Education 103/Sociology 108 Fall 2006
Instructor: John Modell, Professor Emeritus of Education and Sociology
Office: 131 Waterman Street, second floor
Office hours: Tu 3-5 p.m; and by appointment (3-2716)
E-mail address: email@example.com
What is this course about?
Of course, when we compare education across the many societies in the world, we find
many differences. The youngest American schoolchildren, for instance, don’t sit in straight rows in
the classroom as often as they do in schools in many other countries. American secondary
education, for instance, rarely teaches as advanced courses as is taught in European countries at the
secondary level. American college students typically learn a variegated liberal arts curriculum, while
their counterparts elsewhere in the world typically more nearly specialize. And it’s not that American
education, alone, has a peculiar set of emphases: so do the education systems in many of the world’s
countries, for each serves a distinct culture and fits within a distinct set of institutional arrangements,
each enjoying a distinct set of resources and of resource constraints. Education xxx introduces you
to the study of education by asking “why” questions about these variations.
But Education 103, equally, asks “why” questions about uniformities in education across the world.
Why is it, for starters, that, chances are, if you suddenly woke up in a school in virtually any country
in the world you would—without any knowledge of the language that is being spoken around you—
recognize it as a school, and would, indeed, be able to predict quite a bit about the relations among
the chief actors in that school? I think it is fair to say that, from country to country, “the school” is
remarkably similar, when you ask just how different it is from one country to the next, in comparison
to how different from country to country are other major institutions, like “the family,” “business,”
“government,” “religion,” or “the police.”
You should notice, too, one question that we do not ask in this course: what system is the best
system of education? Indeed, why one cannot usefully answer that question is one of the things that
we will learn in pursuing this course.
There is currently something like a worldwide consensus that everyone should receive a rather
considerable amount of formal education—that neither categories of countries nor categories of
individuals should be exempted from this moral obligation. This consensus, as we will learn, follows
from a history of the past two centuries during which, across virtually the entire world, nations have
established (or, at minimum, coordinated) systems of formal education. These systems have much in
common with one another, and no wonder, for in good measure they have been attentively copied
from one another. And yet, when one looks more closely, many of the details of schooling and,
perhaps, the “spirit” of formal education, differs markedly from country to country. This complex
issue—commonalty among variety, distinctive national “interpretations” of what education is even
though it is historical fact to describe much of the expansion of formal education as a “spread” of a
single notion—is also the stuff of Education 103. These related foci of the course are reflected in its
I. Educational Arrangements Vary
II. Are Arrangements of Formal Education Converging?
III. Systematic Comparison of Modes of Formal Education
IV Systematic Explanation of Variation in Modes of Formal Education
The Course Work
Although I will lecture from time to time, Ed 103 is in essence a discussion class, in which
your ongoing engagement with a series of chapters, articles, and reports ought to bring you to class
regularly with ideas, opinions, critiques, questions in mind. I have been careful not to assign a ton of
reading, but have chosen instead for a quantity and type of reading that I think I can expect each of
you to have wrestled with, for each class. Most of the reading that we will be doing is of very
argumentative materials—not just presentations of facts, but presentation of information that is there
to back up a particular intellectual argument or arguments. (Typically, the readings I’ve chosen for
the course reflect my own only rather modest interest in education policy: the readings, by and large,
discuss the why’s rather than the how’s of formal education; among other things, comparison is a method of
The first two sections of the course(Educational Arrangements Vary and Are Arrangements of
Formal Education Converging?) lean very largely upon academic articles, from comparative
education, Sociology, and Anthropology, about aspects of education in particular countries (or,
comparatively, in pairs of countries), seeking to explore the logic of these ways of teaching and
learning. The third section of the course (Systematic Comparison of Modes of Formal Education)
rests largely upon a most remarkable, and very big, book, which I ask you to buy (available at the
Brown Book Store): Robin Alexander, Culture and Pedagogy, a 2001 publication. The book’s
publishers describe it nicely: “Culture and Pedagogy . . . reveals how teaching, learning, and pedagogic
discourse are shaped not just by the decisions of the teacher but also by school values and
organization, by local pressures, national policy, and the balance of political control, by the tensions
and ambiguities of the democratic ideal, and by culture and history.” Its range is most impressive.
The fourth section of the course (Systematic Explanation of Variation in Modes of Formal
Education )leans largely upon the PISA (OECD Programme for International Student Assessment)
study of 2003, built around comparisons of achievement in school-learning (measured by the PISA
standardized test).of 15-year-old school students in 40 quite various countries in the world, but
including also lots and lots of comparisons within and between countries having to do with school
characteristics and family characteristics. (We will also read two pairs of powerful comparative studies
using PISA-like data.)
Authors write to persuade, and part of your task as an active reader is to learn to pick out (and,
over time, put together) these larger themes that animate discussion in the field about which you are
learning. You should get into the habit of asking of each reading a brief set of questions:
• What factual information does the author seek to convey?
• What is the author arguing? Of what does he or she want to convince the reader? What is the “so
what” of the author’s argument?
• Why is the author arguing as she or he is? Whoever might disagree with what she or he is saying,
that makes it worthwhile to go to the trouble to say it? Does the author challenge some received
• On what empirically based reasoning does the author make her or his claims?
• Does the article convey any new ideas to me? Are these something that the author had in mind to
convey to me? How do these ideas fit with others that I have read or thought about?
• Classroom Participation
• Your contribution to the class counts 30 of 100 points toward your final grade. I expect you to
have done the reading carefully and thoughtfully each night before class, and to keep a dated
reading journal (to be turned in at the end of the term) that reflects your daily effort to
comprehend and evaluate the readings, and to bring them together into a set of ideas about
comparative education. Good attention to the journal will assist you in being able to participate
in the ongoing discussion of the class.
• I try to take three things into consideration in assigning the classroom-discussion grade: (1) the
extent of your engagement and participation; (2) the depth of understanding of the readings that
your comments reveal; (3) the value of the contributions that you make to the ongoing
discussion in class. These are, of course, subjective, and are combined subjectively into a single
grade; but I do what I can to minimize this by grading all members of the class on their
participation at no fewer than two occasions at or after the end of the term, examining your
reading journal at the first of these times, and combining the scores into an average, which then
constitutes the classroom participation grade. I take attendance at the beginning of the class most
days (I sometimes forget) and will examine this record when I assign semester grades. I would
like you to be present at all classes, and consider attendance something of a marker of
participation. Please know, however, that I will note and store timely explanations for absences,
and take them into consideration, recognizing that there are entirely valid reasons for absence,
sickness or other distress being the most obvious.
The Assignments in Detail
During the semester, you will write assignments. The papers fall into three
categories: response papers--due on September 14, September 28, and October 12; a
synthetic paper—due November 9—three or four pages double-spaced; and a
comparative paper (in some sense a term paper, although constrained somewhat),
10-15 pages double-spaced, due December 7.
Response papers (each 7 points toward the final grade). These papers are up
to two double-spaced pages, with 1.5-inch margins right and left, and are due in
class on the day we are discussing the paper which occasioned your response. I
would like you to tell me, for the paper that you are analyzing, what you think was
the element or elements of the argument of the author(s) that most influenced the
way you understand how education may differ (or be similar) from country to
country; how that element or elements of the argument fits into the author’s
purposes in writing the paper in question; and how certain (and why) you are that
the author’s argument is well grounded The papers that the response papers are to
1. Gerald K. Letendre and Motoko Akiba," "Teacher Beliefs about Adolescent
Development: Cultural and Organizational Impacts on Japanese and US Middle
School Teachers’ Beliefs,” due in class on September 14.
2. John W. Meyer, Joane Nagel, and Conrad W. Snyder, Jr., "The Expansion of
Mass Education in Botswana: Local and World Society Perspectives," due in class
on September 28.
3. Robin Alexander, Culture and Pedagogy, Chapters 9 and 10, due in class on October
Synthetic Paper. (14 points toward the final grade, due in class Thursday,
November 9) This paper is to be 4 or 5 pages long, double spaced, with 1.5-inch
margins right and left. Here, I ask you to bring together some of the intersecting
observations and ideas in the two major documents we read for this course: two
chapters from Robin Alexander’s comprehensive five-country comparison in
elementary school, and a chapter of the OECD’s PISA report on aspects of and
correlates of student learning of mathematics at age 15 in 40 countries, specifically
chapter 5, “The Learning Environment and the Organisation of Schooling,”
In this chapter, the realms under study are the learning environment and school
climate, school policies and practices, the resources invested in education, what
about the learning environment makes a difference for school performance, and the
phenomenon of institutional differentiation The two chapters of Alexander’s study
that you will think about for this assignment are chapters 13 and 14, that deal on the
classroom level with “organization, task, and activity,” and “judgment, routine, rule,
The portions of the PISA report that you will probably find most relevant to these
chapters from Alexander are the earlier ones in the PISA chapter, dealing with
learning environment and school climate, and school policies and practices. The
synthesis will be challenging because the scope and style of the comparative studies
in PISA and in Alexander are different, and because the age of the kids whose
schooling is being compared are different, too. Nevertheless, this assignment asks
you to synthesize the two (focusing on schools’ effects on the children studying
there) around a very fundamental pair of questions about comparison:
(1) Do the two studies seem to reinforce one another or to
challenge one another about how different from one another is
schooling in different countries? And (2) do the two studies seem
to reinforce one another or to challenge one another about how
uniform schools within each country are in producing characteristic
effects upon the children studying in them?
These questions, please recognize, are so broad that you are not going to be able to
find (let us say) quotations or statistics in PISA and in Alexander that you can
compare straightforwardly to supply your answer. Instead, you will have to read
each, reflect upon the implications of each on the pair of phenomena that my
questions ask you to address comparatively, and compose your response, then
seeking support for your conclusions within the texts.
Comparative Analysis paper. (35 points toward the final grade, due in main
office of Education Department, Barus Hall—n.b.not Barus and Holley--by noon.)
This is a substantial paper of twelve to fifteen pages, double-spaced, ordinary
margins. For the most part, I think that very close, analytic work with Alexander
and PISA can give you pretty much what you will need to carry out this paper. But
if you seek more information on one or more of the societies that you are
comparing, or on a large range of societies, there are tons and tons of information
and quantitative data available in Rockefeller Library and on line. On our Web-CT
site, I will make available some clues of where to go for such information; but don’t
hesitate to talk to me, once you have ascertained what beyond what Alexander and
PISA afford you might wish. (Don’t forget, in thinking about PISA, that there are
many more elements than what we’ve read that I have made available on Web-CT;
and don’t forget that I can run you more data to order, if you will give me enough
advance notice of what you want.)
For the paper, I want you to do a comparison of some aspect or aspects education
in two or more countries: I leave open the question or related questions you might
wish to ask, and the countries (and their number) that you might wish to compare.
I remind you that Alexander has information on primary education in the U.S., England, France,
Russia, and India; PISA collected its secondary-school data in all but the last of these countries.
PISA, incidentally, allows you to work with forty countries, or to compare any subset of these for
which there is some theoretical basis. The forty are:
Australia Greece Luxembourg Spain
Austria Hong Kong (China) Macao (China) Sweden
Belgium Hungary Mexico Switzerland
Brazil Iceland Netherlands Thailand
Canada Indonesia New Zealand Tunisia
Czech Republic Ireland Norway Turkey
Denmark Italy Poland United Kingdom
Finland Japan Portugal United States
France Korea Russian Federation Uruguay
Germany Latvia Slovakia Yugoslavia
In our class discussions of comparisons drawn from PISA, I have focused on fourteen of these (in
italic boldface), by eliminating, somewhat arbitrarily, 25 that struck me as being countries “of
the same type” as others in the list, leaving only a few countries to represent each of these “types.”
The question you are to pose for your comparative paper may not simply compare
descriptively: it must seek to answer a “why” question (that seeks to explain how
come it is the case that things are done differently in A, B, and C—or so similarly in
A, B, and C) or a “so-what” question (that examines the effect of differences, or
similarities, in education in countries D, E, F, and G, in the kind of children or
young adults to which those education systems address their efforts). Obviously,
both the “why” question and the “so-what” question rest on a careful and soundly-
based description of differences (or similarities) in the relevant aspects of education
in the countries at issue. And, obviously, “why” or “so-what” answers that are
based on the purest guesswork (“because that’s what I guess”) are less valuable than
answers to the very same questions that are based on sound reasoning and evidence
Schedule of Classes
I. Educational Arrangements Vary
Start with a couple of PISA tables and maybe a bit from Sharpe
Tues 5-Sep-2006 "Catechistic"
Keith Sharpe, "Catechistic Teaching Style in French Primary Education:
Analysis of a Grammar Lesson with Seven-Year Olds," Comparative
Thurs 7-Sep-2006 Education 28 (1992): 249-268.
Claire Planel, "National Cultural Values and Their Role in Learning: a
Comparative Ethnographic Study of State Primary Schooling in England
Tues 12-Sep-2006 and France, Comparative Education 33 (1997): 349-373.
Gerald K. Letendre and Motoko Akiba," "Teacher Beliefs about
Adolescent Development: Cultural and Organizational Impacts on
Japanese and US Middle School Teachers’ Beliefs," Compare 31 (2001):
Thurs 14-Sep-2006 187-203. (And first response paper due.)
Stephen L. Morgan and William R. Morgan, “The Evolution of
Educational Pathways into the Evolving Labor Market of West Africa,”
Tues 19-Sep-2006 Research in the Sociology of Education 14 (2004): 225-245.
Thurs 21-Sep-2006 Robin Alexander, Culture and Pedagogy, chapters 1 and 17.
II. Is there Convergence in the Arrangements of Formal Education
Peter Demerath, “The Cultural Production of Educational Utility in Pere
Village, Papua New Guinea,” Comparative Education Review 43 (1999):
162-192. And Demerath, “The Social Cost of Acting ‘Extra;: Students’
Moral Judgments of Self, Social Relations, and Academic Success in
Tues 26-Sep-2006 Papua New Guinea,” American Journal of Education 108 (2000): 196-235
John W. Meyer, Joane Nagel, and Conrad W. Snyder, Jr., "The Expansion
of Mass Education in Botswana: Local and World Society Perspectives,"
Comparative Education Review 37 (1993): 454-475. (And second response
Thurs 28-Sep-2006 paper due.)
John Boli, Francisco O. Ramirez, and John W. Meyer, “Explaining the
Origins and Expansion of Mass Education,” Comparative Education
Tues 3-Oct-2006 Review 29 (1985): 145-170.
Martin Carnoy, Globalization and Educational Reform: What Planners Need
to Know (UNESCO: 2000), pp. 13-36; PISA report, Chapter 1 (pps. 20-24
Thurs 5-Oct-2006 and 28-30 only).
Evan Schofer and John W. Meyer, "The Worldwide Expansion of Higher
Education in the Twentieth Century," American Journal of Sociology 70
Tues 10-Oct-2006 (2005): 898-920.
III. Systematic Comparison of Modes of Formal Education
Thurs 12-Oct-2006 Alexander, chs. 9, 10. (And third response paper due.)
Tues 17-Oct-2006 Alexander, chs. 7, 5.
Thurs 19-Oct-2006 Alexander, chs. 2, 6.
THANKSGIVING 24-Oct-2006 Tues – THANKSGIVING
Thurs 26-Oct-2006 Alexander, chs. 3, 4.
PISA ch. 5, the learning environment (school level). See also PISA1 table
Tues 31-Oct-2006 in PISA section of our Web-CT.
Thurs 2-Nov-2006 Alexander, chs. 1 1, 12
Tues 7-Nov-2006 Alexander, chs. 13, 14
Thurs 9-Nov-2006 Alexander, chs. 15, 16. (And Synthetic Paper due.)
IV. Systematic Comparison of the Educational Experience
David P. Baker and Deborah Perkins Jones, “Creating Gender Equality:
Cross-national Gender Stratification and Mathematical Performance,”
Sociology of Education 66 (1993): 91-103; David P. Baker, Cornelius
Riordan, and Maryellen Schaub, "The Effects of Sex-Grouped Schooling
on Achievement: the Role of National Context," Comparative Education
14-Nov- Review 39 (1995): 468-482. See also PISA2 table in PISA section of our
Tues 2006 Web-CT.
Thurs 2006 PISA, ch 3 (attitudes, engagement, strategies)
Stephen P. Heyneman and Joseph A. Loxley, “The Effect of Primary
School Quality on Academic Achievement Across Twenty-Nine High-
and Low-Income Countries, American Journal of Sociology 88 (1983): 1162-
1194; and David P. Baker, Brian Goesling, and Gerald K. Letendre,
"Socioeconomic Status, School Quality, and National Economic
Development: a Cross-National Analysis of the 'Heyneman-Loxley
21-Nov- Effect' on Mathematics and Science Achievement," Comparative Education
Tues 2006 Review 46 (2002): 291-312.
Thurs 2006 PISA, ch 2, pp. 36-42, 47, 69, 89-95-105 (student achievement levels)
Tues 2006 PISA, ch 4 (performance differences between schools)
30-Nov- TABLES ANALYSIS FROM PISA, part 1. See PISA3 table in PISA section
Thurs 2006 of our Web-CT.
TABLES ANALYSIS FROM PISA, part 2. See PISA4, PISA5, and PISA6
Tues 5-Dec-2006 tables in PISA section of our Web-CT.
reading Conclusions: "Are national systems of formal education more alike than
period 7-Dec-2006 you anticipated, or less?"
Comparative paper due in my mailbox in main office of Education
11-Dec- Department, Barus Hall (NOT Barus and Holley, NOR in my office in
Mon 2006 131 Waterman), by noon.