Restructuring of the Ph.D Program in the School of Education

The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill


Collapse of 6 PhD programs into 1 program with three subspecialties and creation of a set of core courses. Students take the core courses all at the same time in a cohort. The PhD core includes a course on the history and nature of educational research as a field, a course that reviews the fundamentals of research designs (quantative and qualtitative), and a course that studies the "cosmology" of the current era that shapes the philosophy of science currently at play in educational research.

UNC Ph.D. in Education
This is a link to section of the School of Education website that describes the degree programs.


The new PhD program was created in 1997. With the new program a Graduate Studies Division (GSD) was created to implement, monitor and coordinate the new program. Faculty volunteered to join one of the three specialties: Culture, Curriculum, and Change; Educational Psychology, Measurement and Evaluation; and Early Childhood, Families and Literacy. These faculties then constitute the GSD.


It promotes a common understanding of the breadth of educational research. Students are exposed to a wider range of perspectives than in our old program.

Evidence that it works

We have an ironic result. It is clear that students understand education as a field more broadly and have a wider exposure to concepts than previously. Nevertheless, this broader exposure also highlights the differences amongst the students in subfields, perspectives and values. This causes considerable debate amongst students and has led to some 'drawing of lines' when we had hoped for a more interdisciplinary result.

Reflection from a faculty member

Dr. George Noblit

The core is difficult to teach when students see that the different specialties have different theories and methods. Thus they wonder why they have to learn that which they will not do later. Yet I am convinced that this cross-disciplinary conversation with all its noise and controversy is exactly what they need to understand and be able to navigate in our field. The goal of becoming truly interdisciplinary across the specialties in our program may not be reasonable.

Reflection from a student

Evelyn Gordon, Second Year Ph.D. student

Coming from a background in mathematics I found the core courses to be a good introduction to the field of education. I gained a sense of the varieties of research that are open to me and current issues in theory, research, and practice. The courses also served as an unintentional but useful introduction to the differing perspectives of the specialties. I found the core a positive aspect of the program in its function as an introduction and because it served to facilitate relationships with people outside my specialty area, whom I might otherwise not have met since we have little coursework in common.

Reflection from a student

Silvia Bettez, Second Year Ph.D. student

I completed my master's degree at UNC in which there are no requirements. The beauty of that is that I had the flexibility to take courses related to education that interested me in a variety of disciplines. Upon entering the Ph.D. and being forced to take the core courses I realized that there is a specific foundational history and philosophy of education. Furthermore, having classes with students from the other two subspecialties introduced me to divergent ways of thinking about the field of education. This process, honestly, was frustrating. However, I feel like I have a better sense of what the larger field of education comprises as well as a stronger understanding of the range of ideas my peers will hold.

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