Ph.D. in Educational Leadership

Note: This page provides information a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. For master's degree information, see our Master's Degree in Educational Leadership page.

Educational leadership, also known as school leadership or school administration, is a field of study dedicated to school administration, mainly in the K-12 sector. Educational leaders usually occupy careers as school principals, vice principals, specialists, or other administrative positions within the field of education.

Becoming a school leader can be challenging. An educational leader must lead and guide while performing other administrative duties necessary to the educational institution in which he or she is employed.

History of the Field

The term educational leadership or school leadership did not become common until the 20th century when a demand for higher student achievement with greater accountability were in existence. Though administrators were often in place, the term leader replaced administrator as someone who was proactive in making the needed changes, not simply one that maintained order.

Choosing an Online Educational Leadership PhD Program

An online degree in educational leadership is ideal for the busy adult student. These are often students who are already professionals in the field. When choosing an online doctoral program, it is important to make sure the school is reputable and nationally recognized. To help you make the best decision, consider the following questions:

Is the Program Accredited?

Educational leadership programs are accredited through CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) and ELCC (Educational Leadership constituent Council). Before applying to a program make sure the college or university is up to date on this type of accreditation or the degree will not lead to a valid certificate of educational leadership. Without validation the graduate may not be able to find employment. The US Department of Education offers more information about the accreditation process.

How Long Has the Program Been Offered?

Program longevity is usually a good indicator of success. Do keep in mind that online education is relatively new. You may want to reconsider an online school that has not been around long enough to obtain full accreditation.

What Technologies Will Be Used to Facilitate Online Learning?

When it comes to online learning, technology is a major component. To facilitate instruction, online schools use virtual learning platforms or "classrooms" - accessed through a website. These classrooms act as a hub for student, peer, and teacher communication as well as class lessons and assignments.

What Resources Will I Have Access To?

Good online doctoral programs will give students access to resources such as online journals, scholarly sources, research databases, internships, externships, and mentorship programs. Finding out these beforehand may help you make a more educated decision.

What Skills and Topics Are Covered?

When checking out online doctoral programs for educational leadership, you may want to review each program's goals and outcomes. Schools should be able to provide an organized curriculum upon request. This will a way for you to peak into the program.

Do You Have Job Placement Information for Students Who Recently Graduated from the Program?

Alumni can be great career resources. Many schools give students access to recent graduates and connect students with professionals in the field. This is a good way to find out how an online PhD or EdD in Educational Leadership can impact your career.

What Are the Program Requirements?

Doctoral programs for educational leadership will often require the candidate to first hold a master's degree in a related field as well as hold a valid teaching license or provisional license. Additionally, such programs may require a minimum of three to five years of certified teaching experience prior to acceptance.

Sponsored Content

Is an Online Degree Right for You?

An online degree is often beneficial for those with limited time, families, or full time employment. There are a number of doctoral programs available, at least in part, through online portals. However, many doctoral programs require at least one long weekend or week long session in which the candidate is present on campus. When considering online education, take the following into account:

Flexible Time Schedule

Online degree programs offer a lot of flexibility. This means course requirements can be completed whenever and wherever. It all depends on how the student chooses to fit schooling into their schedule. Many doctoral candidates have full time jobs to maintain and families to tend to. These huge responsibilities limit an adult student's time and ability to physically attend traditional classes at a college or university. Online schooling does not require students to re-organize their lives. There is not set schedule of where or when learning should occur. Often times, instructors post lecture videos and students can watch those videos at their own convenience. With online education, the fear or missing class due to work or family obligations is taken away.

Opportunity and Accessibility

Online programs open up many doors for doctoral degree candidates. Since a regular commute to a college campus will not be required, students have the option to participate in a program regardless of geographic location. This also opens up opportunities for students with physical disabilities and scheduling restrictions. A reliable computer and good internet connection are among the most basic things one needs to participate in an online degree program. This is great for students who do not have easy access to a college campus and for those who do not have the option to relocate.


Those who thrive in online courses can often be described as self-starters. These are people who are able to motivate themselves to go forward and stay on task. Such individuals are able to plan studies and remain organized without much external influence.

Tuition and Costs

Tuition and overall costs may be lower when it comes to online schooling. Consider the following:

  • No fees associated with parking, commuting, gasOnline, and car maintenance.
  • Time time taken off work to attend class. Online students can keep their full time work schedule and maintain a source of income.
  • No costs associated with relocating.
  • Online students may not need to pay out-of-state fees.

PhD Program Course Topics

A Doctorate in Educational Leadership prepares transformative leaders with a passion for quality education to become visionaries for the educational world. Classes may include:

Instructional Leadership

This class teaches professionals in the field of education what they need to know in order to be an effective leader. Specifically, a member of this class will be taught what it means and how to accomplish managing teaching in the educational realm of their choice.

Organizational Leadership

This class will teach future leaders to foster a continuously improving environment. Various models will be visited including shared thinking, team learning, and sharing visions.

Evidence Based Leadership

This class helps leaders to deal with the continual onslaught of complex decisions that must be made through the use of accumulated, synthesized, and analyzed data.

More Course Topics

  • Survey course of research design principles, constructions, concepts, and potential applications
  • Develop methodologies for research and understand data analyzes to make practical administrative decisions for a school or district
  • Explore concepts, methods, and practices for educational administration and leadership
  • Develop an understanding of the administrative process in education
  • Characteristics and processes of strong, positive leadership
  • Analyze the impact of educational policy in the classroom and school, and direct critique for reform
  • Examine how and why particular policy discourses become accepted; consider their implications in the classroom, school, and district
  • Analyze reforms in the context of the social, political, economic and historical perspectives that are part of the educational fabric
  • Critique gender issues in the context of educational administration; how gendered issues in leadership and organization can impact administrators, students, and school culture
  • Critically analyze the effect of gender challenges in the school and classroom in recent years
  • Survey historical movements to bring equity to the classroom
  • Consider how bureaucracy, power and authority, concepts and locations of leadership, administrative styles and ethics, and current educational policy inform practice
  • Data points for education and adult education in the global south
  • Exploration of adult learning and ongoing adult cognitive development
  • Exploration of educational practices of indigenous peoples, rural individuals, and those individuals experiencing urban poverty
  • Examine metrics, populations, and practice as they relate to learning styles and orientations, personality, motivation, and intelligence
  • Exploration of educational practices and principals across a variety of countries and cultures, using gender, race and religion to provide context for meaningful analysis
  • Critically analyze the concept of race and its implications on the educational system
  • Evaluate the perspectives and relationships between students, culture and learning with a focus on formal education
  • Study of formal and informal educational institutions and their context in global societies
Sponsored Content

Professional Associations

Professional associations related to educational leadership help administrators continue to learn and expand their skills to address challenges in innovative ways. Staying connected with professional groups and organizations exposes administrators to new ideas, current research, and successful practices. The National Education Association, for example, give principals the opportunity to stay in touch with the pulse of education, to learn new developments, and to support advocacy for public education.