College & Workforce Readiness

National Network Aims to Recraft Ed.D. for Practitioners

By Jeff Archer — March 13, 2007 4 min read
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Responding to long-standing complaints about the relevance of Ed.D. degrees, nearly two dozen colleges and universities have joined a new network aimed at creating doctoral programs in education that are geared more for practitioners than for professional scholars.

Led by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in Stanford, Calif., the group includes public and private institutions at different stages of redesigning their programs for administrators, policymakers, and others pursuing nonacademic careers.

Lee S. Shulman, the foundation’s president, said the effort is driven by the contention that such practitioners are not best served by courses of study that largely seek to mimic the structure, content, and requirements of traditional Ph.D. programs in the arts and sciences.

“There is widespread consensus among these institutions that since overwhelmingly the Doctorate of Education is given to people who are preparing to enter the highest levels of leadership in educational practice, that the Ph.D. model just isn’t the right model,” he said.

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate plans to tackle such questions as: What should final projects look like for practitioners, if they are not dissertations? How can coursework better reflect job-related issues? And how can program rigor be ensured?

Participants held their first meeting last month in New York City. Partnering with the Carnegie Foundation in the three-year project is the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions, which represents about 130 education school leaders across the country.

The project is being coordinated by David G. Imig, a former president of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and now an education professor at the University of Maryland College Park, which also is part of the network.

A Matter of Distinction

Criticism of programs leading to the Doctor of Education degree has intensified of late. Two years ago, Arthur E. Levine, who was then the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, labeled them “watered down” doctorates in a widely read report on leadership preparation. He also called for their elimination.

But others say what’s needed is to distinguish doctoral programs for practitioners looking to advance their careers from those designed for students planning to work in academia. In many education schools, those tracks look similar. (“Some Ed.D. Programs Adopting Practical Approach,” Dec. 14, 2005.)

Some universities have made changes to their Ed.D. programs, while maintaining their Ph.D. tracks for preparing scholars and researchers.

At Vanderbilt University, Ed.D. candidates now take courses in a prescribed order in a cohort of about 20 students, and they finish by completing a group project. In the past, they took courses as they could, and wrote individual dissertations.

In addition, the group projects at Vanderbilt involve producing work for a client, such as a school district. Ellen B. Goldring, a professor who teaches in the program, said the endeavor better mirrors the kind of work that education leaders do in the field.

“Our assumption is that the quality of work will be much higher,” said Ms. Goldring, whose education school is part of the Carnegie initiative. “You’re not just doing it to finish up a degree. Your name is on it, and it’s going out into the world of practice.”

The University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, and St. Louis University, both involved in the Carnegie project, have made similar changes. The University of Maryland is using some of the same elements in a new Ed.D. program aimed at policymakers.

Organizers of the network plan to share ideas among participants in meetings twice a year, and to form working groups to address specific issues, such as how to assess whether Ed.D. candidates have demonstrated adequate mastery of skills.

Equally important, Mr. Imig said, will be the talk about putting needed changes in place. Faculty members in some universities have expressed concerns about altering Ed.D. programs, fearing changes may sacrifice quality for the sake of being convenient to candidates.

“There is a major fight going on inside education schools over who should staff educational leadership programs,” he said. “No one seems really satisfied with the mix of scholars and practitioners that have been brought in to the faculty to do this work.”

The Carnegie Foundation is backing the project with about $200,000, while also lending expertise gained by informing improvements in doctoral-level studies in other disciplines. Institutions taking part in the network will pay most of their own costs.

Richard De Lisi, the dean of the graduate school of education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said that his institution has been working to examine its Ed.D. for about a year, and that learning from others doing similar work will be a major benefit.

While Rutgers has offered an Ed.D. since the 1930s, and launched a Ph.D. program several years ago, the two courses of study at the university are too similar, said Mr. De Lisi.

“This is hard work,” he said of the university’s efforts to change. “When you’ve been doing something one way for 70 years, to change takes some courage. So it helps to have a few of us jump into the deep end of the pool at the same time.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as National Network Aims to Recraft Ed.D. for Practitioners

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