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Exploring the Impact of the Dissertation in Practice

reviewed by Karen Huchting

coverTitle: Exploring the Impact of the Dissertation in Practice
Author(s): Valerie A. Storey (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681238993, Pages: 308, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

For decades, schools of education have been criticized for failing to graduate qualified practitioners who can produce positive school outcomes. The lack of evidence linking preparation programs to impact in the field has led to accountability measures requiring schools of education to navigate stronger government regulations and standards. According to Arthur Levine (2005), “no other professional school is held similarly responsible” (p. 6), yet his reports on educational preparation programs paint a gloomy picture. Regarding data from educational administration programs specifically, he asserts “the majority of programs range from inadequate to appalling, even at some of the country’s leading universities” (p. 23).


Within this negative climate, the doctorate in education has also been called into question. Ever since Harvard University introduced the first Ed.D. degree in the early 1920s, there has been tension between Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs related to practitioner training. While the Ed.D. emerged to address the unique needs of the professional practitioner and attempted to distinguish itself from its more theoretical and knowledge-generating counterpart, it was immediately met with opposition, particularly with regard to its purpose, value, and composition. The debate continues today, and given the lack of evidence about quality, Levine (2005) recommended that the Ed.D. degree, at least in educational leadership, be eliminated, reserving the Ph.D. for educating researchers.


Facing this heavy criticism, Lee Shulman and others set out to redesign doctoral preparation and the Ed.D. degree, with an emphasis on meeting the needs of the working educational practitioner through the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), which brings together institutions with a shared definition of the Ed.D. degree. According to CPED, “The professional doctorate in education prepares educators for the application of appropriate and specific practices, the generation of new knowledge, and for the stewardship of the profession.” The CPED framework encourages high quality, rigorous practitioner preparation, much like the J.D. in law or the M.D. in medicine, with the goal of designing the Ed.D. degree such that it prepares expert practitioners with a strong background in educational theory and recent research to inform their practice, thereby aligning the Ed.D. degree with programs offering Professional Practice Doctorates (PPDs). As of 2018, CPED’s membership has grown to more than 100 schools of education committed to working together to critically examine the education doctorate.


One of the defining characteristics of the CPED framework is the emphasis on the culminating dissertation experience in an Ed.D. program as an attempt to answer a problem of practice, or “a persistent, contextualized, and specific issue embedded in the work of a professional practitioner, the addressing of which has the potential to result in improved understanding, experience, and outcomes” (http://www.cpedinitiative.org/page/AboutUs). Aligning these problems of practice to the Ed.D. degree gave birth to the notion of the Dissertation in Practice (DiP), where the culminating Ed.D. endeavor attempts to demonstrate a scholarly practitioner’s ability to impact a complex problem of practice.


It is with this history in mind that Exploring the Impact of the Dissertation in Practice, edited by Valerie A. Storey, enters into the discussion, providing a compilation of actual DiP experiences from professional program graduates and faculty. The book is divided into two sections that appear to be organized around an introduction to the DiP in Section One, mainly told from the perspective of program faculty, and first-hand reports on the DiP experiences by Ed.D. graduates in Section Two.


To situate the experiences of graduates who navigated a DiP during their doctoral program, Storey opens Section One of the book with a chapter dedicated to a discussion of the guiding frameworks and principles for PPD design as well as the nomenclature and numerous acronyms affiliated with the endeavor. In this chapter, Storey distinguishes between the traditional perspective and the PPD by showcasing differences between the culminating dissertation models, asserting that the traditional five-chapter dissertation does not serve the purposes of the PPD. Instead, Storey offers a strong synthesis across multiple frameworks to assert common characteristics of the DiP, including relevance to one’s professional practice, rigorous skill, grounding in theory, and demonstrated impact, thus attempting to bridge academia and practice.


Additional chapters in Section One offer a glimpse into the challenges of redesigning an Ed.D. program to incorporate DiP as described by program faculty. These introductory chapters provide helpful information to those considering redesigning their Ed.D. programs, touching upon some tensions and challenges related to rigor, faculty roles, and student profiles. Helpful commentary includes a review of student issues, such as managing changes in employment during doctoral studies, and improving understanding of research and writing ability. Faculty considerations include tensions between expectations of doctoral level work and graduate completion rates, service overload, and issues of co-existing Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs. While these issues and descriptive experiences resonate with and are helpful for those working in Ed.D. programs, solutions to such challenges are seldom provided, suggesting the need for continued dialogue.


Section Two dominates the book with 14 chapters focused on anecdotal reflections by Ed.D. graduates. While Section One of the book includes the assertion that the traditional five-chapter dissertation model is a poor fit with a PPD, some five-chapter DiP models are showcased in these subsequent chapters. These chapters offer narrative-style reflections on the authors’ personal and professional transformations during their doctoral studies. The predominant theme across these chapters is that the DiP assisted graduates in feeling as though their practice was improved and their personal goals were attained. Readers will enjoy chapters that showcase unique applications of a DiP. For instance, Chapter Six showcases a strong DiP applied to programs within law enforcement, outlining the steps of a DiP and demonstrating impact by highlighting changes in the organization and personal career advancement. Chapter Nine highlights a group DiP endeavor, showcasing how collaboration improved the overall process for each member and suggesting that impact was felt across the district through their list of “data-driven recommendations” (p. 145) for principal development. These experiences provide evidence for innovative and creative ways to solve real educational problems and serve as inspiration for the next generation of Ed.D. graduates.


Taken together, the book continues the conversation about the purpose, value, and composition of the Ed.D. degree by showcasing numerous examples of DiPs and reflections on the challenges of designing PPDs. However, as Storey acknowledges in the opening chapter, the primary purpose of the DiP is impact, yet the challenge of measuring this quality remains “messy” at best (p. 12). While a chapter by Carol A. Kochhar-Bryant offers a rubric for measuring professional and personal competencies of the Ed.D. candidate’s development, it appears that the “messy” work of measuring the impact of the DiP in the field remains to be done. Coupled with the critical conversation started by Levine in 2005, it is clear that there is still work to do as far as linking educational doctorates to impact in the field.


In conclusion, those interested in designing, redesigning, or pursuing an Ed.D. degree will benefit from reading the first-hand accounts of the DiP experience highlighted in this book.




Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate. (2018). About us. Retrieved from http://www.cpedinitiative.org/page/AboutUs


Levine, A. (2005). Educating school leaders. The Education Schools Project. Retrieved from http://edschools.org/pdf/Final313.pdf





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22408, Date Accessed: 11/20/2018 11:52:05 PM

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