Temple Seeks To Make Doctoral Program For Administrators a "Unifying Experience"
By Ann Bradley
Philadelphia--When Stephen B. Young decided to enter Temple University's new doctoral program in educational administration last fall, he knew he was taking "a real leap of faith."
Details of the program--including the exact course requirements--were still being worked out as Mr. Young, an administrator at a Philadelphia school, and his fellow students were arriving on campus.
Despite their initial uncertainty, the doctoral students and their professors now believe that they are engaged in a promising new method of preparing school leaders that addresses some of the shortcomings of the university's previous program.
At the same time, many of them know, their program is one example in a national movement to improve the way school superintendents and principals are trained.
Instead of admitting students to study at their own pace, Temple is attempting to give its doctoral students a "unifying experience" by grouping them together in their first year to study a common core of courses designed specifically for them.
"By putting a cohort together, you're really putting a team together," noted Richard Englert, dean of Temple's college of education. "Being a member of a profession means you develop professional relationships."
The first year is considered the students' residency at Temple, a state-related institution with 27,000 students in an inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood.
Although they are studying full time, most of the 20 doctoral candidates also work full time. Some drive as much as two-and-a-half hours each way to attend classes.
One of the core courses is a residency seminar held on Saturdays. The seminar is designed to be more flexible than the weekday classes, providing time for individual research projects and group discussions, said James R. Powell, chairman of the department of educational leadership and policy studies.
Sometimes the seminar includes a social event, such as a Temple basketball game, to help students get to know each other and their spouses.
After this year, the "cohort" of students will break up as each pursues a specialty in either K-12 or higher-education administration.
But faculty members expect that the students will continue to consult one another and hope that some students may tackle a common research project for their dissertations, Mr. Powell said.
Temple's renewed commitment to preparing practicing educators is also reflected in its emphasis on a problem-based--as opposed to theoretical--approach to school administration. The department currently offers only an Ed.D. degree, although a Ph.D. in policy analysis may be created in the future.
The revitalization of Temple's doctoral program for administrators began in 1986, when the university's five-year plan identified the department as having "the potential for excellence."
The faculty received a grant in 1988 from the Danforth Foundation's Program for Professors of School Administration, which provides support for faculty members interested in improving their programs.
The most complex change involved a design of the core curriculum, Mr. Powell said.
But the department also set new prerequisites for entry into the doctoral program, changed from a rolling admissions policy to admitting only one cohort of students per year, and broadened its admissions criteria.
In addition to submitting their scores on standardized tests, prospective students are now evaluated on the basis of an interview, a writing sample analyzing an administrative problem, and an assessment of the candidate's career leadership experiences.
Both Mr. Powell and Mr. Englert said they believe the program is attracting a better caliber of student than in the past.
The department also is placing a new emphasis on forging close working relationships between its doctoral students and faculty members. To accomplish that goal, Mr. Powell said, the department intends to reduce the number of doctoral students, who now number about 200, by refusing to grant extensions and counseling some students to drop their studies.
The department has also for the first time designated some courses as open to doctoral students only. The change means that students beginning their master's degrees and finishing their doctoral studies will no longer be in the same classes.
"I'll be able to revise what I do, because students will have had a common background," said Robert Walter, a professor of educational administration. "We can skip [review] and get directly to the coursework."
Some doctoral students said it has been frustrating to be part of a new program in which procedures and schedules are still being worked out. In particular, they said, the fact that three faculty members taught seg4ments of one of the core courses caused some confusion.
But the students added that the seven faculty members in the department, who all had a hand in designing the new program, seem more than willing to listen to their concerns and to make adjustments.
On a more personal level, several students said the support of other participants has helped them adjust to the demands of a full-time academic program while juggling jobs and family responsibilities.
"When I'm struggling with something at school," said Margaret Thomas-Begalke, an assistant principal at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pa., "I often ask people here for their comments."
"We learn as much from each other as we do from our professors or textbooks," Mr. Young added.