

What is a "Qualified" Teacher? Aaron Pallas, Michigan State University

"Richard's paper makes a number of important points. (H)e shows that the most common strategy for dealing with an inability to hire qualified teachers for a particular position is to hire less qualified teachers, redeploy experienced teachers, or use long-term substitutes. The point isn't the number of unfilled teaching positions, he argues. It's the number of positions filled by "unqualified" teachers.

This, of course, begs the question of what's a qualified teacher. And here's where the research on teaching and the available data begins to part company. Research on teaching has identified three major domains of teachers' professional knowledge. The first is general pedagogical knowledge how learners learn, how to manage a classroom, and so forth. The second is subject matter knowledge. The third is pedagogical content knowledge--that is, knowledge about how to teach a specific school subject.

These are really hard things to measure, and we're not altogether sure how it is that individual teachers acquire these three forms of professional knowledge. All three seem important, a point that often seems lost on legislators. (We) can measure whether teachers have had a certain amount of college course work in the field in which they are teaching. A surprisingly high number of high school teachers do not have at least a minor in the field in which they are teaching.

(W)hat's scary about this criterion is looking at what happens when we apply it to our own practice as teachers. Many of us have taught courses that we ourselves never studied as undergraduates or doctoral students. Does this make us unqualified to teach such courses? The fact is that most of us think that we know how to go about learning both the subject matter and how to teach it, without going to formal classes to do so.

Maybe this is a weak analogy, but I worry about assumptions about qualifications that assume that teachers' learning stops with the conclusion of their course work, or that teachers can't grow, and learn to teach in new areas."

Research Results in the Sociology of Education: Important or Significant?

David Karen, Bryn Mawr College

At the recent ASA meetings, I had an opportunity to comment on several fine papers (Session 230). In discussing a number of them, I suggested that we need to begin to deal with the difference between "significant" results and "important" results. We currently talk about statistical significance in dichotomous terms. If we create a fourfold table of "significant" and "not-significant" and "important" and "not-important," we can begin to imagine types of results that would fit into each cell. Currently, we tend to highlight the "significant" results, ignoring the question of whether they are important or not; or we focus on a finding that :proves' that there's no effect because it's not significant. As I suggested during our session, I'd like to suggest that we begin to push beyond the simple question of statistical significance and to ask about our results "what is their importance." This is, of course, most critical in the cases where the results may be "significant but not important" or "important but not significant." Do we have any guidelines to follow in these cases? Is the author who claims that her/his finding is important, despite its failure to reach statistical significance, just trying to save her/his theory? Is the researcher who claims that the significant result is not important just trying to shove uncomfortable findings under the rug? We need to find a way of talking about these results in straightforward, unembarrassed ways.

Our colleagues in psychology are ahead of us in raising this issue. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (August 16, 1996), the use of significance tests in reporting results is one of the hottest disputes in the field of psychology. They have established a commission, headed by Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal, to come up with a set of recommendations about how better to handle data so that one may go beyond a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down with respect to the effect of one variable in specifying the magnitude of effects (whereas they often rely just on whether the effect is significant or not), we are also guilty of failing to pose the significance vs. importance question. And in a situation when we come up with variables that are significant for the high-N sub-sample and not significant for the low-N sub-sample. This puts us squarely in the psychologists' camp of having to report simply that an effect is significant or not-significant in a context that is radically dependent on the size of the sample.

The psychologists' commission, according to the Chronicle, "could shape the way the psychology association asks researchers to handle data in articles submitted to its journals." While we are probably too post-modern or too oriented to a sociology of knowledge perspective to accept the recommendations of a commission, I think it would be an excellent idea to think seriously about how we deal with the significance vs. importance issue. Whether we move toward greater use of meta-analyses, more systematic contextualizing the results of a given variable, or whatever, I suggest that we have a lively conversation about this matter.

Section Protests Plan to Close U. of Chicago's Department of Education

A letter was sent on behalf of the Section explaining the resolution passed at the Section's Business Meeting at the 1996 annual meeting protesting the plan to close the University of Chicago's Department of Education. The letter, written and signed by 1996, 1997 Chairs and 1998 Chair-Elect (Joyce Epstein, John Meyer, and Aaron Pallas, respectively) was sent to President Hugo Sonnenshine, Provost Geoffrey Stone, and Richard Saller, Dean, Division of the Social Sciences. It included and explained:

The Sociology of Education Section has over 500 members, including the leading sociologists of education in the United States and many other countries. More than 100 members attended the Section's business meeting on August 20, 1996 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and unanimously adopted the following resolution:

The Sociology of Education Section has over 500 members, including the leading sociologists of education in the United States and many other countries. More than 100 members attended the Section's business meeting on August 20, 1996 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and unanimously adopted the following resolution:

Elimination of the University of Chicago's Department of Education would be a tremendous loss to our field and to the broader, interdisciplinary field of education research. We urge the administration and faculty of the University of Chicago to reverse this decision.






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