Answering the Question: Why the Ed.L.D.?By Lory Hough
Why a new degree focused on education leadership? When the Ed School initially started talking about the possibility of adding a new degree, they knew it was time. Major changes had been happening in the education world during the past few decades. As Professor Robert Schwartz, C.A.S.’68, noted, “Old boundaries and definitions of the school district are changing.” And so the Ed School would change, too. A second doctorate would be added. But this one would be different, the-first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation kind of different.
Now in its second year, this new degree, the Doctor of Education Leadership, or Ed.L.D., is steeped in practice like a J.D. or M.D. It includes a brand new, innovative curriculum that is grounded in education, but also includes much-needed policy and management training. During their third and final year, students are in a residency onsite with partner organizations pushing the boundary in education reform. This two-way pipeline culminates not in a formal dissertation, but in the creation of a professional reform project for the partner.
And the main idea behind the degree? Long before the first cohort of 25 students left their full-time jobs and arrived on campus, the idea was ambitious and clear: The Ed School was not going to develop leaders for the education system as it currently exists. It was going to develop leaders who will define the education system of the future.
“Throughout the years, our goal at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been to prepare leaders with the skill sets, habits of mind, and dispositions to act in order to transform the education sector,” says Dean Kathleen McCartney. “With the introduction of the Ed.L.D. to our suite of degree programs, we are now poised to do much more. Transforming the sector is an ambitious goal, but through the work of our alumni, as well as our partners, we will succeed.”
To make this happen, those involved in the planning of the degree knew that the entire program needed to be different, that they had to think outside the box when it came to what was taught, who was accepted, and how it would be funded (the program is 100 percent free for accepted students). For starters, a critical and intentional decision was made to connect the rigorous academics that you would expect from a doctoral program to the world of practice — not something previously integrated into a program at this level. As a result, the curriculum is concentrated in three basic areas: leadership and management (focused on real behavior that goes on in organizations), teaching and learning (focused on how successful learning and teaching happens and how to recreate it), and understanding and transforming the sector (focused on the history and politics that surround the sector). A fourth area, called Workplace Lab, includes personal executive-coaching sessions for students and intensive, team-based projects using case studies, simulations, and field-based work.
One of the most innovative pieces of the program is the interdisciplinary teaching model. However, “interdisciplinary” in the Ed.L.D. Program doesn’t mean students simply take courses at other schools. Instead, recognizing that education leaders can’t limit their expertise to just education, the Ed.L.D. fully incorporates faculty from the Business School and the Kennedy School in the first-year core curriculum. Early on, these faculty also helped develop the curriculum and continue to collaboratively teach classes.
The students, who all come with amazing credentials, also get that this new program is, first and foremost, a human capital initiative. That’s why when they arrive on campus, they are energized, ready to push themselves. They come willing to question assumptions — their own, each other’s, and the sector’s — as Executive Director Liz City, Ed.M.’04. Ed.D.’07, points out. The hope is that the students, clustered in small groups of only 25 each year, will build a cohort for life, a close network of leaders who are ready and equipped to transform the education sector as superintendents, chief academic officers, chiefs of staff, commissioners, executive directors, and more.
So why a new degree focused intensely on leadership? We asked a small handful of the many people involved with the program to help fill in the answer.