Advance Copy: Mark Berends

Welcome to Advance Copy, a look at the people, perspectives, and scholarship of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, home to the University of Notre Dame’s initiatives advancing its long-standing commitment to the future of K-12 schools.



Mark Berends


Just Launched: 

SAGE Handbook of the Sociology of Education edited by Mark Berends, Barbara Schneider, and Stephen Lamb, is an international and comprehensive groundbreaking text that serves as a touchstone for researchers and scholars interested in exploring the intricate relationships between education and society. Leading sociologists from five continents examine major topics in sociology from a global perspective.


Hails from: 

Grand Rapids, MI


Notre Dame Initiative: 

Hackett Family Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives



Ph.D., Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Favorite place on Notre Dame’s campus: 

The Grotto. It's holy ground. I say to people that, whether they're religious or not, a few minutes of reflection at the Grotto a few times a week will change their lives. 


What drew you to Notre Dame (for work)?

My predecessor, Maureen Hallinan, called me out of the blue while I was happily working at Vanderbilt. She said, “Mark, God is calling you to Notre Dame.” Now, I'm a person of faith, but I had worked only in secular organizations where people don't say things like that. Maureen was a renowned scholar and was very influential in my career, so I took her call seriously. 

I was attracted to her Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO), a group of sociologists and students focusing on education. CREO is unique and nationally known in the US. I was also attracted to the university's infrastructure to support research, faculty, and students. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Notre Dame's strong faith base. There are deeply spiritual people on this campus, and they are some of the best people I have worked with, hands down.


Tell us about this latest publication. What viewers can expect?

James Clark, an editor at SAGE London, approached me. SAGE had seen my Handbook of Research on School Choice (2009, 2020) and wanted a sociology of education handbook. At the same time, Springer Publishing approached my colleague Barbara Schneider, who holds an endowed chair at Michigan State, to do a Handbook of the Sociology of Education in the 21st Century. So Barbara and I collaborated and coordinated our respective volumes. I was honored that Stephen Lamb (Melbourne, Australia) agreed to join us as a co-editor because he has edited international books before. Barbara and I organized the project so that we did not have duplicate authors in our volumes. With SAGE’s strong encouragement, we sought leading sociologists from around the world, and we were pleased that 69 authors from five continents contributed.

This volume came together during the pandemic, which was hard on all of us, but especially hard on some of our international authors. We are thankful that they stuck with us to help produce such a robust Handbook.


Who is this handbook for?

It's geared toward sociologists of education - a primer for undergraduate and graduate students who want to get a sense of where the field is and where it’s going, including questions that need to be pursued in future research. The book aims to pique their interest and inspire them to embrace a global perspective on the field, on the issues that emerge in some countries and not others. 

The Handbook is also for other social scientists who are interested in education. For instance, one of the significant and troubling issues in social science right now is inequality. So the Handbook's first section is on persistent inequality in education and the factors related to it. The remaining four sections are equally relevant: social and family contexts; school structures and educational policies; neighborhoods and communities; and education and innovation in a global context. Each plays a key role in affecting a child's educational opportunities and development trajectory.

Overall, the volume highlights the nuance involved in educational research. For example, the configurations of families are changing. The effects of neighborhoods are tricky to disentangle from the effects of schools. And then there's the issue of trust and how some countries promote it - or do not. Trust matters not only for schools and communities, but a child's path to and through educational opportunities.   


Talk to me about the trust element. Trust who? Trust the system? Trust the school? 

That’s a good question. Barbara Schneider has done a lot of work in this area. Her book with Tony Bryk, called Trust in Schools (2002), looks at trust among students, teachers, principals, and parents, and the various ways you can measure it. We see this now more than ever: if there's no trust between a school's teachers and its leaders, between parents and teachers, there are problems, right? That's why we include a whole chapter on the topic, considering its antecedents and consequences, and the possibility that building trust may reduce inequality. 


Are there key takeaways that you want people to have?

Class, gender, and race are alive in the world today, and each plays a significant role in increasing inequality, especially since the pandemic.

An important theme in this book is the persistence of inequality. Sociologists are great about pointing it out, but we need to be better about finding interventions and policies to reduce it. I think a comparative perspective can help with this, because inequality is more widespread in certain contexts than others, and if we can learn from different contexts how to address it, that's a start. 

Take tracking: grouping students for instruction based on their academic achievement and interests. Research from our country has shown that tracking widens achievement and attainment gaps. But recent studies in other countries suggest that, if organized in ways that provide the appropriate academic instructional support across groups, tracking may help in closing opportunity gaps. The Handbook is chock full of instructive findings like this.


Now, do you have suggestions for interventions? Or is that a different book? 

I think that's another book. (Laughs). Over the past several years, funding organizations, like the W.T. Grant Foundation, have invested in studies that show interventions that reduce inequality. I look forward to seeing where we are in the next 5-10 years.


That's a teaser for the next one. What else should people know?

For starters, this is coming out as a big, thick book. But it's also online, where you can see the table of contents and buy it for different periods of time. This allows you to access the individual chapters you're most interested in. 

Also, this project was a team effort. Kate Kennedy was the managing editor of the Handbook, and she deserves a big shout-out. Nicole Gallicchio did extraordinary work in providing content editing for each chapter before the volume was submitted to SAGE. And we appreciate the support of SAGE's team: James Clark, Colette Wilson, and Benedict Hegart.


Why did participating in this book matter to you? 

That’s also a great question. I got into school choice research about 20 years ago because I saw agenda-driven researchers advocating for one side or the other, and I didn't appreciate their biased perspectives. In my own research, I aim to be as objective as possible. No intervention or policy is perfect, so it's important to know the pros and cons as well as the unintended consequences of school reforms. The findings about school choice - charter or magnet schools, voucher programs, homeschooling and so on - are much more complicated than either proponents or critics portray. And they don't pay much attention to investments in school choice vis-à-vis other reforms, like teachers and teacher education.

All that is to say, this Handbook allowed me to get back to my sociological roots. It also allowed me to interact with some stellar scholars from around the world; to correspond with them and see what they generated was a privilege. As was my work with Barbara Schneider and Steven Lamb. They were excellent thought partners. I learned a lot from them and am pleased with what we produced.