A Promising — and Practical — Path for Education Leaders

Wilmington University’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership expands to include concentrations in Teacher Leadership and School Leadership, making the program more practical for educators who want to lead — and remain at the school level.

Educators want to lead, but they also want to remain at the school level.

First, a little history: Doctor is an academic title that originates from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach.” The term doctorate is derived from the Latin doceo, which means “I teach.”

The first Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree was established at Harvard University in 1921. The degree was designed to be comparable to other professional doctorates, such as those in divinity, law and medicine. Ed.D. programs have grown steadily in the U.S. and worldwide since 1921, and the degree is now awarded in the U.S. to about 10,000 students annually. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, this is approximately the same number of doctorates awarded in engineering, slightly more than are awarded in the biological/biomedical sciences, but fewer than in the legal professions (about 44,000) and the health professions (about 67,000). Wilmington University launched its first doctoral degree program in the late ’80s, the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Innovation. It was designed to fill a need in Delaware and the region for school district leaders (superintendents and school system administrators) who possessed the knowledge and skills needed to effectively lead and manage complex public school systems. As such, the degree program has been very successful. Several hundred educators in the region have completed the degree over the last quarter century and have assumed school district leadership positions.

Wilmington University launched its first doctoral degree program in the late ’80s, the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Innovation. It was designed to fill a need in Delaware and the region for school district leaders (superintendents and school system administrators) who possessed the knowledge and skills needed to effectively lead and manage complex public school systems. As such, the degree program has been very successful. Several hundred educators in the region have completed the degree over the last quarter century and have assumed school district leadership positions.

But things are changing.

WilmU’s College of Education used the CPED framework to design its “refreshed” and expanded Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.

A growing number of educators are now expressing a desire to earn a doctorate that can also address school-based issues rather than one designed only to prepare school superintendents. Those educators want to lead, but they also want to remain at the school level, and they’re not particularly interested in engaging in the political and administrative tasks required of school system administrators. Until now very few options have been available to those educators, even though newer school-based career paths are beginning to emerge, primarily due to the widespread adoption of “distributed leadership” principles and practices. This has produced new opportunities for school-based educators, such as instructional coaches, professional development coordinators, interventionists, curriculum and assessment specialists, learning environment coordinators, turn-around principals, home-school coordinators, charter school directors and others. WilmU’s new Ed.D. program in Education Leadership provides candidates with pathways that could lead to those positions.

It’s important to note that the Ed.D. degree is a professional doctorate, and was originally focused on producing scholarly practitioners who could use their knowledge and skills to tackle and resolve tough issues related to teaching, learning and leadership.  Over time, however, some programs began to drift away from the hard work of identifying and solving real problems, preferring to place greater emphasis on theory, research and dissertation-related coursework. While these elements certainly have a place in doctoral studies, we have to remember that successful professional educators spend far less time doing original research and publishing scholarly articles than on applying research to improving the teaching, learning and leadership environment.

To counter this trend, about 10 years ago, 80 highly regarded institutions of higher education — including Drexel and Johns-Hopkins in the Mid-Atlantic region — joined an initiative known as the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate. The initiative received substantial funding from the Carnegie Foundation and the U.S Department of Education and is now headquartered at the University of Pittsburgh.

Through a collaborative, authentic process, the CPED developed a Framework for Ed.D. program design/redesign that supports the creation of quality, rigorous practitioner preparation programs while honoring the local context of individual institutions. The CPED Framework consists of three components: a new definition of the Ed.D.; a set of guiding principles for program development; and a set of design-concepts. All serve as program building blocks.

WilmU’s College of Education used the CPED framework to design its “refreshed” and expanded Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and did so in ways that should better meet the needs of 21st-century scholar-practitioners at all levels. Dr. Joe Crossen, program chair, is leading this effort with support from College of Education faculty, and Dr. Kathi Brown, director of Advanced Programs.

The College of Education believes that the potential value of this new program is very high. The program has been reviewed with several school superintendents in Delaware and the region, and the response has been positive.

“The truth is, there have always been teachers who were leaders,” says Matt Burrows, Appoquinimink School District’s superintendent of schools. “What was lacking was a process that intentionally prepared for, supported and recognized the role of teacher leader; accommodated their unique voice and contributions; and didn’t require that they leave the classroom and become an administrator in order to be a change agent.”

According to Dr. Henry Wagner, superintendent of schools for Dorchester County Schools in Maryland, “The newly-redesigned Wilmington University doctoral program in Educational Leadership affords public school practitioners many unique opportunities. Specifically, the program provides working professionals with a hybrid model
of inquiry that features flexibility and real-world applications. Principals and those interested in leadership will be able to develop solutions to challenging issues in collaboration with district leadership. This model provides, therefore, a meaningful research pathway that will lead to positive tangible outcomes.” WU

 

Features of WilmU’s  “refreshed” Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program:

  • Candidates can personalize their degree programs depending on individual scholarly/career interests and needs, and can choose to focus on Teacher Leadership, School Leadership, or District Leadership.  (The current Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership only addresses District Leadership.)
  • Candidates identify a Problem of Practice (P.O.P.) early in their programs, which will then serve as the basis for their fieldwork and research.  The P.O.P. will usually be one that is embedded or directly related to their current work setting.
  • Candidates do an extensive review of the literature related to their P.O.P., create a detailed plan to address and solve the problem, implement the plan, evaluate the results, and report the project’s outcomes in a public presentation — all within a three-year window.
  • The traditional five-chapter doctoral dissertation is replaced with a Dissertation in Practice (D.I.P.), based on principles of action research.
  • The traditional dissertation defense is replaced with a public presentation of D.I.P. results.
  • The three-year, “start-to-finish” timeline requires fewer total credits than the current program.
  • The program is cohort-based, and includes team-building orientation sessions and annual, one-day reflection/residency seminars.
  • The program places increased emphasis on innovation, school reform/improvement, equity, social justice and collaboration with all stakeholders.
  • All classes are semester-long hybrids, and are “flipped” (most content online, analysis and discussion face-to-face). Once-weekly class meetings alternate between face-to-face and online sessions.
  • Candidates may be able to apply some master’s level courses to their doctoral programs, which could permit even more program choices and flexibility.

 


 

Dr. John Gray is dean of Wilmington University’s College of Education. Applications for the 2017–18 cohort of the Ed.D. program opened in May.  For more information, contact Dr. Crossen at joseph.l.crossen@wilmu.edu or Dr. Brown at kathryn.m.brown@wilmu.edu. Or visit wilmu.edu.