Degrees and professionalism

If Ted Purinton is to be believed, there’s some uncertainty about the future of and role of the Ed.D. degree, primarily due to the fact that whither go the Ivies and other preeminent universities, so follow the other colleges. Once upon a time, the Ed.D. degree had an image problem. But then…

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. That is, until Vanderbilt University, the University of Southern California, Harvard University, and a few other institutions revamped their doctor in education, or Ed.D., programs within the past decade (with Harvard creating an Ed.L.D. in educational leadership), emphasizing practice over scholarship and school-based improvement over university-level teaching.

And all was well with the world. Until…

Just recently, however, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, home to one of the most influential Doctor of Education programs in the nation, was granted permission by the university to offer its first Ph.D.; further, its Ed.D. will eventually be eliminated. For many decades, the university did not see the field of education as worthy of the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Times have changed, of course; the Ph.D. appears to look better to Harvard applicants, and the university has recognized the need for and the interdisciplinary nature of educational research.

 

The question to be asked, then, is supposedly this:

What impact does the elimination of a practice-related doctoral degree have on the prospects of educational professionalism?

Purinton seems worried that education’s professionalism will suffer as its primary doctoral-level degree becomes more removed from applied practice, that the more practical sorts of degrees (such as the Ed.D.) are part of a structure that generates a sort of working professional knowledge. I suspect that this worry might be misplaced, in part because of the structure of education in this country, and in part because of more philosophic considerations.
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