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Policy Studies and Leadership (POL)

This specialization provides an opportunity for teachers, public non-profit and for-profit sector professionals, community organizers, K-12 and higher education administrators, and others interested in issues of urban education to acquire a research doctorate focusing on education policy and leadership. Graduates of this specialization are employed in colleges and university programs of teacher education, programs in social work, and in the non-profit field.

The urban education policy and leadership specialization provides opportunities for doctoral students to become knowledgeable and skilled about key urban education policy and leadership issues in the United States. The specialization’s central focus is interactions among the various social, ideological, political, historical, economic and cultural forces that impact urban schools and communities. A key goal is to identify effective policy and leadership strategies to enhance opportunities for urban students and families. Courses provide the diverse knowledge and research skills needed to analyze educational dilemmas that result from the complex interplay of forces at work in urban areas, and craft strategies to bring about their resolution. We enable students to individualize their course of study to reflect the spectrum of approaches to policy and leadership study.

Education Policy Studies

Seminars in education policy situate the discipline in its larger context of social policy, politics, and economics. We frame education policy broadly, and ask questions such as the following: How is urban education impacted by the social-political-economic environment? What class, race, and gender consequences does education policy have? How is educational policy at various levels (federal, state, local) produced? What groups are involved in creating and disseminating policy regarding public issues, including education? Is there a culture of policy making at the federal, state or local levels and if so, how does that affect urban students and educators? What can the role of education be in solving the problems of poverty that plague urban families, communities, and schools? How can the input of communities and parents into education decision making be increased and leveraged? What education and social policies would substantially improve the education of low income urban students? How are educators prepared and how  can their preparation enhance the quality of life in urban centers?  How do federal, state, and local policy decisions interact, sometimes leading to unintended outcomes?  How can policy be influenced through political action?  What is the role of research in making policy?  Using a variety of theoretical frameworks, students develop their own policy lenses to answer these and other questions about education policy.

Recent dissertations in education policy include a wide array of topics:

  • A political economy of high school admissions in affluent white and low-income minority middle schools in New York City;
  • Social class and disability in New York City colleges and universities;
  • The educational imagination of black activists in Seattle;
  • Institutional ethnography of school discipline and the school to prison pipeline;
  • Poetry and the written word as forms of resistance to surveillance in an urban high school;
  • Social capital, extracurricular activities, and high school   graduation rates;
  • LGBTQ youth appropriating and resisting social discourses of sexuality;
  • Development of concepts of black masculinity in an alternative high school;
  • The role of ideology in the CUNY Board of Trustees’ decisions to authorize open admissions and end remediation at the CUNY senior colleges;
  • Second generation Muslim youth search for support in a context of Islamophobia;
  • Re-theorizing school dropouts and schooling as a social determinant of health.


Seminars examine leadership from theoretical, historical, and systems perspectives, with a focus on urban educational and community settings. The study of leadership in this specialization respects a variety of theoretical frameworks including but not limited to organization theory, systems theory, rational vs. political decision processes, power analysis, information theory, transactional and transformational leadership, organic management, and collaborative leadership styles.  Schools and other education-related organizations are viewed as learning environments that grow and evolve with respect to organizational climate, culture and power.  We pay attention to leadership issues at various levels - urban schools, neighborhoods, colleges and universities, districts, and state and local governments. Issues impacting leadership in urban settings include federal, state, and local policy; school reform; curriculum and pedagogy; community settings; school law; assessment and evaluation procedures; budget and funding, among others.   Issues and applications related to the integration of technology for both administration and instruction in urban schools and higher education are also of interest in this specialization.

Recent dissertation topics include:

The comprehensive high school in transition:  A study of a small learning community reform

Basic math education and graduation from community college

Faculty interests in the Policy Studies and Leadership specialization include:

  • Political economy of urban education
  • Impact of the urban context on education
  • Community organizing for education reform
  • Teacher education for urban populations
  • Federal, state, and district policy
  • Online learning
  • Technology in learning