Velinda Stubbs earned her administrative and specialist licenses at Indiana State University and she wanted to pursue her doctorate through its well-known Wednesday program, named for the day of the week the Ph.D. students attend class on campus. However, she encountered a problem.
“The travel time was prohibitive along with my work schedule,” said Stubbs, director of English language arts and literacy for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation.
Then she learned Indiana State’s Bayh College of Education would be bringing its doctoral program to Evansville for administrators in that school system and she immediately signed up. In January of 2011, she started the coursework through the distance Ph.D. program.
“Indiana State has a long history of success with its educational leadership staff,” Stubbs said about why she wanted to earn her doctorate through ISU. “They have a strong background in educational leadership and bring a range of experiences to the table.”
Terry McDaniel, professor of educational leadership and one of the architects of the traveling doctorate program, said Bayh College professors found that many people wanted to participate in the Wednesday program, but couldn’t because of balancing travel time and work responsibilities.
“This program provides for people out there who are exceptional leaders and we bring the program to them,” McDaniel said.
After starting the 18-member Evansville cohort in 2011, the university began the 18-member Kokomo cohort in 2012. This January, the latest cohort in New Albany began its doctoral journey. In the future, McDaniel said the college plans to offer the doctoral program to the northwest corner of the state.
Bayh College of Education Dean Brad Balch described the program as unique with a scholar-practitioner focus that emphasizes transformational leadership.
“The content is built around authentic problems of practice and the dissertations utilize the tools of action research. As such, our students’ research projects are designed around real school/district problems informing both practice and policy reform,” Balch said. “It is also distinctive in that the program utilizes a partnership approach with the school corporation in the collaborative design and delivery of a rigorous and relevant curriculum. Each cohort is unique and meets the needs of that locale.”
The doctoral students take four courses in the spring, two in the summer and four during the fall before starting on their doctoral research and writing their dissertations. All of which combines the unique needs of the area with the interests of the students.
Chuck Brimbury, superintendent of Peru Community Schools, also found he could not participate in the Wednesday program, but he could be a member of the Kokomo cohort.
“This program allowed me to further my education,” he said. “I think the main difference in this program compared to other universities is the application and expertise from the professors at ISU…Their drive is to make us be prepared to lead our students to new levels of success.”
Brimbury testified on behalf of the program before the Indiana Commission on Higher Education because he said, “it is that critical to the path of education in Indiana. I have become very educated on researching the challenging questions that are presented to educators each day. How do we help students from all schools be successful to their maximum potential?”
With the just-gained approval by the commission to operate as a distance education program, the Bayh College will no longer have to seek approval to bring the doctoral program to each new area.
“We now have blanket approval across the state through distance education,” McDaniel said.
By tacking the doctoral program to specific school corporations and regions, the program can focus on the needs for the individual corporations and areas. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation educates more than 22,000 students in schools ranging from rural to urban. ISU’s program focused on urban schools for the corporation.
“The issues we discussed were really relevant to our district,” Stubbs said. “Indiana State was able to cater the program to our needs as well. They brought wide diversity into the training. There were also cognizant of what we were facing.”
“One of the things we addressed in the program is looking at policy and how policy impacts education,” she said.
Stubbs is investigating IREAD (Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination), which as mandated by the Indiana legislature to measure reading abilities through third grade. Her research is focusing on IREAD results and the retention as a policy mandate for students who do not pass the test.
“I want to find out if we can predict how students will do based on demographic factors,” Stubbs said. She plans to look not only at socioeconomic status but also attendance and gender among other factors.
Although Brimbury has just finished his year of course work, he said he has written the first two chapters of his dissertation which is focusing on secondary urban school culture and its effect on data-based educational decision making for students.
“I want to know what happens within the culture of a school that allows some schools to use the data effectively to help students achieve academically while other schools with the same demographics are not having student success,” he said.
“Our students are doing research that is so meaningful,” McDaniel said. “All of the classes lead them toward being a researcher in something they’re passionate about.”
Through their classes and research, McDaniel said the doctoral students come out ready to become the next generation of leaders through research and the application of that research in practical ways.
“We need the greatest and best leaders to move education forward. With the media and government, education has taken a bad rap. But education is freedom for every kid out there. It’s the ticket for every kid to do what they want to do,” McDaniel said. “We need people who can step up and say what a great product we have.”