Educational leadership is now the most common major for Doctor of Education programs in the United States. But in practice, as you’re about to see, many educational leadership programs aren’t much different from the educational administration programs they replaced. In education, as in every other area of life, distinguishing leadership from administration can be harder than it looks.
Types of Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs
Most Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership just call the major educational leadership (or just plain leadership, as the Ed.D. title already implies the education focus), but there are a lot of variations.
Some of these variations tell you what the theme of the program is supposed to be, even if the course content might not always be that different from that of a standard educational leadership program. The major fields of Arizona State’s Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation and Fielding’s Ed.D. in Leadership for Change implicitly encourage out-of-the-box thinking, while Olivet Nazarene University’s Ed.D. in Ethical Leadership asks students to keep the needs of the larger community in mind. The greater good is also a central theme in UC-Berkeley’s Ed.D. in Leadership for Educational Equity (the University of Colorado has one too), and even more explicitly in the title of Loyola Marymount’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership for Social Justice.
Other programs indicate a specialization. You will find many examples in our database of Ed.D. programs in Leadership and Policy, which factor in the impact of public policy on education. Some programs, such as Alabama State’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Law include a third specialization. It’s not uncommon for normal educational leadership programs to include a substantive policy component (as we’ll discuss below), but these programs highlight it.
The most practical educational leadership specializations are those that tell anyone who reads your resumé exactly what kind of schools you plan to lead. The University of Illinois’ prestigious Ed.D. in Urban Educational Leadership zeroes in on issues that specifically affect city schools, which is a useful major if you’re already pretty sure you don’t want to focus on rural areas. Other educational leadership majors in our database focus on school leadership (which usually, but not always, implies K-12/P-12 schools), community college leadership, or higher education leadership. The University of Georgia even offers an Ed.D. specifically focused on Student Affairs Leadership.
And finally, we should give a special shout out to interdisciplinary programs that
blend educational leadership with other educational fields. From Morehead State
University’s Ed.D. in Educational Technology Leadership to the University of Memphis’ Ed.D. in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership to Kennesaw State’s Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership, these programs allow students to major in educational leadership while pursuing advanced educational theory.
But don’t underrate the power of an ordinary, vanilla, generic-looking educational leadership program. Even the standard curriculum will (or, at least, should) prepare you to lead.
Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Curriculum
An Ed.D. in Educational Leadership usually consists of three components: coursework, an internship of some kind, and a dissertation or capstone project.
Educational Leadership Courses
So what is educational leadership, as a course concentration? In their whitepaper titled Rethinking the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) suggests ten core course topics that every Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership should ideally cover. I’ve reworded and reorganized them slightly here for clarity:
- Educational Leadership (in general)
- Accountability/Performance Review
- Curriculum and Pedagogy
- Diversity and Culture
- Human Resources Management
- The Laws and Politics of Education
- Organizational Behavior/Organizational Change
- Public School Finance and Business
- Research Methods and Data
- School Leadership/Teacher Improvement
If you look over Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership, you’ll find that they generally cover all ten bases to some extent or another. If we look at the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership offered jointly by Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, for instance, a curriculum of the required research courses plus the following electives…
- Leadership Theory and Practice
- Supervision in Educational Settings
- Legal Issues and Ethics in Educational Organizations
- Politics and Community Relations
- Fiduciary Management of Educational Organizations
- Foundations of Curriculum Theory and Design
- Educational Evaluation
- Organizational Development for Learning Communities
- Culture, Climate, and Change Leadership
…means you’ve hit all ten of the UCEA categories to some extent or another, with an elective to spare. And this is fairly typical of Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership.
Educational Leadership Internships
The joint Louisiana Ed.D.’s internship requirement is optional, which is not unusual for Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership. Internships are most useful when the candidate doesn’t already have a lot of job experience.
Educational Leadership Dissertations
Ed.D. dissertation requirements vary widely from program to program, but generally they follow the same trajectory as those outlined in the joint Louisiana Ed.D.: a written prospectus or proposal prepared under faculty supervision, followed (eventually) by submission and defense of the full dissertation.
Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs
Our database lists over 100 regionally accredited Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership that can be completed mostly or entirely online. Among them are programs offered by major public universities like Central Michigan University and Florida State University, along with prestigious private institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Northeastern University. Most programs require a small amount of residency, typically two weeks or less per year.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Educational Leadership?
Lots of things. The most obvious career track is that of a school or college administrator or superintendent, but some people use it to work for federal or state departments of education, or as a teaching credential, or to bolster a grant writing or lobbying portfolio.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a principal at a K-12/P-12 institution is $94,390/year. But the standard credential for a principal is a master’s degree, not a doctorate, so an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership might nudge you closer to the top-earning 10% of the field, with a median salary above $140,000/ year. In any case, the field is already large (with more than 250,000 principals serving), likely to grow (with 19,800 new positions expected by 2026), and less competitive than you might think.
Once you’ve already established yourself as a principal, you could become a superintendent. Median salary is $155,738; the best-paid superintendents earn a quarter-million dollars, and even the bottom 10% crack six figures. The drawback is that your Ed.D. won’t stand out as well in this more competitive position, where more than half of the nation’s roughly 15,000 superintendents already hold a terminal degree.
If you’d prefer to teach, an Ed.D. isn’t strictly necessary but (assuming you’ve met licensure requirements) it will generally place you in the highest-earning bracket of teachers at your experience level.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t maintain data on education department officials, grant writers or political lobbyists. The latter two fields are generally best pursued part-time, at least at first. It’s probably not ideal to try to break into grant writing or lobbying with an Ed.D. and no other relevant credentials or experience.
Is an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Worth It?
In 2012, Harvard University stopped offering its Ed.D. program altogether, shifting students over to a novel program called the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.). The move seemed design to distance the curriculum of Harvard’s Ed.D. (the oldest in the country) from that of other Ed.D. programs in Educational Leadership. The field of school administration has not yet been saturated by doctorate-holding candidates, even at the district level, so an Ed.D. is likely to remain financially worthwhile for someone who intends to seriously pursue a career in that field. But it has become the most commonly-earned and commonly-offered Ed.D., so scarcity and distinctiveness are not among its selling points. The themed, specialized, and interdisciplinary majors described above may help your degree stand out from the herd, as might CAEP accreditation.
Educational Leadership Resources and Organizations
- The Center for Educational Leadership: Hosted by the University of Washington, this think tank provides support materials for principals, superintendents, and other educational leaders.
- Educational Leadership Magazine: ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) regularly publishes the definitive non-academic magazine in the field.
- The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL): Founded in 1964, the IEL is the leading organization for administrators who take an educational leadership approach to their work.
- The Journal of Educational Leadership in Action (ELA): This peer-reviewed, open-access journal explores new research relevant to scholar-practitioners who work in the area of educational leadership.