Educators with advanced training in the areas of curriculum and instruction help to guide schools, school districts, and states to improve policies that inspire greater academic achievement. With continued emphasis across the country on raising the standards in our public education systems, the need for instructional experts will continue to rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects an 11% increase in employment for instructional coordinators through 2026, with a median annual wage of $63,750.
A Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction can prepare you to meet the challenges that students and teachers will face in the coming years and prepare you for leadership roles within your school system. Below, you can learn more about why and how you might choose a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, what to expect of the admissions process and program itself, and some additional resources and organizations to help expand your professional network and expertise.
Should I Get a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction?
A doctorate in curriculum and instruction builds upon the hands-on knowledge teachers with a few years of classroom experience gained working with children. Both the Ph.D. and doctor of education (Ed.D.) require an in-depth study of the theory behind instructional techniques while evaluating new methods in the field. The focus changes from what should be taught to how students need to be taught in order to learn most efficiently. Earning this advanced degree qualifies graduates for increased responsibilities in their current positions and more advanced educational licensure. It can also set their applications apart from other candidates when applying for curriculum and instruction jobs. Doctoral students gain a better understanding of how educational assessment measures student learning as well as the training and network of support teachers need to help their students succeed. The Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction also prepares you to undertake academic research projects, either exploring how past research impacts current educational practices or taking on new areas of research to advance the understanding of student success.
Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction programs often require students to be licensed teachers, and online programs allow them to continue their classroom jobs while advancing their education and career prospects. Some schools group students into cohorts, providing more opportunities to develop a strong network of educational professionals. The choice of school depends greatly on individual circumstances and prior experience.
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction?
Graduates can find jobs in curriculum and instruction at all levels of the educational industry. Local school systems need instructional leaders to coach teachers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom. A Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction also opens doors to district-level educational administrative roles, such as instructional coordinators or superintendents. The degree plan also includes study of educational development for students of all ages, preparing graduates for jobs in early childhood education administration and administrative positions. Regardless of the role, you'll need the ability to analyze large amounts of data and objectively evaluate educator and/or school performance and the interpersonal skills to communicate strengths and opportunities for improvement.
- K-12 Principal
Principals serve as the chief executive of their school. They lead the instructional programming, hiring effective teachers and evaluating their performance. They also counsel and discipline students and meet with parents on academic or disciplinary concerns. Principals also must develop and implement a budget and facility maintenance plan.
Median Annual Salary: $94,390*
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
College and university administrators may work in admissions offices, evaluating student potential; in the registrar's office, tracking student schedules, grades, and transcripts; or as provosts or deans of individual schools or academic departments, planning curriculum, developing policies, and hiring postsecondary teachers. Individuals working in student affairs establish comprehensive programs to assist students with challenges they may face while enrolled, including counseling programs and financial assistance.
Median Annual Salary: $92,360*
- Instructional Coordinator
These administrators work in areas of curriculum development, student assessment, and teacher training. They evaluate textbooks and instructional materials, assist in developing curriculum plans, plan professional development sessions, and work with teachers to improve their skills. They also compile student test data, looking for areas of growth and improvement and identifying best practices to share with other schools.
Median Annual Salary: $63,750*
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers share their expertise in a given subject with students at the undergraduate and graduate level. The teacher may also act as an advisor and mentor to students, helping them develop educational and career goals. At many universities, professors also take on research responsibilities and publish or present their work in academic publications or at conferences.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000*
- Special Education Teacher
These educational specialists work with students that have a range of cognitive, physical, and developmental disabilities, designing individual educational plans that best meet their needs. They often work one-on-one with teachers and oversee teaching assistants. They'll help their students grow academically, emotionally, and mentally, progressing through each educational plan.
Median Annual Salary: $58,980*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Interview with an Expert
Carolyn Parker, Ph.D., is the director of the master of arts in teaching program in the School of Education at American University.
- Why did you choose to earn a doctorate in curriculum and instruction? Is this a field you were always interested in?
I chose a degree in curriculum and instruction because it was a logical extension of my teaching degree. And it prepared me well for an academic career as an educational researcher.
- How did your experience teaching high school science inform your experience in your doctoral program?
My experience as a high school science teacher gave me practical experience in schools and with students to help me better understand how teachers are and should be prepared. My career as a high school science teacher also helped me understand the importance of educational research in the broader educational community.
- What was the job search like after completing your doctorate?
The academic job market is fairly tight, but because my background is science/STEM, I have not had a difficult time finding an academic position. I have been very fortunate.
- What are some crucial skills that you acquired through your doctoral program?
I think the most crucial skill for an academic is to learn how to efficiently publish. The old adage “publish or perish” still applies. Also important was gaining good research skills and then, of course, learning how to teach in a university setting.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your work on a day-to-day basis?
One of most persistent challenges I face is getting everything done that I need to complete. People think that academics teach a couple of classes and do research. But they don’t realize that teaching is much more than time in front of students. There is LOTS of preparation and grading. Plus, we have to complete service to the university and service to the profession. My work life is very busy!
- How have you seen curriculum and instruction change during your career? What changes do you anticipate for the field in the coming years?
I am not sure that the degree has changed all that much, but academia has. There are fewer tenure-track positions and much more unionization of faculty.
- What advice would you give to students who are considering a doctorate in curriculum instruction?
- Try and find an advisor who truly fits your interests.
- Really work with your program’s faculty to learn the process of publishing.
- Get out and network early.
- Publish, publish, publish.
How to Choose a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Program
Deciding to take on the challenges of doctorate study is a monumental decision and commitment to your continued education and career goals. You'll be committing the next three to five years to your studies, researching instructional methodology and educational statistics. When evaluating schools, consider the type of program that will best meet your needs.
Programs may require full-time, on-campus enrollment, while other schools tailor their programs to working teachers, with either asynchronous online courses or evening and weekend class schedules. Some schools combine distance and on-campus learning through hybrid programs with varying residency requirements. Some schools may offer assistantships to doctoral students who take on teaching or research responsibilities, reducing your out-of-pocket expense. Other programs may allow you to continue working full time. Many online doctorate programs are available in this field.
Evaluate the curriculum offered at each school, the professional expertise of the faculty, and any research projects they're involved in. If you have an area you'd like to study, see if there are electives offered in that field or if the school offers other specializations that interest you. Consider if you can commit to required practicums or fieldwork and understand the dissertation requirements. Many schools require demonstration of significant professional scholarship as part of the Ph.D. program, such as publication in a scholarly research journal or presenting your work at national conferences. Also check that the college is regionally accredited and that the education department and program you are interested is is accredited as well.
What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and Ed.D.?
You may notice some schools offer a doctor of education and/or a doctor of philosophy in education. Both degrees demonstrate advanced study of curriculum and instruction and educational research, but the path you choose depends on your career goals and scholarly interest. The Ed.D. provides practical instruction for administrative leaders, looking to the original research of others to make decisions for classrooms and school systems. The Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction focuses on independent, original research answering questions that others may have never thought to ask. Often, individuals seeking to teach at the post-secondary level look for a Ph.D. program, while individuals planning to take on administrative roles find the Ed.D. a better fit. The Ph.D. path may require more on-campus work, while the Ed.D. program offers greater flexibility to accommodate working professionals. Almost all Ph.D. programs require the completion of a dissertation, but Ed.D. programs may allow students to complete a capstone project -- a paper or in-depth presentation on a topic -- as part of the degree requirements.
Accreditation for Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Programs
While colleges and universities often maintain overall institutional accreditation from regional or national organizations, schools of education need specialized accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The organization evaluates teacher education programs to ensure they provide a quality program with relevant content and a rigorous curriculum. States often require students to graduate from an accredited program before granting teaching and administrative educational licenses.
Accreditors review standards such as the clinical experiences required for advanced students, the admission requirements, faculty research and scholarship, and the satisfaction of graduates and their employers. Schools perform a rigorous self-study and host on-site visits from peer reviewers. During the visit, reviewers look at lesson plans, student work, and any data related to the program. They also interview students, faculty members, and administrators. CAEP may grant full, seven-year accreditation or two-year provisional accreditation.
Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Program Admissions
Applying for a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction requires organization and determination. Exact requirements vary between schools, but most require you to have a master's degree in a related field. Many schools require documentation of prior academic experience, letters of recommendation from supervisors and colleagues, and writing samples. You may also need to supply recent scores of graduate entrance exams and prove you have the required years of teaching experience. There may also be an interview or meeting to discuss your career goals and why that particular school interests you.
Many schools also charge an admissions fee to cover the cost of verifying your eligibility for doctorate-level study. These fees can add up quickly, so it's important to carefully consider the schools that most meet your needs regarding curriculum, specialization, research, and flexibility. Competition for admission can be fierce, so you'll want to apply to three or four schools that interest you. Keep application deadlines in mind -- some schools only admit Ph.D. students in the fall, while other schools offer rolling admissions.
- Degree: You'll need to hold a master's degree from a regionally accredited school in an education-related field, such as reading and literacy, educational technology, or a subject-specific education master's.
- Professional Experience: You'll need at least two years experience as a classroom teacher or related professional experience to enter most programs. This teaching experience allows students to understand the practice behind the educational theories for discussion, evaluation, and future research.
- Minimum GPA: Schools want to ensure doctoral candidates have the academic foundation to achieve the goals of the Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. Typically, they look for a minimum GPA of 3.0 in your master's program. Some schools may also review undergraduate transcripts, requiring a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher.
- License: Some schools may require applicants to hold an active teaching license to apply for admission. The license confirms the subject-area expertise you already have and ensures you'll have the proper credentials to gain advanced certification following graduation.
- Application: Schools may offer applications through paper or online. The form summarizes your educational and professional experience, names of references, and scores on graduate entrance exams.
- Transcripts: Each school you've attended keeps a record of the classes you've taken and the grades you achieved. This information confirms you've completed the required prerequisite degrees and attained the minimum required GPA. You must request transcripts from each of the schools you attended to forward to the college or university you are applying to.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most applications will request two to three references which ideally will be former professors, supervisors, or colleagues. Make sure to give at least a month's notice to those you ask to provide a letter of recommendation.
- Test Scores: The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores students in verbal reasoning, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Some schools may accept scores from the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Individual score requirements will vary from school to school.
- Application Fee: Fees range from $50 to $100 per school. This nonrefundable fee helps cover the cost of reviewing application materials. However, many schools offer to waive the fee if there is a financial hardship for participants of specified preparation programs or for students who completed their most recent degree at the same school.
What Else Can I Expect From a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Program?
The coursework for a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction features in-depth study of theory and research of educational methods, student assessment, and professional development. While a generalist degree may meet your professional needs, many schools allow you to specialize in one area of curriculum and instruction. Your school may also offer professional field experiences and the opportunity to present scholarly research in publications or at conferences.
|Middle Childhood Education||This specialty focuses on the needs of students in fourth through ninth grade. You'll research age-appropriate curriculum standards and instructional methods and identify best practices. You'll also understand the physical and mental changes students of this age go through to gain a better understanding of educational challenges in middle school.||Middle school principal, instructional coach, middle school teach.|
|Curriculum Studies||Academic standards tell teachers what skills and knowledge their students should learn in a grade or subject. The teachers use the curriculum -- textbooks, videos, and classroom activities -- to teach those standards. This specialization examines topics of social equality, diversity in curriculum, and civic participation in choosing instructional tools.||Supervisor of curriculum and instruction, testing coordinator, principal.|
|Early Childhood Education||Early childhood education sets the foundation for future academic achievement. Volumes of educational research have touted the importance of giving students strong foundations in literacy and numeracy early in their educational career. This specialty explores best practices in instructional methods, new developments in curriculum development, and the latest research in long-term impacts of quality early childhood education.||Pre-kindergarten administrator, early childhood teacher, literacy specialist, instructional coordinator.|
|Academic and Behavioral Interventions||Students explore the psychology behind best practices in areas of student discipline and academic intervention. They also research the impact of early academic intervention on student success and different methods schools and teachers use to identify those in need of extra academic support. Students will also gain an understanding of the most effective disciplinary interventions for students at various grade and developmental levels.||Superintendent, principal.|
|Legal and Policy Issues in Education||States continue to grapple with issues of school choice, diversity and social equity, and the role of technology in educational delivery. This specialization considers the broader societal impacts of education. Students may research the effectiveness of funding on school quality or the value of charter schools within a specific region. They may also evaluate other's research to help develop policy proposals to address educational reform initiatives.||Educational consultant, superintendent, principals.|
Courses in a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Program
The exact courses you'll need to complete will be dependent on your chosen school and specialization, but the courses below offer a sampling of what you may take. Because most programs require either a capstone dissertation or professional project, many programs incorporate courses in qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as academic writing.
- Curriculum Theory
Learners gain an understanding of the philosophical, sociological, and psychological approaches to learning. This course looks at historical approaches and the newest theories in curriculum development, as well as curriculum change, implementation, and evaluation. Often, the course requires completion of a curriculum project related to your career goals -- either as a classroom instructional leader or a curriculum specialist.
- Paradigms of Instruction and Assessment
A paradigm represents established patterns and perspectives in a subject area. This course helps educators learn to evaluate evidence-based practices to develop the most effective instructional and assessment methods, such as small and large group projects, interactive learning models, and useful texts. Students discuss best practices and research concerning student outcomes for various instructional methods.
- Education Policy, Reform, and Teacher Leadership
Educational leadership occurs at all levels of the education system. In this course, learn about strategies for effective instruction for each classroom, as well as how educational leaders partner with other teachers, students, parents, and the community to build a positive school culture. The course also looks at scheduling strategies, strategic budgeting, and the importance of ongoing professional development.
- Educational Statistics
Students utilize quantitative research methods to test their hypotheses, learning where to find relevant statistical data and communicating the results of the analysis. The course covers reading and evaluating statistics and provides a foundation in the specialties of descriptive and inferential statistics. Lab or research work often accompanies the reading and discussion portion of the class.
- Educational Measurement
Schools use a number of methods to measure student progress: daily assignments, chapter tests, class presentations, and comprehensive exams. This course explores the theory behind modern educational assessment methods, such as how standardized tests evaluate student performance compared to academic standards and how schools measure an individual student's growth from one year to the next. The course looks at interpretations of scale scores and assessing the effectiveness of the exams.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction?
You'll need anywhere from 45 to 90 credits to complete a doctoral degree, and that could take three to five years. The time you need to complete the degree depends on the number of credits you earn each semester and the time you need to complete your capstone project. A course load of six to nine credits per semester satisfies full-time enrollment requirements, but some schools may allow you to take additional credits as your schedule permits. In schools utilizing a cohort approach to the degree, you won't be able to proceed faster than the rest of the group. If you completed doctorate-level courses at another university, you can request a transfer evaluation. Schools make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, assessing the difficulty of the course, the content covered, and the grade earned. Most schools limit the time you have to complete all requirements to around eight years from the start of your program.
How Much Is a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction?
The average public university charges about $10,000 a year for a graduate degree, compared to more than $23,000 per year at a private school, according to 2013 data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. The amount you'll pay will vary depending on the type of school you choose. You may also need to consider the cost of housing or room and board, fees for supervised fieldwork, and technology fees for online programs. If your program requires on-campus intensives, you may also need to consider travel and lodging costs.
Many students seeking a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction work full-time, attend courses part-time during the school year, and take accelerated courses during the summer. Schools may offer full-time doctoral students teaching or research assistantships. These financial awards provide tuition waivers and living stipends while you work toward your degree. Many of these programs include limits on renewal of three to five years. There may also be special grant programs for agreeing to work in high-need school systems. Check with your school system for possible reimbursement for continuing your education.
Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Prepares For
Many jobs in curriculum and instruction require you to complete state licensing requirements. These advanced education credentials ensure individuals have the knowledge necessary to lead curriculum development and provide meaningful professional development to teachers. While some licenses may require a minimum of a master's degree, a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction allows individuals who previously earned a master's in another specialty to qualify for these career-enhancing licenses and professional endorsements. Be sure to check the requirements of your state.
- Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development
States require candidates for license to have several years of classroom teaching experience as well as advanced study of educational leadership with at least a master's degree. Most states require you to pass an educational leadership exam.
To gain employment as an education administrator, such as a principal or supervisor, you'll need advanced study of educational leadership following several years of teaching experience. Requirements vary by state but often include passing an educational leadership exam. In addition, candidates should have documented experience taking on leadership positions within their school system.
Superintendents serve as the chief executive officer for a school system and are responsible for instructional programs, staffing, facility maintenance, and budget development and management. Many states offer an advanced administrative license for individuals seeking this role, and it often requires experience as a teacher and administrator as well as documentation of advanced study of educational leadership.
- Special Education Supervisor
Management of special education departments requires not only an understanding of the individual educational needs of students, but also an understanding of the legal and regulatory requirements. The specialty certification requires advanced study in areas of education law and policy and curriculum development. Applicants must graduate from an accredited school and have relevant teaching experience.
Resources for Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Students
Here you can find research from high-achieving school districts, reviews of traditional and digital instructional tools, and information on data-driven instruction. The foundation also offers information on topics such as effective teaching, instructional leadership, and student achievement.
The site offers resources for teachers looking to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into their curriculum. The website includes information on best practices and the latest research in STEM education.
NCSC presents research and best practices in alternative assessment and curriculum for students with significant cognitive disabilities. The collaborative has briefs on academic standards, grade- and age-appropriate assessment, and content models.
NAGC provides a quarterly publication focused on classroom teacher tools and resources for challenging high-potential students as well as a section on programming standards and gifted education practices. The association also offers training and webinars for professional development.
The department offers access to a variety of student data, such as graduation rates, student outcomes, and civil rights data. Users also find valuable information on federal education laws and prior research results.
Professional Organizations in Curriculum and Instruction
Professional organizations offer administrators and educators opportunities to network with peers and learn about the latest advancements in instructional best practices and curriculum development. Organizations may provide opportunities to help develop education policy or lobby lawmakers regarding educational reform. Many professional groups offer access to research journals, professional development, conferences, webinars, specialized job boards, grants, and scholarships.
This national organization includes 49 state affiliates with a 150-year history of promoting educational leadership and advocacy. AASA supports educational concerns to state and federal lawmakers. Members benefit from learning resources and access to leadership development programs, such as the Aspiring Superintendents Academy.
Members benefit from regular communication on educational issues and instructional development through newsletters, magazines, and webinars. The organization offers individual and team memberships along with discounted student memberships. Conferences, institutes, and association events provide networking and professional development opportunities.
Founded in 1916, AERA promotes scholarly research on educational assessment. The organization includes 12 divisions and 155 special interest groups, including advocacy and professional development. It offers a Fellows Program to recognize members making significant contribution to education research.
This network of more than 300,000 literacy researchers, educators, and advocates provides resources for teaching and evaluating literacy skills. Members enjoy access to academic journals and the opportunity to attend regional and international conferences.
NEA represents more than three million members across the nation, working at all levels of public education. The organization promotes educational policy initiatives to congressional lawmakers with affiliate organizations working at the state and local levels. It also organizes awareness campaigns to educate the public on educational issues and provides grants to support innovative instruction.