The Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education focuses on education at the preschool/pre-K, kindergarten, and early elementary levels. This article explores different types of Ed.D. programs in this field, relevant specialties, online degree options, career and salary projections, and reputable professional resources.
What is an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education?
A small number of Ed.D. programs focus specifically on how we can, or should, educate children during their first 8 years of life. This is a relatively new, fast-growing field with a bright future. People who are training to work within this field now will play a major role in determining what that future looks like. If your main focus is on preparing our youngest students now so that they can excel later, an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education might be for you.
Types of Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs
An early childhood education curriculum usually focuses heavily on developmental and child psychology. Outside of a direct major in educational psychology or educational counseling, you won’t find an Ed.D. program that spends more time on psychology than the Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education does. Other topics frequently covered in this program include curriculum design, assessment and supervision, leadership, administration, and relevant public policy.
Ed.D. programs in early childhood education tend to evenly balance the curriculum and design component with the leadership and administration component. All programs in this field will include both curriculum and administration coursework, but by choosing electives carefully it’s sometimes possible to focus a little more on one of these two areas than the other. In either case, the educational psychology and public policy components are also an essential part of the major and appear to be present in all doctoral-level programs in this field.
When early childhood education appears as a track within another Ed.D. major, that major is usually curriculum and instruction. We see this with the early childhood education track within Boise State’s affordable online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, and the early childhood track within Texas A&M University’s Ed.D. in Supervision, Curriculum, and Instruction. Because of the high demand for principals and other administrators within the field of early childhood education, it is also not uncommon to see early childhood education offered as a specialty within educational leadership programs. We see this with the early childhood education track within Concordia University’s Ed.D. in Leadership and the early childhood pecialization within the University of Michigan’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with emphasis in curriculum and practice, for example.
Because of the relatively small number of Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education programs, there are very few specialized tracks available within the 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 early childhood education curriculum.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education
If conducting research and teaching college-level courses dealing with early childhood education especially appeals to you, a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education might be a better fit for your career track than an Ed.D. in the same field. If you’re more interested in working as an administrator, teacher, or curriculum specialist, the Ed.D. is probably a more direct and practical route.
Earning an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education
ECE Admissions and Prerequisites
Getting into an Ed.D. program in early childhood education will usually require you to hold a relevant master’s degree of some kind (a general M.Ed. or M.A. in Teaching is usually specific enough to satisfy this requirement), and an Ed.S. degree in early childhood education or elementary education will typically grant you advanced placement. Minimum GPA varies, and is not always specified.
Some programs may also require a GRE exam or an autobiographical admissions essay. It’s also not unusual for a program to require some amount of job experience, either in the field of education at large or in the specific area of early childhood education.
The curriculum of an Ed.D. program in Early Childhood Education tends to focus on three areas: developmental psychology, curriculum and instruction (including design, assessment, and, supervision), and administration and leadership.
ECE Coursework in Developmental Psychology
We noted above that the Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education focuses more directly on developmental psychology than education programs typically do. Everything else you study in the field depends on your understanding of child development. But it’s not uncommon to see educational psychology and theories of learning marbled into classes that are not always specifically identified as psychology classes, so don’t be too surprised if the specific Ed.D. program you’re looking at doesn’t seem at first to give much space to this topic.
ECE Coursework in Curriculum and Instruction
Curriculum design, assessment, and supervision is also central to early childhood education, but because the student target age is so specific you’re likely to get a curriculum that’s more closely aligned to the capacities of young children as understood within specific theories of learning.
ECE Coursework in Administration and Leadership
Administration and leadership is the one area of early childhood education where the curriculum is likely to be similar to that of other Ed.D. programs, as the basic management and organizational development principles in play apply regardless of the age of the students.
ECE Dissertations and Capstone Projects
It’s uncommon, but not unheard of, for an Ed.D. program in Early Childhood Education to require a dissertation. (One program that does is DePaul’s Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education, which is a great choice for students who are drawn to a more traditional research-centered approach.) More often a capstone project, usually based on field work, is required.
ECE Internships and Field Work
When a dissertation is not required, an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education typically includes an internship or field work requirement. This internship or field work often culminates in a capstone project based, in part, on the internship or field work experience. While the internship or field work is usually conducted off-campus, some schools have research facilities that can accommodate it; Boston University’s Ed.D. in Curriculum and Teaching with emphasis in early childhood education, for example, allows students to conduct their field work at the university’s renowned Early Childhood Learning Lab (ECLL).
Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Programs
Are Ed.D. Programs in Early Childhood Education Offered Online?
The overall number of Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education is relatively low, but there are still a few 100% online and low-residency Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education to choose from.
Online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Residency Requirements
About half of the online Ed.D. programs in Early Childhood Education can be completed with no on-campus residency at all. This includes Boise State’s low-cost online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with emphasis in early childhood education, as well as Northcentral University’s more expensive, but also more specialized, online Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education.
Low-residency programs include Concordia University’s Ed.D. in Leadership with emphasis in early childhood education, as well as Walden University’s Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education. Students in these programs generally attend short residencies over the summer along with a group of their peers. This gives them a sense of community within the program, and allows them to network with other future alumni.
Early Childhood Education Careers
Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Jobs
Most people in the field of early childhood education work as administrators, curriculum specialists, or teachers. The field is both rapidly developing and rapidly expanding, and it is likely that a wider range of jobs will become available in this specialty over the decades to come.
At present, early childhood education workers are classified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as preschool and childcare center directors, elementary school principals, instructional coordinators, preschool teachers, and kindergarten and elementary teachers. All of these fields are projected to grow over the 2016-2026 period.
Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Salary
If you look at the BLS categories, you may get the impression that early childhood education is not a high-salary occupation. This is not necessarily an incorrect impression, but it is important to remember that very few workers in the field hold doctorates, and that median salary estimates therefore cannot accurately predict what a person who holds an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education is likely to earn.
The field also appears to be in flux. According to Indeed.com, preschool directors make significantly less annually ($38,251) than the already relatively low BLS median salary for preschool and childcare center directors ($46,890), but this could simply reflect the fact that many of these preschool director positions are designed for childcare workers rather than credentialed educational administrators. As the field of early childhood education develops, it’s possible that the credential expectations for preschool directors could become more rigorous, and that salaries could rise accordingly. Still, this disparity reflects the fact that most existing high-salary positions in the field are at the elementary level, not the pre-elementary level. This is certainly reflected in the BLS data, where a school principal working at the elementary level or higher stands to earn more than twice as much annually ($94,390) as a preschool or childcare center director.
This makes pre-elementary childhood education one of the relatively few education-related fields where teaching can be as lucrative, or nearly as lucrative, as administration. Indeed.com lists average annual salaries for kindergarten teachers ($37,201) and elementary school teachers ($41,372) that are comparable to the annual salary of a preschool director, though BLS median salary estimates for preschool teachers ($28,990) are even lower, perhaps because of the more lax licensure requirements relative to teachers at higher grades. (It is worth noting that the BLS expects a preschool teacher to hold an associate’s degree, which would not be an adequate qualification for licensure at higher grades.)
Is an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education Worth it?
Because of the relatively low salary and degree expectations, and the relatively small number of programs available, there is currently no educational specialty where an Ed.D. stands out more than early childhood education. And the younger the students you’re working with are, the more your Ed.D. is going to stand out.
This means that earning an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education is likely to give you a great deal of power within your chosen field, and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of students.
There is also a great deal of job security in the field of early childhood education, despite (or, perhaps, partly because of) the relatively low 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. Unlike Ed.D. graduates in Educational Leadership, you won’t have to compete with thousands of other graduates in the same field for a relatively small number of lucrative, politically-charged positions. You’ll mostly be competing with people who don’t have doctorates over positions that pay far less, but offer limitless opportunities to shape the next generation of students.
There’s a lot of power that comes from being a little bit overqualified and a little bit ahead of the curve. If that power appeals to you, and if focusing on the needs of our youngest students is your priority, an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Early Childhood Education Resources and Organizations
- Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI): Through its international educational development programs ACEI 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 everyone who works 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): Through its 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.