Degrees in K-12 Education Leadership: Program Options and Requirements

Oct 15, 2019

Master's, education specialist and doctoral degrees are available in K-12 leadership, offering training to become school principals and school district administrators. School principals often hold a master's degree, whilst school superintendents usually hold a doctoral degree.

Essential Information

Applicants to a master's program must have a bachelor's degree. If that degree was not in education, they may be required to complete education courses in addition to the coursework in K-12 leadership. This program, which usually calls for 36 credit hours of study, offers training in organizational management and educational leadership through courses such as teacher evaluation and community relationships. Students also study research methodology. An internship may be required.

An education specialist program is for educators who hold master's degrees, but don't want to earn a doctoral degree. Courses may include legal issues in education, teacher development, the role of the principal and program evaluation. A specialist program requires at least 30 credit hours of coursework.

In a doctoral program, students focus on research in identifying, analyzing and proposing solutions for problems in education. They must research and defend a dissertation and might be required to pass a comprehensive written exam. Students must have a master's degree or an education specialist credential and extensive experience in education.

Master of Science in K-12 Leadership

Master of Science in K-12 Leadership programs offer students a foundation of knowledge in qualitative and quantitative research, educational leadership and educational diversity. Students learn to apply the theories of leadership, policy and decision-making in an educational setting. Many programs offer supervised fieldwork experiences, and some programs also prepare students for their administrative licensing or initial educator's licensure.

Colleges and universities offering master's degree programs require that candidates possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. An institution's basic requirements may also include a minimum GPA. In addition, some programs require the completion of related undergraduate coursework in education.

Students learn how to understand and assess the performance of educational organizations. Students also learn how to allocate finances and resources, offer community leadership and manage special programs through courses such as:

  • Elementary and secondary education finance
  • Higher education law
  • Education and culture
  • Program administration
  • Personnel supervision
  • Organizational theory

Education Specialist Degree in K-12 Leadership

The Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in K-12 Education Leadership degree program is an option for students who are not seeking a doctoral degree; however, some programs provide the option of applying completed coursework to a doctoral program. Programs require a minimum of 30 additional credit hours of coursework beyond a master's degree, and focus on preparing students for administrative positions in schools.

Colleges and universities offering the Ed.S. option require that students have a master's degree from an accredited institution. Each institution establishes acceptable entry requirements, such as overall GPA. Teaching and research experience may also be factors in the decision to accept an applicant.

The Ed.S. option seeks to further develop the skills of experienced teachers and education administrators. Programs prepare students for advanced licensure or professional development through coursework in:

  • Instructional leadership
  • Law and public school administration
  • Program evaluation
  • Politics and education
  • Teacher leadership
  • Principalship

Doctorate of Education in K-12 Education Leadership

The Doctorate of Education in K-12 Education Leadership offers students the opportunity to advance to the top of their field. Programs provide focused coursework that expands on knowledge in curriculum development, instructional technology and school administration. Students are prepared to apply concepts in research and to understand the best practices in education. They also learn to select, analyze and resolve common problems in the field of education.

Institutions offering the Doctorate of Education require that applicants possess a master's degree. Many programs require a master's degree in education or the completion of a transferrable Ed.S. credential. Each institution sets minimum master's degree GPA requirements. Programs may also require the submission of a current resume that details professional experience in education.

Doctorate programs prepare students to examine and apply solutions to current problems in K-12 education. Courses study the application of leadership skills, research methods and ethics through coursework such as the following:

  • Managing educational resources
  • Ethical leadership
  • Doctoral research methods

Popular Career Options

Graduates of master's degree programs in K-12 education leadership pursue careers in public and private schools, nonprofit organizations and sports leadership. Some popular career options include the following:

  • School faculty
  • Principal
  • Education district administrator
  • School administrator

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that postsecondary education administrators can expect faster than average job growth through 2028 ( The industry is expected to grow by about 7 percent through 2028. Education administrators working in the elementary and secondary school environments reported median annual earnings of $95,310 as of May 2018. Education administrators working in postsecondary institutions earned a median wage of $94,340 annually and those in preschool or childcare centers earned a median wage of $47,940.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates seeking careers as faculty, teachers or in education administration for public school systems may need to obtain licensing. Licensing requirements vary by state; however, they typically require the successful passing of an examination. Some states offer different levels of licensure, depending on a candidate's experience. Education administrators are also required to renew their licenses, which may require completion of continuing education coursework.

K-12 leadership education is available to students in the form of master's and doctorate degrees. In order to enter into education administrative roles, graduates may require licensing - the requirements of which vary by state.

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