Question: What is an EdS degree? Is an EdS a terminal degree?

Answer: An EdS, or Education Specialist degree, is a post-graduate terminal degree designed to prepare students for impactful leadership positions at the school and school district levels. The EdS degree can be an ideal option for students who want to empower themselves with more advanced skills in curriculum development, instructional technology, program evaluation, and/or special education leadership, among other areas, but who do not want to commit the level of time, tuition, and research intensiveness that an EdD (or PhD in Education) requires. Many EdS programs also provide the training needed to qualify individuals for principal, superintendent, or educational administrator licensure in their state of residence. There are also some EdD programs that require candidates to have earned their EdS in order to qualify for admission.

While the Doctorate of Education (EdD) program is generally the most well-known post-master’s degree program for those seeking education leadership positions, the Education Specialist (EdS) degree is a type of program that is uniquely suited to individuals who want to step into leadership positions in primary and secondary education settings, and whose goals may not require them to devote the considerable time and effort that an EdD degree entails. While an EdD program can prepare students to step into more advanced leadership positions and can also be more diverse in terms of the roles they prepare students for (e.g. roles in higher education leadership, corporate and organizational leadership, education entrepreneurship, etc.), the EdS degree is highly specific to educators who want to be more impactful in their place of work.

In general, while the minimum degree requirement for educators to pursue their principal or superintendent license is a master’s degree*, EdS programs provide educators with a master’s-level training in school leadership without having to complete a second master’s program. Note: Some EdD programs with courses in P-12 education may prepare students for certification; however, in general, many EdD programs are not designed to prepare students for licensure). As a result, many individuals who are seeking an educational leadership license are interested in the EdS degree, because the EdS provides students with the requisite curriculum content and professional training to help them step confidently into more administrative, program development, and educational leadership roles.

EdS degrees are typically comprised of 30 post-master’s credits, and include coursework in areas such as curriculum development, diversity and social justice in education, program evaluation, instructional technology, and special education. Unlike EdD programs, which require approximately twice the number of credits and the completion of a dissertation (or research intensive project), EdS programs are mainly comprised of courses, without the intensive research component (with that said, some EdS programs require the completion of a final capstone project, paper, internship, or comprehensive examination). The relatively small number of course credits for an EdS, combined with the fact that it does not require a dissertation, often means that students can complete their EdS in between one and two years (relative to the three or four years that an EdD typically takes).

Curriculum Details for Education Specialist Programs

In general, EdS programs are comprised of a minimum of 30 course credits. Depending on the program in which they enroll, students may be able to choose from a number of specializations, craft their own focus from a variety of courses, or they may take a prescribed course sequence in a specific area of education leadership. Examples of common specializations for EdS programs include but are not limited to:

  • Educational Leadership and Administration
  • School Leadership – Principal Licensure
  • Superintendency
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Special Education
  • Instructional Technology
  • School Counseling
  • Reading

As the above sample specializations illustrate, EdS degrees are highly focused on helping educators improve educational programs and outcomes at their current place of work. Therefore, while an EdD program might have students from sectors other than education, such as professionals in health care, political advocacy, or the corporate sphere, EdS programs tend to have students exclusively from academic settings, and typically in the K-12 sphere.

Example Courses in EdS Programs

EdS programs are designed to give educators the tools to evaluate educational programs and systems, pinpoint areas for improvement, and implement strategies to enhance learning outcomes and better support their students. Going beyond teaching and curriculum implementation to design curricula, develop and improve programs, and create innovative solutions to education challenges requires that students build key research and leadership skills. The courses below provide some illustration of the kinds of research, skills, methods, and best practices that EdS students might learn over the course of their program.

  • Curriculum Design and Evaluation: The essential principles, methods, and best practices of designing and implementing an effective curriculum. Students also learn how to evaluate learning outcomes from an implemented curriculum, and to make improvements and modifications accordingly.
  • Diversity and Social Justice in Education: The importance of ensuring that all students in a given school and/or school district have equal access to learning opportunities and support. The role that diversity, multiculturalism, and equal educational accessibility play in the establishment and maintenance of social justice in society.
  • Foundational Theories and Methods of Educational Leadership: Students in this course examine both historical and contemporary scholarly literature around the meaning of leadership in educational settings, as well as the fundamental theories that underpin effective educational leadership across diverse K-12 settings. Students also discuss the applicability of this research to their current place of work.
  • Instructional Technology in School Reform: The latest educational technologies and how they can be leveraged both inside and outside of the classroom to improve students’ learning outcomes. The role that remote learning and learning management systems can play in assignments, examinations, and interactive educational activities.
  • Community Building in Learning Environments: How educators can build productive partnerships and connections between other educators, students, parents, and other members of the community. How building a sense of cohesive community and organizational identity within academic settings can increase students’ sense of belonging, the readiness with which they seek out support systems, and their overall academic performance.
  • Problem Solving in Educational Organizations: An in-depth look at some of the most pressing issues facing secondary school systems, and how to take a multifaceted and team-based approach to solving these challenges.
  • Research and Program Evaluation for Educational Leaders: The different types of advanced research methodologies that can be used to assess and improve educational systems at the classroom, school-wide, and district levels. How to conduct qualitative and quantitative research, analyze data, and arrive at insights that can drive key educational solutions.
  • School Improvement Planning: How to create a comprehensive school improvement plan through a combination of program development, community building, effective school or district-wide communication, resource allocation and budgeting, and the establishment of key partnerships.
  • Capstone Project: Students take what they have learned over the course of the curriculum and apply it to a personalized project of their own choosing that seeks to improve a particular educational environment.

Online EdS Programs

Most individuals who are seeking an EdS are already working professionals who are fairly advanced in their careers as educators, and who want to continue working full-time as they earn their degree. As a result, many schools of education offer online EdS programs to provide their students maximum scheduling flexibility. With the help of online EdS programs, students can earn their degree while still working full-time as an education professional, and with fewer disruptions to their family and personal lives (relative to having to commute to an on-campus program). Online EdS programs enable students to access course content through a learning management system from anywhere as long as the student has an Internet connection and a computer. This can be particularly advantageous for education professionals who want to earn their EdS degree but who live in rural area with limited access to EdS programs.

Online EdS programs may be comprised of primarily asynchronous instruction or may combine synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction is defined as any course content that students can view or complete on their own time (as long as they abide by assignment deadlines). Examples of asynchronous instruction include pre-recorded lectures and discussion forums wherein students can contribute insights or respond to each other over the course of a few days, as well as assignments or exams that students can complete on their own time as long as they do so before the established deadline. Asynchronous instruction can be highly beneficial for individuals who have full workdays, many family obligations, and/or other personal commitments.

Synchronous instruction is defined as course content where students must log into their accounts at a specific time in order to attend lectures or engage in discussions that are delivered in real-time. The benefit of synchronous instruction is that it more closely emulates an in-person class session and discussion, in that faculty and students can have a live interactive dialogue about class concepts; however, synchronous instruction can also be difficult for working professionals with families or other personal obligations. In order to best assess whether an EdS program’s ratio of asynchronous vs. synchronous instruction is ideal for them, prospective students should always reach out to an admissions advisor at their programs of interest. They should also take stock of their current and future responsibilities (both professional and personal), while also considering their learning preferences, in order to ensure they select a program that will be the best fit for their own unique situation.

*Licensing requirements for principals and superintendents vary by state. For the most up-to-date information on the education requirements, professional experience and credentialing requirements, and testing requirements in your state of residence, contact your state’s Board of Education or teacher credentialing body.