Field of Study: Urban Education
Urban education programs focus on how to meet the education needs of people who live in cities. Students learn how cultural diversity and urban planning play a role in urban education. They also learn to manage services such as food and health care programs in schools.
Hollywood loves urban schools - from "Blackboard Jungle" to "To Sir, with Love" to "Stand and Deliver" to "Dangerous Minds." It's interesting that in all of these movies the same basic plot plays out over and over again. A young, unorthodox teacher comes to a tough, gritty school. The students are burned-out cases whom everyone else has written off as disposable losers. But the teacher believes in the students and inspires them to make something of their lives.
This plot may be a cliché, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be inspired by it. Real teachers and administrators actually can make a difference in young people's lives. (The hero of "Stand and Deliver," Jaime Escalante, is a real teacher.) You can make a career out of your movie-inspired dreams because academia, just like Hollywood, is paying attention to urban schools.
About 20 universities are offering master's programs in urban education, and about 10 are offering doctoral programs. Some of these programs focus primarily on teaching. They assume that you are a teacher and want to upgrade your skills and especially get a better understanding of issues you face in an urban context. They teach you about curriculum development, educational psychology, classroom management, and the exceptional learner. These subjects are standard in educational programs. But urban-oriented programs also teach you about the realities of urban schools. For example, you may study how to build parental involvement in situations where parents may be working two jobs. You pay special attention to multicultural issues. You learn how to respond to non-English-speaking students and parents.
Some of these programs focus more on leadership - that is, educational administration - than on teaching. They assume that you want to become a principal or assistant principal. As in any program in this field, you learn about responding to the educational needs of your community. You study curriculum development and how to improve instruction. You learn about personnel management and the chain of decision making in a school. You study how to raise funds and budget them. You improve your leadership skills. But you also learn how to respond to conditions and opportunities that especially characterize urban schools. For example, you may learn how to set up a school breakfast program or a midnight basketball program. You may learn how to offer special curriculum that makes yours a "magnet" school.
The master's program usually takes the equivalent of two years of full-time study. To enter this program, you need a bachelor's degree, which itself requires four years of study beyond high school. If the graduate program emphasizes administration, you may be required to have a teaching degree and several years of classroom experience. Graduate schools usually recognize that most of their students are working as teachers and make it convenient for you to work on your degree part time.
Not many classroom teachers hold the doctoral degree, but a growing number of principals do. So if you are interested in administrative work, or perhaps research or college teaching, you may consider the extra commitment this degree requires. It takes the equivalent of about three years of full-time study beyond the master's. You learn how to do research in educational leadership issues. Then you undertake your own research project, which forms the basis of your dissertation.