Fixing the Ed.D: Good luck with that!

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It's generally pretty easy to trash the value of Ed.D. degrees, even though it's how most aspiring principals are forced to earn their stripes. One of the most vocal critics is Teachers College's former president Arthur Levine, who called for the elimination of Ed.D. degrees in his 2005 report Educating School Leaders. Levine found that most educational administration programs "range from inadequate to appalling."

Not surprisingly, a recent response from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is more judicious. Quickly approaching PollyAnna status in its unwavering belief that any problem with the education infrastructure can be fixed with sufficient collective will, the foundation has launched the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate. Working with 21 education schools, and in partnership with the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions, the project aims to "reclaim" the education doctorate in order to better prepare education leaders. The ed schools want to "reclaim" the Ed.D. from unfair comparisons to Ph.D. programs (or perhaps from calls for its obliteration). It's tempting to allow oneself a giddy moment of speculation that perhaps the academic deans might be doing the reclaiming, but that doesn't seem to be the premise of this project.

The problems with Ed.D. programs cannot be attributed to just unfair comparisons; these programs are based on a fundamentally ill-gotten notion of how best to train and prepare education leaders. If this project is to have any real impact, the participating ed schools will need to pay close attention to Levine's findings about leadership programs: curricula that offer little more than a "grab bag of survey classes," low academic standards, and weak faculty. Most urgent of all may be Levine's finding of inadequate clinical instruction.

Anyone serious about improving the quality of training for education leaders must consider the possibility that the richest and most meaningful training may not occur within the context of a half-baked doctorate, but through apprenticeships that may not have any connection to colleges and universities. "Reclaiming" the Ed.D. barely begins to describe the work to be done--it may be more of a salvage operation.