Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ed. D vs. Ph.D. - Do the letters really matter?




I have had a bad week and was feeling a little uninspired.  I even missed my weekly #edchat, so feel disconnected from my PLN.  Which perhaps explains my very negative reaction to the article from Education Week entitled "The Ed.D. Dilemma: Why Harvard's Decision Could Harm the Quest for Teacher Professionalism".  And actually, it's not the article, it's Harvard's decision and the implication that an Ed.D. is not as worthy as a Ph.D.

My thoughts - well, my thoughts are not appropriate so I will keep them to myself.

Here is the line that got my ire up: "Within the field of education, Ed.D. programs had for a long time been assumed to be inferior to Ph.D. programs, and only marginally useful to the improvement of educational practice, policy, and administration."  Now, granted, past tense is used here and Ted Purinton was just stating a fact that is unfortunately, quite true. From my own personal experience, when I tell people I am getting my Ed.D., I do actually get a rather negative reaction because it's NOT a Ph.D. Which is ridiculous, as I am working just as hard, took all the same courses, had to take the exact same comprehensive exams, have to do the exact same dissertation process and research. The main difference - research vs. practice in the field.

When I went into my doctoral program years ago, I had the choice to take the Ph.D. path or the Ed.D. path.  When I asked what the difference was, besides a 12 hour difference in credits required, I was told, if you want to do research, it's probably better to do the Ph.D. path, but if you want to be out in the field, practicing and doing what you learned, then Ed.D. is more appropriate. Naturally - I chose Ed.D. That's where I want to be - out doing, not researching.

But does that mean my program is less rigorous or less worthy or less useful?  No.  In fact, from my personal point of view, I think it is MORE useful and worthy because I am putting into practice what I have learned to help improve education. I am helping those teachers and administrators and schools take research proven practices and learn to actually implement them. Is my program less rigorous? No - in fact, looking at the two programs side by side, the main difference is a few more required dissertation hours (9 vs. 6)(though I will end up with 9 myself), and then a few more required credits for course work focused on research practices.  That's it. So..really, neck in neck, pretty much the same.  I had to take all the same qualitative and quantitative research and statistical courses, same leadership courses, same technology courses, etc.....I am simply NOT going to become a researcher. I have no desire to spend my time writing and doing studies and analyzing - I want to be out there, with teachers, with schools, with students, helping to improve and change education technology practices.

Does this mean I will be less of a 'expert' than someone with a Ph.D.? I certainly don't think so - I have worked myself to death for a long time, reading, researching, writing, learning, practicing, implementing, connecting with others in the field, trying to use what I have learned to help others and improve student learning. I just have a different end goal in mind.

I am completely insulted by Harvard's decision, but I think it just exemplifies the rather elitist attitude of many schools and Ph.D. holders - that somehow they are more worthy or they worked harder than those of us who have or will have soon, an Ed.D. I for one beg to differ with this belief - I have held down a full-time job the entire time I have been pursuing my Ed.D., and have had the distinct advantage of being able to directly apply everything I have learned and researched directly into my work.  Helping schools, helping teachers, helping students. My studies and my work have complemented each other, making my learning, my 'degree' applicable, practical, and HELPFUL to the educational community at large.

Ted Purinton, in his article, ends with a challenge to colleges & universities to take Harvard's decision not as a mandate that Ed.D. programs should be stopped, but rather to use this as "an invitation to bolster the reputation of educational practice—through Ed.D. programs, as well as through many other measures—rather than to shy away from it in fear that educational practice (and a degree that seeks to signify such expertise) continues to maintain its low status, not only among other professions, but within the field of education itself . I certainly hope this is the case and that more schools don't decide to drop their Ed.D. programs. It's not really a question of which degree is better, but really a matter of purpose - each has a different purpose and focus, and anyone who has earned an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. has worked equally hard in their field of study to become an expert.  The letters shouldn't matter - what we do with the letters and why we do it should be what matters.


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