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AERA Session Addresses New Approaches to the Ed.D

New York

Over the past few years, universities have really differentiated Ph.D. programs from Ed.D. programs and have developed three-year Ed.D. models largely geared for students who are already working professionals in education. These Ed.D. programs involve collaboration on multiple levels — among fellow students and, most notably, between students and the schools, school districts or institutions they study.

At AERA’s annual meeting held in New York this week, a panel, “The Professional Doctorate in Educational Leadership: Three Alternatives to the Traditional Dissertation,” discussed new approaches to Ed.D. programs.

“We’re trying to deal with meaty problems that impact schools at all levels in a complex way,” said Dr. Claire E. Smrekar, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and one of the presenters of the Ed.D. session.

The goal of Vanderbilt’s Ed.D. program, said Smrekar, is to build a new generation of leaders who are practitioner oriented as opposed to research or theoretical.

“We sit down and think about what are the compelling urban and rural education problems,” said Smrekar. “Some of our students coming from rural area school districts are raising very important questions that are often unexplored or under examined. We are trying to reflect in our capstones that level of diversity — diversity of problems, diversity of solutions.”

About 20 to 23 Ed.D. students are admitted to Vanderbilt’s program every year. Students are on one of two tracks — K-12 or higher education and take two courses at a time. Each course lasts three weekends of a 15-week semester, which officials say has allowed for more participation.

“It’s urban and suburban and it’s both public and independent schools,” said Smrekar. “One of our incoming students is principal of a Catholic school in Cleveland, Ohio.”

At Vanderbilt, Ed.D. students are not mixed with Ph.D. students. Smrekar said there were previously problems with students finishing the program because the classes were not offered during convenient times for working professionals, but this seems to be lessening, because of the weekend program.

When it comes to the research phase, Vanderbilt students work in groups of two or three. Potential clients, such as school districts or institutions, present requests for assistance. Students express their interest in a particular client and most often get their first choice. The research is an 11-month process in which the subjects of the research are integrally involved in giving feedback.

Dr. David D. Marsh, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, said USC’s education school has almost totally changed their approach to the Ed.D. over the past five years.

“Our commitment as a school to urban education has been of serious focus,” he said. “We had a conference in 2001, where we had 100 people, only half of them were faculty of the school. We brought in outside teachers, stakeholders from the community and from the policy community. It really pushed us to think about our commitment to urban education and how our programs had to be designed.”

USC focuses on practitioner skills and applied research. All students have the same core curriculum their first year, which has a strong diversity component. From there, they begin working with ongoing problem-solving models. There is always a link to real world problem solving and advanced knowledge and skills are related to the professional work setting. After the first year, Ed.D. students can move toward one of four concentrations: K-12, higher education, teacher education or educational psychology.

Because of the high demand in Southern California for education professionals, approximately 150 students are admitted per year.

“The need is there and we’re trying to build a critical mass who can really make a difference,” Marsh said.

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