University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Curriculum for Urban Education - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Our goal for students in the Urban Education doctoral program is to acquire and exhibit strong disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge of research and theory in educational scholarship; to understand and be able to apply existing educational scholarship and research methods to significant and relevant projects; to communicate research in scholarly forums; and to demonstrate effective teaching at the graduate level.  Students will be prepared to attain research-focused positions upon graduating.  Students engage in a range of learning experiences to acquire these skills, including formal course-taking, participating in research projects, community-based service learning, and varied writing experiences.

Core courses in the Urban Education PhD program are constructed to: 
  1. provide students with a rigorous and shared knowledge base in urban education; 
  2. develop students’ ability to critically analyze research, policies, and other educational artifacts (including standards for instruction and learning, assessments, and curricula); and 
  3. to develop students’ ability to communicate to different audiences for different purposes (e.g., the academic community, policymakers, school district leaders, teachers, etc.). 
Students also are expected to take cognate courses outside of the School of Education to provide an understanding of the multifaceted aspects of urban education and its connections to other disciplines including, but not limited to public health, psychology, sociology, social work, and urban studies. Seminars also can be taken as independent Directed Studies under the supervision of a faculty member. Students who pursue Directed Studies are expected to produce a written document (e.g., the results of their study, a proposal for research, a literature review, etc.) at the end of the semester.

Course Requirements

Urban Education Required Core Courses (6 courses, 18 credits)

  • Introduction to Urban Education
  • Critical Theories and Perspectives on Urban Education
  • Pedagogies and Practices in Urban Education
  • The Social Context of Urban Education 
  • Urban Schools and Social Policy
  • Education Law, Policy, and School Reform
Required Research Methodology Courses (6 courses, 18 credits)
  • Quantitative 1: Introduction to Quantitative Methods (EDUC 3100): Description & Inferential Statistics
  • Quantitative 2: Intermediate Quantitative Methods: Regression Analysis (PSYED 3410)
  • Qualitative 1: Introduction to Qualitative Methods (EDUC 3104)
  • Advanced Quantitative or Qualitative Seminar (select two during years 1-3):
    • Advanced Quantitative Seminars:
      • Structural Equation Modeling (PSYED 3417)
      • Multivariate Statistics (PSYED 3416) 
      • Nonparametric Statistics
      • General Linear Models (PSYED 3412)
      • Hierarchical Linear Modeling (PSYED 3408)
      • Quasi-Experimental Design
      • Meta-Analysis in Education
      • Seminar in Causal Inference in Education Policy
      • Single-Subject Design (IL 3536)
    • Advanced Qualitative Seminars:
      • Case Study Methods in Education (ADMPS 3208) 
      • Qualitative Data Management Analysis and Presentation (ADMPS 3012)
      • Research Interviewing (IL 3003) 
      • Ways of Knowing (ADMPS 3311)
      • Participant Observation
      • Ethnographic Field Methods (ADMPS 2355)
      • Classroom Discourse (IL 3002)
      • Qualitative Data Analysis
      • Disciplined Inquiry

Professional Seminars: Urban Education Contemporary Issues in Education (Year 1, fall and spring semester; one-credit per semester)

Writing Workshops (EDUC 3087): (Year 2 through completion; 1 credit semester for 6-8 credits)

Supervised Research (ADMPS 3097):  (2 courses, 6 credits)

Field Placement/Teaching Practicum: (2 courses, 6 credits)

Dissertation Research (ADMPS 3090): (6 courses, 18 credits)

Cognate Courses (0 to 18 credits either taken or transferred from outside the SOE):
For students who do not have bachelor degrees in appropriate academic disciplines, 18 credits must be taken outside of the SOE in the appropriate academic disciplines. Students with a master’s degree in an appropriate academic discipline do not have to take any courses outside of the SOE and 18 credits from their masters will count here for cognate courses. Students with a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate academic discipline are only required to take 9 credits outside of the SOE in appropriate academic disciplines.

For the degree in Urban Education, appropriate academic disciplines are:

  • Africana Studies
  • African American Literature
  • Anthropology
  • Chicano/Latinx Studies
  • Culture Studies
  • Geography
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology 
  • Political Science/Government
  • Economics
  • Urban Studies
  • Public health
  • Social Work 
  • Sociology

Milestones and Professional Experiences
PhD students across the areas of concentration (ARCOs) also complete a common set of milestones intended to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge and skills needed for independent research, and to position students for success in the job market. Toward these ends, the proposed milestones and professional experiences for PhD students are as follow:

Milestone 1: Preliminary exam (Year 1) – A proposal for an independent research project
Students write a proposal that includes a well-defined research problem, relevant literature review, methodological approach and an analysis plan for an appropriately scoped second year research project. Students defend the proposal in a meeting of all program faculty and staff. A committee of 3 faculty members, including the student’s advisor, makes a final decision about the student’s successful completion of the proposal based on faculty input. The purpose of this defense is to ensure that the proposed project is theoretically grounded, methodologically rigorous, and appropriate for submission to a peer-reviewed journal upon completion. The defense should begin with a 10-15 minute presentation, followed by Q&A with the committee.

Milestone 2: Pre-dissertation Project (Year 2) – A completed manuscript of independent research project
A 3-member committee reviews a full manuscript (Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion sections) in APA Style. The defense should begin with a 15-20 minute presentation followed by Q&A with the committee. To complete this milestone, the committee should agree that the manuscript is ready (or will be ready with revisions suggested by the committee members) to be submitted to a journal.

Milestone 3: Comprehensive exam (Year 3) – A topical paper or response to at least two[1] essay questions appropriate for students’ specialization.
To aid preparation for either option, students are encouraged to develop lists of essential readings with faculty that students should review. Some readings will be discussed in a class; other readings students can review independently. Students will either write a topical, comprehensive paper or respond to (a minimum of) 2 essay questions that address:

  • a theory and content question drawn from their reading list (agreed upon with committee chair); and
  • a design question (e.g., designing a study appropriate for their dissertation, or responding to a hypothetical scenario in which the student designs a study appropriate to their field on an enduring, central question in the field).

Milestone 4: Dissertation overview (Year 4) - Proposal for a traditional dissertation or a two-paper dissertation
Committees will review proposals for either a traditional dissertation or 2-paper dissertation. Students will defend their proposals to a committee of at least 4 faculty members, including the student’s advisor. The defense should begin with a 10-15 minute presentation, followed by Q&A with the committee.

Milestone 5: Dissertation (Year 5) - PhD students complete dissertation projects that contribute to the knowledge and basic understandings in their specializations, and to the development of theory or methodology. A traditional five-chapter dissertation or a two-paper dissertation. The defense should begin with a 15-20 minute presentation, followed by Q&A with the committee for the full dissertation. For the PhD student, the doctoral committee consists of the research advisor and at least three other members, including one member from another department outside the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh or from an appropriate graduate program outside education at another academic institution.

Additional policies and forms concerning advancement to doctoral study, doctoral competency, dissertation committees, dissertation overviews, advancement to doctoral candidacy, and the dissertation defense can be found on the SOE website under “current students” or click here .

NOTE:  Once students have completed all credit requirements, including 18 credits of dissertation research, they can register for full-time dissertation study, which provides for a reduced rate of tuition.

Professional Experience

Below is a list of exemplar professional milestones that students should acquire for their curriculum vitae during their graduate training. Many of these milestones will involve intensive mentoring and assistance from students’ advisors:

  • Conference Poster Presentation
  • Conference Paper Presentation
  • First‐Author Publication
  • Co‐Authored Publications
  • Teaching Experience
  • Grant Proposal (e.g., SOE, Dissertation, Advisor grants)
  • Service (e.g., SOE or CGSE committees; hiring committees)

Sequence of Coursework and Major Milestones


Fall Semester

Spring Semester

Programmatic Milestones


Urban Education

Research Methods

Urban Education

  • First Year Presentation and Write up of Research Progress
  • Plan of Studies approved


Urban Education

Supervised Research

Research Methods

Urban Education

Supervised Research

Research Methods

  • Second Year Presentation and Write-up of Research. Successful completion constitutes preliminary exam and admission to doctoral study.



Course outside SOE

Research Methods


Course outside SOE

Research Methods

  • Completion of Doctoral Comprehensive Exam (Portfolio Review and Oral Defense)



Field Placement


Course Outside SOE

Field Placement/Teaching Practicum

  • Dissertation overview successfully completed


Dissertation Research

Dissertation Research

  • Dissertation successfully defended