Online EdD Programs in K-12 Leadership and Administration (P-12 Leadership)

K-12 education encompasses a vast range of teaching strategies and pedagogical approaches, from early childhood instruction to college prep. To ensure the best learning outcomes for students in these formative years, elementary, middle, and high schools need leaders who understand the challenges in serving diverse student bodies, and can implement innovative curriculums that reflect the changing educational landscape.

Online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in K-12 Leadership help prepare education professionals to become effective administrators in a variety of primary and secondary school settings. Graduates come away with the advanced theoretical knowledge and organizational management skills they need to oversee running a successful educational institution or program. Upon earning their degree, students might pursue careers as principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, program directors, private school executives, or any number of related positions in the field of K-12 leadership and administration. (Note: The process for becoming a school administrator varies by state, and some positions, such as principal or superintendent, may require specific licensure or credentialing. See the Career Paths section below for more information about pursuing careers in this field and the related licensing requirements.)

Curriculum for Online EdD Programs in K-12 Leadership

There are a variety of online EdD programs in K-12 Leadership for students to choose from, each with its own unique curriculum and requirements. While some programs focus on kindergarten through 12th grade as a whole, or even preschool through 12th (P-12), others break it up by grades, concentrating on just elementary or high school, for example. There are also programs that focus on one or two specific subjects, such as reading or science. Additionally, it is important to note that while certain programs offer a curriculum dedicated solely to K-12 leadership, others offer K-12 as a specialization option within a more general EdD in Organizational or Educational Leadership program. Example programs include:

  • Online Doctor of Education in K-12 Administration
  • Online Doctor of Education with a Specialization in P-12 Administrative Leadership
  • Online Doctor of Education with a Specialization in Early Childhood Education
  • Online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership – K-12 Leadership in Urban School Settings Concentration
  • Online Doctor of Education in P-20 and Community Leadership with a Specialization in pK-12 Leadership
  • Online Doctorate in Education with Concentrations in Elementary Education or Middle Grades Education
  • Online Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction with Areas of Emphasis in Science Education or Reading Education

Note: For students interested in pursuing an EdD in Special Education, please refer to our Online EdD Programs in Special Education page for more information.

In general, online EdD programs in K-12 Leadership require anywhere from 40 to 70 course credits, and take three to five years of study to complete. The curriculum in these programs is typically comprised of core coursework, specialization courses, electives, and dissertation research. Core courses tend to focus on advanced theories and principles fundamental to K-12 administration, as well as quantitative and qualitative research methods applicable in educational settings.

While course titles and content will vary by program, here are some examples of topics typically covered in K-12 Leadership core coursework:

  • Principles of Educational Leadership: A study of how administrators can improve instruction and promote learning through proper organizational management, collaboration with teachers and faculty, and building environments that encourage academic success.
  • Legal Issues in School Administration: This course examines the various laws that govern how a school can and should function, from teaching conditions and physical safety standards to student rights and acceptable disciplinary actions.
  • Curriculum Theory: Students explore historical and modern approaches to shaping educational curricula, closely analyzing their three major components: the intended outcomes, what is taught, and the manner of implementation.
  • Educational Measurement, Assessment, and Evaluation: In this course, students look at the various methods, tools, and tests used to analyze learning progress and gather information for data-driven instruction and lesson planning.

After these foundational courses, students generally begin more specialized coursework, exploring specific issues in K-12 leadership and school administration. Actual courses depend largely on program focus; however, below are some examples of potential specialization topics students might encounter:

  • Technology in K-12 Education: In this course, students examine the growing role of technology and digital learning content in K-12 classrooms, and how lessons can benefit from emerging trends such as coding, robotics, gamification, and augmented and virtual reality.
  • School Resource Management: This course outlines philosophies and best practices for evaluating and maximizing resources in an educational setting, from fiscal planning and building maintenance to learning materials and personnel management.
  • Education Policy and Reform: Students examine state and federal policies surrounding issues such as class size, teacher pay, curricular content, standardized testing, and graduation requirements, as well as how to enact systemic change in public education.
  • Teaching Diverse Populations: Strategies for recognizing and addressing educational inequalities based on racial, cultural, or socioeconomic factors, and how to help close the achievement gap among minority or low-income students.

Most online EdD programs in K-12 Leadership round out their curriculum by allowing students to choose elective courses in their particular area of interest. Electives give students an opportunity to explore specific professional skills or focus areas that directly relate to their chosen career path. These might be courses offered by the same department as the EdD program, or courses from an outside department approved by program faculty. Here are two examples of electives that might interest K-12 Leadership students:

  • Professional Development Design: In this course, future educational administrators learn how to design and implement engaging professional development programs that motivate teachers and keep them up to date on current instructional standards and strategies.
  • Serving Students with Special Needs: How to create positive learning environments for students with mental, physical, or learning disabilities, exploring proven teaching strategies for special education, and the particular challenges that come with managing this type of classroom.

The final component in most EdD programs is completion of a dissertation. Students typically work on this extensive research project throughout their doctoral studies, identifying a specific issue facing modern leadership in K-12 schools, and developing a solution under the guidance of a dissertation advisor. In order to successfully graduate from the program and earn their degree, students generally must submit their dissertation research, results, and analysis in document form, then defend the proposal in front of a committee of faculty members. Most EdD programs include courses specifically related to dissertation development, as well as grant credit hours for the independent study involved in the process.

To learn more about EdD dissertations and related research requirements, check out our Dissertations and Doctoral Capstone Projects resource page. For further information about online EdD programs in general, please refer to our Structure of Online EdD Programs and Admission Requirements for Online EdD Programs pages.

Career Paths for Graduates of EdD Programs in K-12 Leadership and Administration

Graduates of online EdD programs in K-12 Leadership typically pursue organizational management positions in elementary, middle, or high schools. Their career options may vary slightly based on their professional background, licensure, and the particular focus of their doctoral program. As noted above, many educational administration positions require a specific license or certification that varies by state. While EdD programs can help prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to pass state licensing exams, most do not automatically culminate in licensure, which means graduates will need to complete any necessary tests or other requirements on their own after earning their degree.

It is also important to note that a doctorate is typically not required to pursue licensing as a principal. In most cases, the minimum requirement for this position is a master’s degree. However, earning an EdD can help aspiring school administrators gain the knowledge and experience they need to excel in these roles, and may be necessary for those looking to advance into district-wide positions, such as superintendent.

To help students learn more about potential career paths in the field, here are a few examples of positions one might pursue with an EdD in K-12 Leadership:

  • Principal: Elementary, middle, and high school principals manage all staff and operations at their institutions, from developing and implementing curriculum to evaluating teacher performance, and even disciplining students. They are responsible for the overall safety and success of their student body, as well as keeping the school in line with all district, state, and federal standards, and making sure teachers have the resources they need to do their job.
  • Superintendent: These administrators oversee groups of public schools, most often making top decisions and serving as the public face for an entire school district. They report to the local elected school board, helping to set and achieve academic goals throughout the district, and supervising all major program, spending, and staff decisions at the schools under their purview.
  • Special Education Director: These educators plan and manage specialized learning programs for students with mental or physical disabilities. Their responsibilities typically include overseeing all educational and assistance services for special needs students and associated staff, as well as assessing the effectiveness of these programs and implementing changes as needed. They might work at a particular school, for an entire district, or at a separate facility dedicated to this type of education.
  • Charter School Executive Director: Charter schools are semi-autonomous institutions that operate outside of the state school system, but still receive public funding, and are open to all students without charging tuition (unlike private schools). They can have a number of different management structures, but typically rely on an executive director or CEO to oversee organizational strategy, guide senior leadership, and drive the vision outlined in the school or network’s charter.