Educational Leadership Degree: Ed.S. vs. Ed.D.

Dr. Rick Bolling
Dr. Rick Bolling
Elementary/middle school principal; Ed.D. in Leadership
Two education professionals sit and have a discussion together.

What is Educational Leadership?

Educational leadership resides in persons who have relationship skills coupled with training and life experiences that can leverage positive energy to bring a group of like-minded individuals together to pursue a common vision.

Effective school leaders can foster a climate and culture that builds social-emotional intelligence among stakeholders while simultaneously pursuing academic excellence. Leadership is mainly about listening, supporting, and fostering productive relationships among stakeholders. Further, leadership is about building leadership capacity in others.

Significant research connects strong leadership with creating a positive school climate and lasting impact on student achievement. Heightened academic and social growth among students is likely with student-focused supportive school leadership. School leaders embrace an overwhelming level of responsibilities in the hope of making a difference. Leaders ensure that students are safe, supported emotionally, provided a diverse, challenging curriculum, and taught by dynamic teachers who bring real-life connections to the curriculum.

Accomplishing these demands while being the building-level instructional leader necessitates a team approach. Practical leadership development involves understanding how to build a strong team and bring the team together to pursue common goals. With strong leadership, teachers, staff, parents, and the community reach their best potential.

In addition, leaders are called on to make difficult decisions. In these times, leaders must model the way and choose paths that are best for the students, school, and district. Leaders need strong conviction and ethics to stand up for what is right.

What Does an Ed.S. Educational Leadership Program Focus On?

Educational specialist degree programs focus on providing the skills necessary to obtain licensure and obtain employment in school leadership. Some educators who already have a master’s degree in educational leadership with required licensure decide to pursue an Ed.S. in hopes to refine skills and explore current best practices.

In contrast, many educators choose to pursue a degree after their master’s degree to add an additional credential, as many teachers choose a master’s degree in counseling or curriculum but later decide to pursue school leadership.

The specialist program in educational leadership includes core coursework in educational foundations, teacher supervision/evaluation, educational research, community relations, professional learning communities, and school law. Often specialist programs also include an intensive practicum in which students practice leadership under the close direction of a site supervisor.

These reflective experiences are often the specialist degree program’s authentic, practical, and relevant components. An educational specialist degree consists typically of 30 to 40 hours of coursework that prepares graduates to sit for licensure exams and enter the field.

How Does a Doctorate Educational Leadership Program Differ from an Ed.S. Program?

One of the most obvious distinctions between an Ed.S. and Ed.D. program is duration. An educational leadership doctorate program is lengthier, intensive, and requires the completion of a dissertation. In addition, a doctorate in educational leadership will open more opportunities.

While the Ed.S. is sufficient to earn a superintendent’s license in many states and teach adjunct coursework in education at most universities, the doctorate will make a person more likely to be hired as a district leader, superintendent, or full-time professor of education.

Ed.S. vs. Ed.D.: Benefits of Each

There are benefits associated with both the Ed.S. and Ed.D. in school leadership. The Ed.S. program can be completed more quickly, allowing one to advance within the field more rapidly and return to a state of normalcy concerning college studies. Because of this, the Ed.S. may not seem as overwhelming while seeming more doable.

Yet, the Ed.D. as the terminal degree within the field provides more closure to one’s educational journey and opens the door to the most opportunities. A more immediate benefit of both degree programs is that most school districts offer annual degree stipends, providing graduates a path toward a more respectable salary.

It is important to note that these two degree programs do not have to be exclusive choices as it is perfectly acceptable to pursue an Ed.S., then pursue the Ed.D. with or without a break. While some colleges view the specialist degree as an additional terminal degree that leads to specialty licensure and skillsets, other universities allow graduates to continue to build upon the Ed.S. program in pursuit of a doctorate in educational leadership.

Many universities accept all or the majority of educational specialist credits toward a doctorate in educational leadership. One degree can be viewed as a milestone along the way – providing either a stopping point or a point of celebration in pursuit of a bigger goal.

How Do I Decide which is Right for Me?

Either path, the Ed.S. or the Ed.D., is respectable and valuable so the choice is more about the individual, where they are in their career, and future ambitions. If an educator is 25 years into their career when they decide to pursue school leadership, the Ed.S. might be the best choice because the person is unlikely to make enough additional money from the stipend for a doctorate degree prior to retirement.

The specialist program will lead to the licensure necessary to become a school leader and make a difference in the lives of many. Yet, a person in the initial years of their career might find the Ed.D. program the best option and a sound investment. Further, a doctorate is a life-long goal of many regardless of where they are in life. In this case, the doctorate might be a fulfilling choice.

As I reflect on my own journey, I always wanted to accomplish a doctorate degree but found the prospect overwhelming. When the opportunity to pursue a specialist degree presented itself, I readily accepted the challenge knowing that I would add a leadership credential to my licensure. I did take a break but later decided to take a leap and finish my Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.

Students, regardless of age, often embrace challenges and perform at higher levels when tasks are chunked into more manageable pieces. Climbing a ladder is not overwhelming when the steps are manageable.

Explore our available Ed.S. and Ed.D. Educational Leadership programs and get started today!

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