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Interview with Jill Perry, Ph.D. - Executive Director of The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) and Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Pittsburgh

About Jill Perry, Ph.D.: Jill Perry is Executive Director of The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), an organization dedicated to advancing the Doctor of Education degree and bringing program faculty together to network and discuss ways to empower the next generation of scholarly practitioners in the education field. Under her leadership, CPED has grown from a consortium of 25 in 2007 to close to 140 institutions nationwide. In addition, through her commitment to professional development for educators and education leaders, Dr. Perry has expanded CPED’s convenings, forums, and other knowledge-sharing events for its members.

Dr. Perry is also an Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Pittsburgh, where she researches ways of cultivating a culture of evidence use and collaboration amongst education practitioners across diverse contexts. She earned her Ph.D. in International Education Policy from the University of Maryland, and her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s in Higher Education Administration from Boston College.

Interview Questions

[] Could you elaborate on your Bachelor of Arts in Spanish/International Relations, your Master’s in Higher Education Administration, and your Ph.D. in International Education Policy and Higher Education? How did these degrees prepare you for your career path in education research, innovation, and practice-oriented inquiry?

[Dr. Jill Perry] I have a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and International Relations, which I received from Boston College. I earned my Master’s in Higher Education Administration a few years later, also at Boston College, and my course of study in that program also had an international perspective to it. I earned my Ph.D. several years later, after having had a first career in international education and a stint in the Peace Corps, which focused on International Education Policy and Higher Education. Originally, my goal—the track my research put me on–was to situate myself to work more in the development field. I saw myself working at USAID or the World Bank or a similar institution, doing research.

Particularly at that time, I was interested in teacher educators and teacher education in Latin America. It didn’t have a direct connection to CPED, but I worked with CPED as my graduate assistantship when I was in my doctoral program. CPED was a research project that was meant to be a three-year project, and then it just kept growing. I ultimately spent so much time with it and learned so much that I switched the focus of my dissertation towards CPED and focused on how to change education systems to improve them for users of the system—students, educators, and education leaders.

At the time, CPED was a pretty radical change idea that was meant to be done on a very grand scale. It was a challenge that I took on with my mentor to think about, “How do you go about doing something like this?”

At that time, I think I might have been a little naïve. I hadn’t researched the history of the Ed.D. I’d always worked on the administrative side at universities. I’d never worked on the academic side as a faculty member, and I didn’t have a true understanding of how hard it was for the academic side of higher ed to change, especially in terms of faculty mindsets and the way faculty are trained.

[] You joined CPED while you were enrolled in your Ph.D. in International Policy and Higher Education at the University of Maryland. What motivated you to focus on investigating and improving the Ed.D., not only in the United States, but also internationally? What was the topic of your dissertation, specifically, and did your research on this topic inform your work for CPED both then and now?

[Dr. Jill Perry] In my dissertation, I used Diffusion of Innovation theory by Everett Rogers to understand how three schools of education were changing their community culture and implementing CPED. We didn’t really have the CPED Framework at that time, so we just called it CPED. My question to these schools was essentially, “What were you doing to change your EdD and how is CPED influencing that?”

Diffusion of Innovation is a communications theory that says basically change happens through word-of-mouth. People will adopt ideas if they see someone else likes it. They will adopt ideas if they can try it out first or if they can watch and see how it works somewhere else. I looked at organizational change, and how to enact it. I wanted to understand how an organization like a school of education pushes these ideas forward. What I learned were the different roles people had. There was always a faculty member who was the point person. They were the change agent.

One of my findings was that effective organizational change really is more than a grassroots movement. In fact, it’s more that a “top-down, bottom-up leadership” needs to occur. The grassroots work needs to happen by faculty, but it needs to be supported from above, by the dean and above, in ways that traditionally, grassroots efforts aren’t. CPED was the change idea, the program faculty were the change agents, or the foot soldiers on the ground making the change happen. The third crucial piece was the dean who serves as a champion of the change idea and removes barriers that would otherwise hinder positive progress.

I learned how it happened in three different contexts, and I was able to understand change in organizations that way. About two years later, after I was done, CPED ran out of money from the Carnegie Foundation and we were looking for funding to continue, and the U.S. Department of Education had something called the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, or FIPSE.

It was the last year that FIPSE was running, and we put in a proposal where we basically took my dissertation and scaled it up to all 25 of the original institutions to see what it looked like at all 25 of those. So, that was the first big piece of my dissertation going forward to continue helping CPED expand—saying, “Okay, we learned this much from three. Can we scale it up to 25?”

We created a study where I had 38 faculty going to 21 (only 21 of the original 25 wanted to participate in the study) schools to learn from each other. 38 faculty flying around the country, spending two days at 21 different institutions and gathering data using Diffusion of Innovation to understand how program change happened. Then they had to write case reports, and then we took those case reports, and three of us glued them to a wall all the way around a room, and went through with highlighters and did data analysis. It was so big you couldn’t do it on a computer. We had to look across it. It was crazy.

We learned a lot from that on these big ideas: what the role of the dean is, what the role of the change agent is, how much change can happen, what the barriers are that programs face. And we wrote an article on it that examined the results of the study.

My next piece looked at how the faculty make change, because there’s an argument that faculty don’t have real power. There’s another theorist, Debra Meyerson, who wrote something called “Tempered Radicals,” which basically examines how people without real power create change. I put that together with my theory and looked at how faculty are going about creating this change. What kind of negotiations do they have to do, what kinds of support do they have to give, how do they protect themselves from being beat up by their colleagues. I wrote up my findings in a way that I was able to understand, practice-wise, what some of the tips are that I can give new faculty who are struggling with colleagues who don’t want to enact change in their doctoral program.

That actually became one of the reasons why we decided that when you come into the CPED organization, it can’t just be a single faculty ambassador at a program who is excited about this. You have to demonstrate that the chair of your department is excited, that the dean is excited, and at least one other faculty member is excited. Otherwise, what happens is you either get beat up or when you leave that institution, everyone goes, “Oh, well, that was that person’s thing. We didn’t really do anything.” So, nothing changes when one person wants to change. You need everybody. I’ve learned a lot from that work.

CPED continues to go on and inform what I’ve done. It’s helped me when I meet with teams of faculty and want to optimally support them in thinking through what they want to do with their Ed.D. program–whom they want to have on board, and how to make an argument to their school’s leadership for change.

We have discussions around, “How are you going to test some of these ideas to get buy-in?” If faculty said, “Well, our graduate school never let us do a group dissertation,” I would say, “Well, that is true, but you have ten students out there who are ABD [All But Dissertation]. Why don’t you design a group dissertation for them and pilot it, and sort of fly under the radar with that? Then, once you have that final product, then people can see it.” If you just throw an idea at somebody, they’re going to say no right off the bat. But if they can touch and feel and see what it looks like, you can show them it’s rigorous, it worked, it did this, then you have evidence to bring.

It’s all about building your argument. That’s another thing that I’m really big on, is evidence for building arguments, both with our students as well as with understanding what CPED means. So, I think my dissertation has definitely had a huge impact on CPED, even though it hasn’t produced as much publications as I think I wanted.

[] You have served as the Executive Director of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) for over 15 years. How have you grown CPED’s network of universities from 25 in 2007 to over 135 now? During your 15-year tenure at CPED, how have you helped this organization’s mission statement, initiatives, and impact to expand and evolve? In addition, may we have more information on CPED’s new 2021-2025 values: 1) Diversity 2) Learning 3) Partnership 4) People 5) Social Justice and 6) Students First?

[Dr. Jill Perry] CPED started in 2007 as a research project among 25 institutions. Really, what that meant was about 50 faculty came together to think it through. We weren’t a formal organization, we didn’t have a coalesced mission early on. In retrospect, and with what I know now about running organizations, we might have started off differently. But at that time, we just wanted to bring a bunch of good thought partners together to think through what we could do with this degree. As we’ve grown over time, what I’ve observed is that CPED is kind of two things at once–we are a group of institutions, each of which is tackling their Ed.D. program, but as we’ve grown, CPED has become a professional development organization where people collaborate to advance the Ed.D. degree forward.

So, we’ve become an association or an organization along the way, whereas before we were very loosely coupled. It was collaborative work, but because of the growth, we’ve had to become a 501(c)(3) and a dues membership organization, and we’ve had to shape an actual organization, which is what we didn’t have in the beginning. Along the way, however, we haven’t really strayed from our original mission. It’s taken on a different language, but it’s always been to make the Ed.D. a professional practice doctorate.

For example, our six CPED Values you mentioned are a product of these past two years of strategic visioning. The process started in 2020 and amazingly enough, our members are so gracious and supportive of CPED they allowed us to do a two-year strategic planning process virtually throughout the pandemic. The process was guided by a colleague of ours, Manuelito Biag at the Carnegie Foundation, through all these different virtual sessions. We met with members writ large, we met with our two councils that we have, our board. We did empathy interviews, we collected data, we had all kinds of conversations to figure out what was going to be our new mission vision, and then discerned some strategic priorities that we could make.

Along the way, we realized that we had these unspoken values that existed for the organization, and for the Ed.D. degree, but we’d never actually stated them. So, we went back through all the data that we gathered and put together these six values. These values are really reflective of our CPED Framework, which includes our definition of the Ed.D., our six principles that guide program design, and then our eight design concepts that frame the pieces of an Ed.D. program. The values are meant to be shared across both the program and the organization itself.

Diversity does not just mean diversity of people in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender, but also types of institutions. We want to make sure that we’re not just all the big land grant institutions, but that we’re also smaller tier two institutions, comprehensive institutions, and a mix of public and private. The only one thing we don’t have is for-profit. Institutions must be a nonprofit university to be involved.

Learning is something that reflects what we are meant to do as faculty who are leading a particular program–that we are constantly learning, but that we are also focused on developing our students into scholarly practitioners.

Partnership means that we seek to strengthen partnerships with colleges and universities who have Ed.D. programs, as well as school districts and community colleges. But it also means more than that. It means partnerships with those who are in practice with their community.

People are obviously a central focus of CPED in a variety of different ways, from the birth of our organization to our continued convenings, conversations, and collaborations with thought partners and leaders.

Social Justice has always been huge in what we want to do, although oddly, one of our most contentious values. What this value means to me is that CPED is focusing on how the Ed.D. can develop people who are equity-minded for education systems. Then also thinking about how we as a consortium, as an organization, how we think about social justice and are reflecting it in the content, programming, and services we provide. In our video content, are we providing opportunity for those who may be hearing impaired? Are we using the right language at our big convenings, are we doing some form of a land acknowledgement, or things like that, where we’re really being mindful of people who are being imposed upon?

Then Students First, which we all thought was funny, because it’s number six, but that is what CPED is really about. We’re all here because of students, and our students are those people who are practitioners in the field, who are on the ground every day, and we’re asking them to put their students first. So as faculty designing these programs, we’re putting their needs first in our program designs.

[] Could we have an overview of the history of the Ed.D., from its inception in the early 1900s to its current status as a rigorous and research-focused practitioner’s degree? Who were the formative voices that shaped the Ed.D.’s structure and objectives? Could you elaborate on the confusion surrounding the Ph.D. in education versus the Ed.D., and how this confusion undermined the Ed.D., historically?

[Dr. Jill Perry] By the early 1900s three professions that were growing but really weren’t formalized – law, medicine, and education – began looking to become more formalized, with a set curriculum for professional preparation.

At that time, all three were mostly done through an apprenticeship model. Law was definitely an apprenticeship, medical training had clinical internships, and education mainly consisted of women teaching children, and then the oldest child in the classroom would become the apprentice and in time step into the role of the next teacher. But as schools got bigger, they came up with roles like the principalship, so now there was the head teacher or principal, who oversaw all the teachers.

These professions decided that the best way that they could formalize and become more legitimate was to align with universities. So, law aligned itself with Harvard, adopting the curriculum that Harvard was using to create the law degree. For medicine, there was a report that was written by the Carnegie Foundation, the Flexner Report–essentially Abraham Flexner traveled the country, learning about how people were trained in medicine, and then he gave his recommendation of who had the best model, and it was John Hopkins. So, that became the medical model.

The Carnegie Foundation hired Flexner to do similar work with education in general. He only studied universities in Baltimore, Maryland for some reason, and it didn’t really go anywhere. So, education stayed rather stagnant, and didn’t actually make it into the university in the way that medicine and law did. I would have to go back and read some literature and double-check this, but personally, my opinion is this happened because it was mostly a profession of women, and a profession of female teachers just didn’t have the credibility that the other two did.

What happened at the turn of the century, though, was both Columbia University and Harvard wanted to have some influence over education. Back then, the way curricula were developed in schools came from what universities told them to teach. There was a lot of connection between schooling and universities. Universities would have brilliant ideas that would then get filtered down into the schools in terms of what kinds of curriculum changes needed to happen. I don’t know why in particular it was Columbia and Harvard that came up with these ideas, but the elder James Earl Russell, who was the Dean at Columbia, created the Ph.D. in Education. This Ph.D. was intended for practitioners, but it was still very traditional in the way that it was structured, and I don’t really think he knew exactly what he expected people to do with it.

In his efforts to design an education doctoral degree, James Earl Russell established four components that were essential to doctoral-level preparation in education—general culture, special scholarship, professional knowledge, and technical skill. Looking back at these components, I think he was onto something. He had outlined somewhat of the basics of what you wanted in order to build a profession. He just either didn’t have the ability to bring on others into that vision, or he didn’t know what the application of these components looked like in practice. My guess is that the idea of understanding what that looks like in practice for both teaching it as well as people practicing it was just so new and unfamiliar. Yet the Ph.D. was familiar–we knew what it was supposed to do, and so Russell applied the Ph.D. structure to a degree aimed at professional practice preparation.

Meanwhile, at Harvard, Henry Holmes, who did not have a doctorate of any kind, was given funding from the Carnegie Foundation to create a graduate school of education. He decided that he wanted a separate school of education for two reasons. He wanted to get away from the school of arts and sciences, which is where Ph.D. programs were traditionally awarded, because he wanted to create his own degree. He saw an opportunity in the Boston public schools. Due to immigration, they were building more schools, and there were hundreds of teachers and principals, and he saw an opportunity to create another level of administration that was primarily for men, that would govern and oversee all of these growing schools. He wanted to design a credential that would give men this administrative capability and authority— what we would call a superintendent today. However, he didn’t want to have to answer to the faculty of arts and sciences. So, he created the graduate school of education to have that autonomy.

At that time, you couldn’t have a Ph.D. awarded by a school of education. So, he created the education doctorate, or Ed.D. His intentions for the degree were to have everything we now think of as a professional practice doctorate, except that he didn’t know what that looked like either. He also didn’t have any faculty, so he basically borrowed faculty from the school of arts and sciences, and put together a degree that looked just like what would be a Ph.D., except that it didn’t have as many research courses, it didn’t have a second language requirement, and they could write their dissertations on practical problems, which back then was seen as “lesser,” relative to the Ph.D.

James Earl Russell got wind of this, and he decided to change his doctoral degree at Columbia as well. So, the Ed.D. was created, and it began to flourish around the country. The Ed.D. became a way for a school of education to have an autonomous degree, and it was just dependent on how the school of education adopted it. Many institutions chose to make it a research doctorate that they governed. There were a lot of faculty in schools of education that taught courses in the Ed.D., but as faculty they were trained as strong researchers, not practitioners. Then in other places it was seen as a practitioner’s degree, but again, education just didn’t have the prestige that other professions had. So faculty with Ph.D.s, when they taught Ed.D. students, saw it more as a master’s degree or a lesser degree that was just giving students some functional skills.

So, the Ed.D. was the independence that the schools were looking for, but it was also confused from the beginning, and historically there has been a lot of academic debate about what the purpose of each degree was, right up to the point where Art Levine said in the early 2000s that we should just get rid of both of them and come up with some kind of MBA for practitioners. Of course, no one bought into that until CPED came along and we were really challenged to make that distinction.

[] How has CPED addressed this confusion in academic circles and the public sphere, in order to give the Ed.D. the attention and prestige that it deserves? Could you elaborate on the CPED Framework and the Guiding Principles for Program Design? How does each school that is a member of CPED adapt these principles differently, according to their individual mission statement, the students they serve, and their philosophy around doctoral training in education?

[Dr. Jill Perry] Our mission at CPED was to really distinguish the Ed.D. from the Ph.D. in Education, to illustrate how the Ed.D. is on the same level as a professional doctorate in law or medicine. However, the education model is also quite different from the law and medical model in that it is fragmented, but in a good way. Education doesn’t just happen in PK-12, or in post-secondary places like college. Education happens in museums and in after-school programs. Education happens in human resources programs.

CPED originally wanted to create a one-size-fits-all model for doctoral-level education preparation. But that kind of diversity in the education space prevented us, and that was in a way fortuitous. There was no way to create a model that would be predicated on building upon a set of knowledge that everybody already had. In education, nobody is training towards the same thing.

In medicine, all doctors know every aspect of a human body; that’s their core knowledge. They know what to do with it. They can all pretty much be general practitioners, and then they go on to specialize. We couldn’t have that in education because people who are leaders in education run community colleges, they run K-12 schools, they run museums, they run companies, they run all kinds of things, and they run them in different contexts. Even in the same category of education, the context looks different. Community colleges in rural areas versus community colleges in urban areas look very different, and the needs are very different.

In summary, what we found from our members was that we couldn’t come up with a one-size-fits-all model. We had to focus on something that was more flexible. So, through one of our convenings in 2009, we had all our members at that time (there were only the original 25) bring a set of principles that guided their program, principles that had clearly identified with their faculty.

We narrowed all those principles down to 35, and from there we spent two days further narrowing those down to the key principles that we believed should be in all programs. They’re not the only principles that should guide the design of a program, but they are the key principles.

So, we came up with those six, and they have been used in a variety of ways. People use them to define the mission of their programs; they use them to design the set of core competencies for their students; they use them as an evaluative tool once they’ve designed the program, to go back and sort of create a rubric, and see where they are against those standards. CPED has really become a benchmark for program design and evaluation.

As we were coalescing into a consortium, we also came up with our new definition of the Ed.D., which was meant to distinguish it as a professional practice doctorate. We had originally started with these four design concepts that the president of the Carnegie Foundation, Lee Shulman, had developed and handed to us to begin our work, and those four grew into seven or eight.

The unique thing about our Framework is that it has all been developed by faculty. It wasn’t given to us by anybody. We all went through this vetting process early on, and even more recently as we’ve created more design concepts. It happens together in a big room with a bunch of people, and then once we get a definition down, we send it out to the whole consortium. Afterwards, we have a 72-hour feedback session with faculty again. We have a lot of faculty input in the design of these things. Then over the years, we put together a data collection effort where we asked our members, “What does this look like in your program and how are you using principle number one, programs will be designed around equity, ethics, and justice?”

Members will come back and tell us, “Well, that’s the title of our program, it’s all about equity, ethics, and justice and leadership for K-12 schools.” Then we’ll have other members saying it’s a core component, we see it across the outcomes of all our courses. Or others will say we have a series of courses that students must take. Or others will say it has to be included in the dissertation in practice as a focus. So, you see it play out very differently. That really speaks to this idea that a flexible framework was the right way to go, because it is not prescriptive, but you can see how that flexibility allows for service of the institution. It allows for understanding who the faculty are and what their skills and abilities are, and it allows for understanding the types of students and the needs of the students coming into the program.

[] While CPED is not an accrediting body, programs nevertheless have to apply to become members of the CPED consortium. Can you explain the process for an Ed.D. program to join CPED? In addition, CPED currently classifies members based on their program development phase—can you explain the meaning of these classifications, and how programs progress through these phases over the course of their membership?

[Dr. Jill Perry] In our bylaws for the organization, we have a set of very basic criteria. One is that the university has to be a nonprofit institution, and the other one is that it has to have an Ed.D. that’s housed in a school of education. We have seen EdDs housed in nursing programs or kinesiology programs, and we don’t accept those because we want to focus solely on the original reason for the Ed.D., which was to prepare practitioners who could work in educational practice.

That has expanded to different areas of education, and some of that is because of what local institutions have access to in terms of students. They may be in Silicon Valley and have a huge need for HR professionals, and their faculty are able to train this specific population of educators for corporate contexts.

It’s not that we have defined what kinds of areas people can bring in, but we have definitely said it needs to be about education and preparing educational leaders, whatever that looks like for their students and their needs. As we bring more people in, the criteria have changed over the years, but the basic criteria have always been that you have an Ed.D. or you’re about to get an Ed.D. program, and if you’re about to get it, you have to demonstrate that you’ve received approval from all the way up to the state, if that’s what your institution requires.

Schools of education and their faculty also need to demonstrate that they are willing to change, and by willing to change we mean that even if you think your Ed.D. program is great and you’ve been following CPED for years and you designed it with your understanding of our values in mind, your faculty are willing to come to our website, to our virtual events, to our convenings, and learn that, “Oh yeah, maybe we didn’t quite understand what you meant by signature pedagogy. We’ll go back and think about that. We’ll go see how we can improve further.” Or perhaps your program never thought about group dissertations, and that might work for your students. Or whatever you learn, you’re willing to change, and you’re willing to change as a group of faculty and not just one person.

There has to be buy-in from others at an institution, which speaks to that grassroots effort. CPED is, at its core, a national grassroots effort, but it’s also a grassroots effort with faculty at their institution. One faculty member can’t be the only person who’s singing this tune of CPED while the rest of the faculty is not willing to do it. Nothing will change.

So, our member institutions must get the buy-in of those who are working in the Ed.D. program, or even just advising in the Ed.D. program, as well as deans, and if you have to go any higher, you need people willing to accept that this program is flexible and will change. Flexibility and change in the service of creating a professional practice doctorate that will continually be assessed and evaluated is crucial. We also don’t want people to come up with one model, which used to be historically the case, and then just let it sit there for 25 years and always teach it the same way without really going back and evaluating.

In fact, as part of our strategic plan, we created two rubrics that are now being piloted. One looks at the impact of the CPED principles on member programs, and the other one looks at how the principles are integrated into member Ed.D. programs. I know those sound very similar, but if you look at them you can see that they’re different. The first is to understand how the principles have impacted your faculty and students and your graduates, to show that the Ed.D. is different, and then the other one is how and if you really have integrated those principles into your program.

We have had members who have said, “Oh, yeah, we’ve done it,” and then you look at what they’ve done, or you pull the syllabi, and you see that they haven’t. They think they have, but they are not really demonstrating all the way down to their student learning outcomes and assessments that they are meeting principle number one, for example.

That being said, we also don’t say that everyone has to fulfill all those principles, because we have no control over the universities. We’re not an accrediting body, so we don’t necessarily force them to do any changes. Change is more determined by what the faculty are able to do at their institutions. That is because we want to remain a professional development organization. We don’t want to be an accrediting body. Accrediting bodies, as great as they are, have somehow reached a point where you can just provide a lot of documentation and check a lot of boxes, and meet whatever those criteria are.

We want to establish that CPED’s approach is an ongoing evaluation. And accreditations has moved in that way too, in many ways, but our focus is still different. CPED is not only an ongoing improvement effort–it is also a learning effort for faculty too. Faculty are learning at the same time as they’re trying to improve their programs. They’re becoming professional program developers while they are faculty who teach courses and conduct research. That’s the kind of organization we want to be. We want to support that as opposed to saying that we know exactly what the Ed.D. should be, and if you don’t meet those criteria, then yours isn’t an Ed.D.

[] Could you elaborate on the Designing, Developing, Implementation, and Experienced stages that CPED member programs undergo, and the benchmarks programs must meet in each stage?

[Dr. Jill Perry] CPED is only 15 years old, and the first three to five years was devoted to really creating this framework. So, we’ve only actually been implementing the framework for about ten years. When we first started CPED we got a lot of questions about, “Well, how do you know you’ve made a difference?” And the simple answer is, we don’t; we haven’t graduated anybody yet. I can tell you program timelines are shorter and they do different things here and there, but we need to see the graduates. We’re about ten years out in using that framework, and we have people who are out there who’ve graduated.

What we wanted to do, when we originally admitted members, was to have phase one members, those who were the original members, and then get phase two a couple years later. Then we take on phase three. Somehow, people started to equate phase one with being better than phase three, when it was simply a factor of when an institution joined, not the quality or status of their program. So, we decided to come up with new phase definitions that would help both ourselves and our members to understand where a program was in the process: Designing & Developing, Implementation, and Experienced phases. That language is to help us understand where a program and its faculty are in the process of (re)design.

The definitions of these phases are on our website, but basically Designing and Developing is everybody who is brand new, whether you have a program or not, because you haven’t been fully introduced to the CPED framework and consortium. So, member institutions come in as designing and developing. These phases are also for schools that may have been a member for five years, but they’ve just started a new program, or want to revisit and revise a current program. For example, if you used to be K-12, and now you’re doing higher ed, you’d be back in the Designing and Developing stage with that program.

Then Implementing means you’ve got a program, it’s laid out, and you’re in the middle of running that program in your new design. You may have graduated one cohort, but the program is really still brand new. You’re still building the plane while you’re flying it, which has been a term that we’ve used for a long time to describe the (re)design process.

Then Experienced is you’ve been around. You’ve got five or six cohorts of students who have gone through, you’ve definitely done some evaluation and done some tweaks of the program, but you’ve now become sort of seasoned at how you run the program and continue to improve it.

We designed these phases mostly in the service of trying to help members learn from each other. We introduced the framework, we put them through an orientation, we’re here for support as people. We also have a ton of support resources on our website. We do virtual programming almost every month of the academic and calendar year. We also can do more personalized support for institutions, if they need it. But then really, the learning is up to them because they know the intricate needs of their institution and students.

What I say to our new members is get a team, come to your first convening, make a list of everything you want to get out of the convening, and then spread out to learn from your peers. Don’t go to any sessions together. Spread out, go check things out, learn from those different sessions that we offer, and then come back and think about what you learned and what you want to integrate into your program. So, it’s a lot of professional development, but they have to go back and take what they have learned and create those changes in their program. We do data collection on program design and implementation about every two years.

The rubrics I mentioned that we’ve created are being piloted and will be a piece of our data collection by the end of 2023, probably. They will help us understand how programs have grown and changed. But it’s up to the member to decide where their program is and they do that by collecting their own internal data. So, for our new members, after your first year and you’ve been exposed to CPED, you can change your categorization, depending on where your data indicates that your program is.

We want to make sure that our members have been introduced to the framework clearly and that they know what it should look like in their specific program. Then they let us know, “Okay, we’ve just graduated our fifth cohort. We want to be moved up to Experienced.” Or, “We’ve just graduated our first cohort, we want to officially be in Implementing.” So it is an ongoing dialogue between CPED and its member schools.

[] In your article “Teaching Research and Data Use in the Education Doctorate,” you explain the importance of “building a culture for evidence use.” Could you elaborate on what it takes to build such a culture of evidence use within an education setting? What are the linking elements between research (i.e. finding evidence) and enacting and managing change?

[Dr. Jill Perry] In that article that my colleagues and I wrote, we were trying to understand how practitioners use research evidence in practice. It is one place that many programs fall short–teaching students how to, beyond the dissertation, use literature that exists or research studies that are out there, as part of their leadership agenda. How do you sort of cross that line into, “Okay, this is what the literature says, and this is how we might adapt to what we’re going to do in our context.” That is why we want to prepare Ed.D. students to become scholarly practitioners. They are the boundary spanners between the two areas—scholarship/research and practice. Some schools have done well with it, while others haven’t. Some leave it up to the students to kind of figure out.

Our learning helped us see that we really need to think about that leadership piece and what that looks like and how to do that better to help Ed.D. graduates know how to use research evidence in their ongoing practice. For example, field experiences are part of courses in Ed.D. programs and could provide practice on how to do this, like courses that help people to say how would you write a policy, design a policy around what you’ve read for changing something in your school? How would you present this back into your organization? After everything you’ve read, how are you going to take that back to your school board?

I think it’s an area that we still need to work on. It comes down to how you teach people. In traditional Ph.D. programs, students get left alone quite a bit. The prevailing attitude is, “Well, you’re a doc student. Go to the library. Figure out how to use the library.” That’s what I did.

But we have a three-year program, and we’re expecting people to become users of research as a tool for their professional practice. So, they need to be trained how to do that and need to practice over and over. They need to be trained how to search for literature, how to understand how to decipher what they receive as literature. How do you know that this is a good article? Sounds great, fantastic, look what they did. But okay, was it based on robust empirical evidence or one localized study? How do you know that that’s going to work in your institution? What do you know about the reliability and validity of the research that was done?

We want to teach educators how to decipher and dissect literature, starting with finding it, and then how to turn that literature into a tool for supporting their own arguments for change. Using literature as evidence for change. So it’s not just you on your soapbox, but you are pulling from the wealth of studies that support your desire for change.

I’m a major advocate for teaching people how to use research as a tool, and not just something that’s in the library that only academics use. However, the interesting piece that we learned from our study, and I’m now fighting my own institution on this, is that the majority of institutions do not give their graduates access to the library. So, we want Ed.D. graduates to be scholarly practitioners and we’re saying, “Go out there, read the literature, get your journals,” and then they all tell us, “I can’t. There’s a paywall.”

I have a student right now who did an amazing job in our Ed.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s a teacher and she just finished her Ed.D., and she’s using literature that focused on marginalized populations in a rural Pennsylvania school that is one of those school boards that’s clamoring against Critical Race Theory in schools. She’s trying to use books that are focused on – I forget the name of the book she used, but it was about a young Iranian girl who was being marginalized, but in the end champions her cause. Our graduate wanted her students to be culturally understanding as well as critical thinkers as a result of this work, and she had to fight the school board to get the book approved.

They pulled it from her two days before she was supposed to do the lesson, so she ended up going back to To Kill a Mockingbird. She had to rewrite all her curriculum. This is a woman who is a seasoned teacher and really wants to champion critical thinking from a critical lens. It doesn’t have to be critical race, it’s critical theory in general– understanding ableism, gender issues, and everything like that.

She really thought that she could teach kids to question such issues through the reading of non-fiction literature, and she did a fantastic job despite the political challenges. So, now she’s all excited and she’s just graduated, and she emails me and says, “I know this is going to be important to you. I want to speak with my school leadership about this issue but I can’t get into the library to find the research. Can you help me?”

I said, “Absolutely. We are going tackle this problem, because I want to be the model for other institutions by giving graduates access to literature.” Otherwise, they will have to pay $40.00 for an article, and no teacher who’s already buying crayons and things like that is going be paying for research articles.

It is something that is immensely important, but like I said, every year, a new challenge to library or research access comes up. We’re touting use the literature, use the literature, and it wasn’t until we did this study — because no one said anything to me – that we realized, “Oh, my god, all these people, we’ve just told them that they need to know how to read literature, bring it into their toolbox, and they have no access to it after they graduate.”

So it speaks to the idea that the Ed.D. can change among faculty, it can change among a department, it can change among a school of education, but you still have to go to the university level, for everything from access to the library after they graduate, to working through Institutional Review Board (IRB) challenges.

The IRB approval process is also at the top of my mind. It’s important to get the Institutional Review Board to understand that the kind of research that is being done in Ed.D. programs, action research conducted in a very localized setting, is not equivalent to generalizable, big, randomized research studies. They are improvement projects, and there’s language in the national Common Rule that explains this clearly, but faculty that run IRB committees in universities don’t necessarily understand this. Faculty need to talk to and educate them. They have to talk to their graduate school if they are going to do a group dissertation, for example.

Or if the dissertation is only 75 to 100 pages, faculty need to work with their graduate school to be sure they approve. These dissertations don’t need to be 300 pages or longer. They need to be able to write up a study on the work that they did that explains what they did so that we as faculty can say, “Yes, you enacted and analyzed change in your work setting, and you deserve this degree.” The kind of research we want our scholar practitioners to do must be very straightforward.

Some colleagues and I have an article under review where we looked at five different institutions using improvement science as the research methodology, and which were struggling with their IRB committees. Now, we at the University of Pittsburgh use improvement science, and our IRB committee is fantastic. We have an excellent Ed.D. program, where everybody understands that we are preparing scholar practitioners. IRB gets it, the graduate school gets it, everybody gets it. Sometimes I take that for granted when I get calls from a small institution that says, “My student has been waiting for IRB approval for six months, what do I do?”

I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness! Are you kidding me?” So, now I’m trying to educate all these other institutions where some of their scholar practitioners are waiting six months for the IRB committees to approve their improvement studies. For one thing, how can you make someone pay to stay in school if they’re waiting for a committee to approve something? That’s unethical. How can you hold someone back from doing research if their school only goes from September to June, and give them approval at the end of June? Well, then they can’t do anything until the fall. So, it takes a lot of understanding about how the training for this degree is different. That’s what “context matters” means, when you think about the flexibility of CPED’s framework, is that you have to think about the context.

Most institutions aren’t big research institutions that have medical schools and a dedicated IRB team; for many schools, the IRB committee are just faculty. Whereas we have a paid IRB staff at Pitt, and that’s their job — they are IRB professionals. They go to a conference every year, that is what they do. But most IRB committees are just faculty, where this is their service to the university, and they meet four times a year to review all the IRBs that are on their desk and nothing happens in between. That can’t work for an Ed.D. program, so what do you have to think about in that context? I have some great ideas, but I don’t know if they would work in that context. So, there’s a lot of little things that come up as these redesigns happen along the way.

As we’re growing, every day it feels like I get a different thing in my inbox. Do you have any resources for this? We need to convince this committee to approve this. Schools of education are understanding what it’s looking like at their institution and how they want to change.

[] Annual convenings for Ed.D. program leaders are a core part of CPED membership. Could you discuss the purpose of these convenings, wherein workshops and breakout meetings allow different schools to present and discuss their ideas for how their doctoral programs can improve and innovate in the face of evolving education and organizational leadership needs? On a similar note, could we have more information on the CPED Scholarly Practitioner Research Forum and its purpose?

[Dr. Jill Perry] Convenings are where our members come together and we have activities that help start collaborative thinking and productive conversations amongst the group. For example, we might have 50 people at a convening, and our goal will be to figure out, “What do we mean by signature pedagogy?” So, it would be everything from let’s brainstorm some definitions on sticky notes and pull them together to let’s have an institution come up and serve as a case study and tell us what they are doing in terms of signature pedagogy, and then break out into discussion groups, and we would record all of this somehow. Afterwards, we would bring all this together, and then we’d formulate ideas.

As another example–a few years back, we were struggling to understand what mentoring and advising looked like in an Ed.D. program. So, we used one of those big group sessions to do that all over again. We got the sticky notes, the chart paper out, we broke out into groups, everybody wrote something down and then came together to discuss.

So convenings are big group learning sessions. As we got bigger and we started to grow and more people were coming, and programs were really starting to get solidified in using the framework, it started to feel a little bit more like a conference, which I disliked. So, we changed our language a little bit, because we don’t want our convenings to be a conference where you’re just there to present and passively listen. We want to be a sharing and learning organization.

Now, with convenings, we still have big group sessions, which can include some kind of guest speaker. After the presentation, we have breakout sessions that we call learning exchanges, and we have a set of criteria for those sessions as well.

One of those criteria is you have to share about what you’re doing in your Ed.D. program or your school of education, and you have to do it in a way where you’re teaching others how to do it. You have to have takeaways. For example, if I’m doing a great job with IRB, I can’t just say, “We’re doing great with IRB, look what we’re doing.” My session has to be, “This is what we did. Our IRB lets us do this, and they’re very flexible. Let me tell you how we did that. We started off by meeting with them, we started off by investigating the kinds of dissertations that were being written. We went through a bunch of them, and we understood what the IRB process looks like for Ed.D. dissertations.” So, giving peers suggestions on how they could go forward and do something similar in their institution as well.

We typically get about 25 when we do a call for those sessions. This year we had 70, and we freaked out a little bit and had to bump each session down from 75 minutes to 60 minutes. But it was amazing to see how many institutions wanted to share what they had learned on a variety of topics.

We have a definition of a convening that comes from the Carnegie Foundation, that states that it is a variety of learning pedagogies, a variety of activities, and social time to network, and we’ve incorporated all of these elements. The networking is what I think people really love—it’s not networking in that way where you’re trying to get at your next job. It’s networking in a way that starts off with, “Wow, so for your program, your IRB works? Okay. So, can we talk a little bit about that over coffee next coffee break?” Then you start talking, and then next thing you know, you’re talking about what you’re teaching and you’re talking about vacation and your kids.

We have a bunch of people who are old friends as a result of this, but it is that idea that you can go to somebody and say, “I really don’t think we’re doing this right at my institution.” There’s no judgment, and that’s part of our values, the idea of people first. We’re here to learn from each other. We’re not here to compete.

Although as we’ve gotten bigger and as competition for students has gotten deeper, I do have some institutions that have gotten upset that we’re expecting them to share things when their competitor down the road is in the room. But that’s not the idea. The idea is that we’re sharing and learning with each other, with the goal of making the Ed.D. stronger. Not your individual program stronger. The goal of these convenings is to help people understand how to make a strong professional practice doctorate overall.

In addition to the convening, we also run a Scholarly Practitioner Forum that is virtual. It’s co-led by a faculty member and two Ed.D. students who are all located in different parts of the country. We sent a call-out for proposals for students to show their research and get feedback, or they can just come to listen and learn. I think they ended up having something like 25 students who presented their research in 2021 and they had five different breakout sessions, and then there were something like 200 students that showed up virtually to listen and learn and ask questions.

I’m super excited about it because one of my ultimate goals for CPED is to create a real community of scholar practitioners that supports each other. I’m a return Peace Corps volunteer, and I want a similar kind of thing for our CPED cohort. I want to create a network of people that have had similar enough experiences that they can speak a common language with each other. For example, I could talk to anybody who went anywhere in the Peace Corps, because we all had very similar experiences. We all have similar stories that we can share, even though you might have been in Zambia and I was in Paraguay. So, I see that as a model for what CPED could be. You might have gone to Arizona State, I went to the University of Pittsburgh, but we went through a CPED-influenced program that allowed us to know what it means to be a scholarly practitioner.

I did improvement science, you did action research. You were looking at this, I was looking at that. We can share that commonality. But now we are not just sharing it over drinks at a bar, we’re also sharing it as professionals who can say, “Well, when I would do action research on this, I got this kind of feedback. You might want to try that.” Or, “What you’re looking at now, I’m looking at the same thing in my institution. You’re on the other side of the country; I’m over here. Let’s do a study together and see if we can’t solve it together.”

Then we also have a scholarly practitioner improvement group, which is run by two students out of south Florida. That is another way to begin that networking of students, and it will be all virtual. It is predicated on the idea of merging scholarship and practice, and in between discussion sessions, we bring in a faculty member who will talk a little bit about writing, and we usually bring in the Dissertation in Practice of the Year award winner to just talk about their experience. It’s just a great opportunity for students to share their research in a non-threatening setting, and to collaborate and network.

[] Where do you see CPED and the Ed.D. as a degree going in the next 20 years? What challenges do you see the Ed.D. encountering as it seeks to change and improve?

[Dr. Jill Perry] On the one hand I want to say I don’t want CPED to exist, because I want us to have fixed the problem, and that’s what I would have said probably ten years ago. But now that we’ve figured out that we’re a professional development organization, I want it to continue to grow and have this opportunity to take the degree to the next level.

I still think we’re at the point where we’re trying to distinguish it from the Ph.D., where we’re trying to really understand what the curriculum for it should be. We’re also still trying to understand what graduates of these programs look like.

But in 20 years, all of that should be settled, let’s hope, so that we’re at a point where it’s an organization that is taking the doctorate in education to whatever next level it needs to go to, improving it in ways that respond to the needs of schooling and education in this country 20 years from now.

So, I don’t really know what that looks like, but the goal is that CPED is flexible enough as an organization that it will respond to what the needs are of the people being trained in these programs. The Ed.D. should be clearly distinguished from the Ph.D., so that it becomes the degree that people who wish to practice seek without question, in the same way that those who want to become a medical doctor will get an M.D. or a D.O., and those who wish to practice law earn their J.D. They don’t consider getting a Ph.D. to work as advanced professionals in their field.

I think I would also like to get to a point where we have that network of Ed.D. students that have created their own professional organizations, and whether that be just the organizations that already exist, or if there’s another one where they are sharing and learning with each other to solve the problems that are out there.

So, if enough of them are looking across the country, and are facing the same issue or challenge in education, then they can put their heads together to investigate the issue as scholar practitioners. For example, there is a lot of data out there that says all kids come into school and read the same until they hit third grade, and that for some reason, African-American students and particularly African-American males start to decline around that age while other kids go forward.

What does that problem look like in rural Wisconsin, urban Dallas, the Northeast, everywhere? If you had enough people look at that problem in different context and then network and discuss the data together… that could be immensely powerful. We know that the issue is localized, but maybe we can now scale this up to understand what the real problem is on a national scale. And then we can say, in general, across United States’ education system, we need to do X.

For me, the idea has always been that we are training practitioners who are on-the-ground solving those problems locally, but then these practitioners network to solve these problems nationally, as opposed to the foundations and the Department of Education, who aren’t touching the ground on a day-to-day basis, saying, “Go try this silver bullet.” Or even faculty, who are researching the issues but haven’t tried things out in practice. They can tell us those third-grade reading declines happen, but they don’t know how to fix it, and it’s going to be those people on the ground (aka Ed.D. graduates) that are going to have to be the ones to figure out how to fix it.

How can they network amongst themselves, and then bring us as faculty in to support them, instead of us feeling like we know more than them? So, in 20 years I want the Ed.D. to be a strong enough degree that it defines, finally, what the education profession is.

Like I said earlier, we’ve made a lot of structural changes to the degree already. I think these next five to 10 years are going to have to look at two things – first, really demonstrating how those structural changes have created differences for those who have graduated, and the work that those individuals do in practice. Have those practitioners made a difference as a result of becoming scholarly practitioners? And then I think the other piece is really scaling up our message in ways that we are able to become the primary resource for people to understand what the Ed.D. is, and that’s everything from students looking for Ed.D.s to people who are putting Ed.D. as a qualification on their job descriptions. We don’t want to become an accrediting body, but we want to become the authority on understanding what the Ed.D. is.

As mentioned, CPED has been around for 15 years, we’ve had the framework for probably about ten. We ourselves are also an improvement process. We have to continually learn as an organization what we need to do to support members to help move this forward.

Our other strategic priorities are on paper at the moment, and then my job is to figure out what does that look like over the next five years, how do we implement different programming or activities or resources that will support that, and then how do we build partnerships that will help support our understanding?

So even though we’ve been around 15 years, every year feels like we still have such a long way to go and so many things that we can do, but in a good way. It doesn’t mean we haven’t changed the Ed.D. for the better already, but it means that every time a new group of members come on and they ask questions, I’m always thinking, “Gosh, wow, I hadn’t thought about that yet, okay. Let’s figure out what we need to do to think about that and move that forward.”

Or you meet students who are still at an institution that’s still giving them a hard time between the Ed.D. and Ph.D. and I think, “Gosh, I thought we solved that problem already. Okay, let’s figure out how we can better get that message out.” The work that needs to be done is continuous, and it is always in service of creating a strong professional practice doctorate.

Thank you, Dr. Jill Perry, for your fantastic insight into the history of the Ed.D., and for your impactful work as Executive Director of the CPED!

About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of She specializes in writing in-depth content that helps students navigate important graduate school decisions. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.