What is an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education?
The Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education (ECE) focuses on education & leadership at the preschool/Pre-K, kindergarten, and early elementary levels. Doctoral students in early childhood education explore every aspect of the field, including growth & development, ECE theories, child psychology, program administration, curriculum & assessment, and stakeholder dynamics.
You may wish to pursue an education doctorate in early childhood education in order to:
- Prepare for research, teaching, policy & leadership roles in ECE
- Deepen your skills in research-based practice
- Develop ECE policies & organizational improvement plans
- Marry your current interests (e.g. Curriculum & Instruction, Instructional Technology, Special Education, etc.) with early childhood concerns
Types of Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs
Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education: Primary Major
A small number of schools in our program listings offer a dedicated Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education. Although each doctorate is unique, you’ll find a number of commonalities. For instance:
- An Ed.D. in ECE usually focuses heavily on developmental and child psychology. Outside of a direct major in educational psychology, you’re unlikely to find an Ed.D. program that spends more time on these issues.
- Other common courses include practical topics such as curriculum design, assessment and supervision, leadership, administration, and relevant public policy.
- Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education tend to balance the curriculum & design component with the leadership & administration component.
Because of the relatively small number of Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education programs, there are very few specialized tracks available within this major at the Ed.D. level. Columbia University provides a welcome exception by offering both an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Policy and an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education. Both are available in low-residency formats, and each allows students to focus on a specific part of the field.
Ed.D. in a Related Educational Field: Early Childhood Education Concentration
Within our listings, you’ll also discover a larger number of doctoral programs that offer ECE as a concentration or specialization.
- In many cases, the doctorate begins with curriculum & instruction. Examples include Boise State’s affordable Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Early Childhood Education and Texas A&M University Commerce’s Ed.D. in Supervision, Curriculum, and Instruction – Early Childhood.
- Because of the high demand for principals and other administrators within the field of early childhood education (e.g. directors), it is also common to see early childhood education offered as a specialty within educational leadership programs (e.g. Concordia University Chicago’s Ed.D. in Leadership – Early Childhood Education).
In addition, there are Ed.D. programs that blend ECE with special education, instructional technology, teaching & learning, and more.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education
If you’re interested in working as an ECE administrator, teacher, or curriculum specialist, the Ed.D. is a direct and practical route. Ed.D. programs focus on applied research & theory and practical, real-world concerns (e.g. program evaluations). You’ll notice this when you examine the Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education curriculum links in our listings—schools often explore how Ed.D. coursework can be applied in the workplace.
If you’re thinking of high-level research positions or a career as a university professor in ECE, then a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education may be a better fit. Some university hiring committees may favor the Ph.D. when it comes to ECE faculty jobs. This is not a hard-and-fast rule. When we checked job listings for ECE professor positions, a lot of schools were simply looking for a “doctorate in Early Childhood Education.” If your Ed.D. has a solid research component, you should be fine.
Earning an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education
Early Childhood Education Prerequisites
- Master’s Degree: Most schools will ask for a relevant master’s degree—a general M.Ed. or M.A. in Teaching is usually specific enough to satisfy this requirement. An Ed.S. in Early Childhood Education or Elementary Education will typically grant you advanced placement.
- Minimum GPA: GPA requirements will vary. The standard minimum for Ed.D. programs is 3.0, but prestigious Colleges of Education may have a higher threshold (e.g. 3.25-3.5).
- Work Experience: Universities may or may not specify work experience in the admissions section, but they’ll always be considering it. The standard is 3+ years of teaching experience.
- Additional Requirements: Some Ed.D. programs may also require GRE or MAT scores, an autobiographical admissions essay, a résumé, an academic writing sample, and 2-4 letters of recommendation.
Early Childhood Education Coursework
The curriculum of an Ed.D. program in Early Childhood Education tends to focus on three areas:
- Developmental psychology
- Curriculum & instruction (including design, assessment, and supervision)
- Administration and leadership
You can get a sense of how these three topics are weighted by exploring the curriculum links in our listings.
ECE Coursework in Developmental Psychology
Everything you study in this field depends on your understanding of child development. That’s why the Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education focuses more on developmental psychology than many other Ed.D. programs. Educational psychology & theories of learning are often marbled into ECE courses, so don’t be surprised if the Ed.D. program doesn’t—at first—appear to give much space to this topic.
ECE Coursework in Curriculum and Instruction
Because the Ed.D. in ECE is intended to be a practical degree, classes in curriculum design, assessment, and supervision will also be included. This kind of coursework is usually closely aligned to the capacities of young children, as understood within specific theories of learning.
ECE Coursework in Administration and Leadership
Administration & leadership is the one area of early childhood education where the curriculum is likely to be similar to that of other Ed.D. programs, especially Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership.
Early Childhood Education Internship & Fieldwork
A variety of Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education will include an internship or fieldwork. In some cases, these experiences may culminate in a capstone project, rather than a traditional dissertation.
While the internship or fieldwork is usually conducted off-campus, some schools have research facilities that can accommodate it. For instance, Boston University’s Ed.D. in Curriculum and Teaching – Early Childhood Education allows students to conduct their fieldwork at the university’s renowned Early Childhood Learning Lab (ECLL).
Early Childhood Education Dissertation
An Ed.D. program in Early Childhood Education will always contain a traditional dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP), or a capstone project. You can learn more about the differences between these options in our guide to No Dissertation Ed.D. Programs.
All of these choices involve a heavy research component. That means—in addition to writing the dissertation or its equivalent—you’ll also be taking coursework in research-related topics (e.g. statistics, research methods, qualitative & quantitative analysis, etc.).
Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Programs
Are Ed.D. Programs in Early Childhood Education Offered Online?
Yes. Our program database contains a modest number of online doctorates in early childhood education. We’ve flagged them all with an “Offered Online” marker. Some of them are 100% online; some of them are low-residency Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education.
Do Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Programs Contain Residencies?
About half of the Online Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education in our listings are 100% online, with no on-campus residencies. This category includes Boise State’s low-cost Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Early Childhood Education and Northcentral University’s dedicated Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education.
Low-residency programs include Concordia University Chicago’s Online Ed.D. in Leadership – Early Childhood Education and Walden University’s Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education. Students in these Ed.D. programs generally attend short, on-campus residencies over the summer. These kinds of experiences will give you a sense of community within the program, and allow you to network with future alumni.
Early Childhood Education Careers
Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Jobs
As the title implies, an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education is a specialist qualification. Most people in the field of early childhood education work as administrators, curriculum specialists, or high-level teachers. The field is rapidly developing and expanding, and it is likely that a wider range of jobs will become available in this specialty over the decades to come.
Graduates of an ECE doctorate pursue job titles such as:
- Early Childhood Director
- Preschool Director
- Childcare Director
- Childhood Development Specialist
- Early Childhood Program Specialist
- ECE Curriculum Specialist
- Instructional Coordinator
- Early Childhood Policy & Development Professional
- Early Childhood Consultant
- ECE Faculty
- ECE Researcher
Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Salary
Few professionals in the field of early childhood education hold doctorates, so it can be tricky to determine baseline salary numbers for Ed.D. graduates. One place to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It posts occupational employment & wage data for Education and Childcare Administrators, Preschool and Daycare. You can use the state maps in this section to compare employment hotspots and wages in your geographic area.
Another strategy is to make a shortlist of your preferred job titles and use different salary sites to compare numbers (e.g. Glassdoor, Indeed, Salary.com, Payscale, etc.). Bear in mind that salary estimates are going to vary widely, depending on the job title and location.
Is an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Worth it?
Because of the relatively small number of programs available, there is currently no educational specialty where an Ed.D. stands out more than early childhood education. Unlike graduates of the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, you won’t be viewed as “one of the many.” In areas of early childhood administration, research & college-level teaching, you’ll mostly be competing with people who don’t hold doctorates.
There is also a great deal of job security in the field of early childhood education, despite—or, perhaps, partly because of—lower salary and degree expectations. With a relevant Ed.D. in hand, you’re far less likely to end up out of work and unable to find a job than you would be in other fields.
Early Childhood Education Resources and Organizations
- Childhood Education International (CEI): Through its international educational development programs, CEI advances the goal of universal elementary education for all children, no matter where they live or what challenges they may face.
- Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)/Division for Early Childhood (DEC): Although the CEC’s main focus is on special education, their early childhood education initiatives are relevant to all who work in this field.
- Head Start: During its more than fifty-year history, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program has helped prepare over 20 million children for elementary school.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): With advocacy, program reviews, accreditation standards, and membership/networking opportunities, the NAEYC is the only full-service organization specifically dedicated to early childhood education in the United States.