Educational Leadership & Policy

Education Policy Programs in Washington, DC

Education Policy Programs in Washington, DC
To become an expert in education policy—or any policy field—you can't do better than Washington, DC. It's a town where "wonk" is a compliment. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella October 6, 2020

When it comes to studying policy, it's hard to beat Washington, DC. Universities here collaborate with legislators, administrators, and think tanks, providing students unparalleled experience and networking opportunities.

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If you want to learn about making wine, study in Tuscany or Sonoma. If you want to learn about the oil business, head for Texas. To become an expert in education policy—or any policy field—you can’t do better than Washington, DC. It’s a town where “wonk” is a compliment.

If you aspire to excel in education policy, you’ll likely need a graduate degree (at least a master’s and maybe a doctorate as well). The nation’s capital is a great place to earn one. Several schools here partner with think tanks, agencies, and private organizations, enabling students to gain transferable work experience and connections while completing a degree.

The District of Columbia is not only the seat of government (and, by extension, policy) but also a unique laboratory for educational study because of the stressed DC public school system. Nearly half of all DC public and charter school students are at-risk, affording public policymakers plentiful opportunities to learn and act. When you study education policy in DC, you’ll delve into local as well as national education policy issues.

Interested in building a career in education policy in Washington, DC? This article answers the following questions:

  • What does it mean to work in education policy?
  • Do you need a graduate degree to work in education policy?
  • Which Washington, DC, schools offer an education policy degree?

What does it mean to work in education policy?

Teachers may get all the credit for student achievement, but education policy experts provide the framework that enables classroom success: policy leaders advance and maintain the education system. Job descriptions in this field cover everything from think tanks, lobbying organizations, and industry associations to the US Department of Education and school boards across the United States.

Education policy is a vast field requiring specialization. As an education graduate student, you may focus on reducing the achievement gap between low-income affluent students or providing equal opportunity to all public school students regardless of district. Education policy can also overlap with education leadership; depending on your focus area, you may qualify to be a school principal or superintendent of a school district.

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“I'm Interested in Education Leadership and Policy!”

The students in part-time and full-time education policy master’s programs are optimists who believe they can make education better on a grand scale. They acknowledge the current education system in the United States is fraught with problems, but they don’t view any of those problems as insurmountable. They’re pursuing master’s degrees in education policy because they’ve dreamed of transforming their districts, improving on the ways students are taught across the entire state, or even driving sweeping education reform at the federal level. (source)

Universities offer so many degrees fitting for this category. At some universities, a Master of Education Policy or Master of Education Leadership program covers all the same subject matter as an M.Ed in Education Policy and Leadership. Others call this degree a Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; Master’s in Educational Leadership & Policy; Master of Education in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership; or a Master of Arts in Education Policy and Leadership. The only way to know whether the leadership and policy master’s program at a particular school is worth it is to look at the curriculum and the school’s job placement data. Make sure the curriculum supports your unique career goals and that the degree sufficiently impresses employers. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Do you need a graduate degree to work in education policy?

While you can complete a bachelor’s degree in education policy (Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus offers one), advancing past lower-level roles like academic advisor usually requires a graduate degree. There are four types of advanced degrees that prepare students for a career in education policy:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Education (MeD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Earning a master’s (MEd or MA) with a concentration in education policy is the fastest route to a graduate degree—it requires two years for most full-time students. Some programs can be completed even more quickly. These programs are designed for experienced educators, although some will admit candidates with no classroom experience. Graduates typically work as administrators, school principals, deans, analysts, district leaders, and legislators.

Most doctoral programs require candidates to hold a master’s degree (although not all do). The EdD and PhD differ substantially. The former is designed for working professionals, preparing them to create and implement change through policy recommendations. The latter most often leads to careers in academics and research. EdDs typically work as superintendents and leaders of nonprofits and advocacy groups, and in other policy decision-making positions. PhDs usually assume teaching, analyst, and research director roles.

Which Washington, DC schools offer an education policy degree?

American University

School of Education

American University offers two degree programs in education policy: one at the master’s level, the other a doctorate. The MEd can be completed in three semesters by full-time students who take hybrid courses. The EdD takes under three years to complete, on average; it prepares students for careers in policy, leadership, and, occasionally, teaching.

The school makes excellent use of its Washington, DC, location by collaborating with education organizations like the DC Public Charter School Board, the Center for American Progress, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Catholic University of America

Chartered in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII, the Catholic University of America is the only school in the country founded by bishops. The university offers a PhD in Catholic Education Leadership and Policy Studies. The program prepares students as leaders in Catholic education by combining research opportunities with coursework in policy, leadership, and religious education. Students must complete a Master of Arts in Catholic Educational Leadership to be admitted to the PhD program. The school also offers an MA in Learning and Instruction, which can lead to jobs in areas like policy, tutoring, consulting, and advocacy.

Georgetown University

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Georgetown Master of Arts in Educational Transformation connects students with education leaders and lawmakers, allowing them to interact with coursework from several angles. The school encourages students “to engage in the kind of work outside the classroom that is needed to ensure a vibrant education inside of it.”

Courses include:

  • Accountability, Assessment & Evaluation
  • Educational Policy Analysis
  • Intergovernmental Relations in Education
  • Organizational Change in Education

The MA offers two concentrations: advocacy and policy, or learning and teaching. Students must complete 30 credit hours and two residencies over four semesters.

George Washington University

Graduate School of Education and Human Development

The GWU 60-credit Doctor of Education in Education Policy “allows students to develop the skills needed to carefully examine and assess education problems and their interaction with their broader social environments.” George Washington also offers a 36-credit Master’s in Education Policy Studies.

Howard University

School of Education

HBCU Howard University offers both master’s and EdD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) programs and a new PhD in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies. The goal of each program is to create leaders with analytics skills and knowledge to foster lasting change. The school also “seeks to contribute to the understanding and the resolution of educational leadership and management issues with particular attention to the educational needs of African Americans and other historically excluded ethnic groups.”

Trinity Washington University

School of Education

Students at Trinity Washington University can select the education policy and leadership concentration as part of the Master of Education Curriculum and Instruction program. This concentration prepares graduates for leadership roles in schools and agencies, with a focus on delivering the tools to evaluate and execute policies. Admissions requirements include a minimum 2.8 undergraduate GPA.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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