Children, Families, & Schools Ph.D.

Counting sticks

Children, family, and schools doctoral students build a firm grounding in the philosophical, historical, and cultural foundations of learning and development. Their dissertation research topics reflect a wide-range of scholarly interests, including family development, the child as learner, the human interactions involved in the teaching process, the implications of the new technologies for learning, character development, the family of the special needs child, and early intervention. In addition to the coursework, Ph.D. students have the opportunity to build practical experience through field supervision and teaching assistantships with early childhood and elementary teacher preparation programs.

Applicants to the program must have a masters in a related area (education, psychology, communication disorders) and teaching experience in a school setting. Many go on to faculty positions as in colleges and universities or leadership positions in preschool education.

Note: The education specialist degree (Ed.S.) is an option for students who would like to pursue an advanced degree beyond a masters, without the dissertation component of the doctorate.

Course of Study

The Program of Study for the Children, Families and Schools Doctoral Concentration consists of 54 credits that include nine required courses, electives, and dissertation credits. Students work with their advisory committee to plan their courses of study. 

Content Area Course Requirement Credits
Child Development Two (2) 6
Family and Community  One (1) 3
Assessment One (1) 3
Teaching and Learning Two (2) 6
Electives Three (3) 9
Research Methods Four (4) 12
Dissertation Credits   18
  Total 54

Child Development (at least two courses)
Possible courses that address this competency include:

Course Description Credits
EDUC 697R Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Education 3
EDUC 714 Learning and Thinking in Childhood  3


Building Family and Community Relationships (at least one course)
Possible courses that address this competency include:

Course Description Credits
HUMDEV 773 Research and Theory in Early Childhood 3
EDUC 795G Anthropology of Childhood 3


Observing, Documenting and Assessment (at least one course)
Possible courses that address this competency include:

Course Description Credits
EDUC 608 Classroom Management for Early Childhood and Elementary Classroom 3
EDUC 794D Discourse Analysis 3


Teaching and Learning (at least two courses)
Possible courses that address this competency include:

Course Description Credits
EDUC 792P Seminar on Literacy 3
EDUC 615AK Inclusive Classroom 3
  Any course in subject-specific pedagogy at the 600 level or higher  


Elective Courses (at least three courses)
Students will work with their advisor to find elective courses that support their academic development. These can be taken either in another concentration, department or in another College at the university. Courses must be above 600 level.


Research Methods (at least four courses)
More information regarding research methods can be accessed here


Required Courses

Doctoral students in the Children, Families and Schools concentration are required to take a minimum of 7 courses taught by CFS faculty and are encouraged to take at least one course outside of the department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies, preferably outside of the College of Education. Students work with their advisory committee to identify courses that align with the College of Education competencies, the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Professional Standards, as well as their own scholarly interests.Doctoral course requirements are aligned with the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Professional Standards for Advanced Programs.

NAEYC Competencies and Course Requirements

1. Promoting Child Development and Learning

Candidates' demonstrations of competence may include using effective methodologies to generate new knowledge about development and the conditions that promote it, as well as using effective teaching strategies to make current child development knowledge meaningful and powerful for future teachers or other community practitioners.

2. Building Family and Community Relationships

Candidates show skill in using sound methodologies to generate new knowledge about families of young children, or they may devise more effective ways to help future teachers and community practitioners understand, engage, and support families.

3. Observing, Documenting and Assessing

Candidates work to develop and validate assessment tools and are able to analyze the effects of various assessment approaches in improving child and program outcomes. Candidates show evidence of knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions related to the study and promotion of sound assessment practices.

4.  Teaching and Learning

Candidates should identify significant research questions, critique current research, and design worthwhile studies utilizing in-depth knowledge of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Those candidates who will be preparing future teachers in higher education or community programs will learn and demonstrate research-based approaches to building others’ skills in curriculum development and teaching strategies.

At least two qualitative methods and two quantitative methods courses at the 600 level or higher are required for all doctoral candidates.

Depending on the research methods to be used in the dissertation, doctoral students are recommended to take additional courses in related methodologies and research competencies. Some example courses:

Educational Planning and Evaluation (EDUC 862)

Writing Ethnography (ANTHRO 697CC)

5.  Growing as a Professional

Candidates should know and use effective, sound methodology to develop and conduct studies of the profession. To be effective, their work requires them to engage collaboratively with others both within and outside academia. And researcher candidates require special competence in understanding and using ethical guidelines for the protection of human subjects, especially when those research subjects are vulnerable young children.

This requirement is experiential. The specifics may be negotiated with the guidance committee members and will be explicitly documented in detail as part of the candidate's degree plan and qualification and as a pre-requisite for beginning preparation for comprehensive examinations.  Competencies may be met by some or all of the following:

  • Attending and presenting at local, national or international conferences in the field

  • Writing a research or theoretical paper for a practitioner audience, or as part of comprehensive examinations

  • Being a mentored research or teaching assistant in the concentration

  • Completing the CITI training for human research subject use through the UMass research office (required)


Applications to the Children, Families, and Schools doctoral program can be submitted through the Graduate School. 

Application Timeline

The application deadline for fall admission is January 2. Applicants typically receive admissions decisions in early March. 


Applicants need at least a master's degree in a related area (education, psychology, communication disorders, etc.) and previous experience in a school setting. A focused area of interest is also a good indication of readiness for doctoral study, but we fully expect students to continue to develop their ideas and research identities as they progress through the program. We encourage applicants to get in contact with faculty before they apply to discuss their potential research interests. 

Required Materials

  • 2 letters of reference
  • Personal statement
  • Resume/CV
  • Transcripts
  • Online application 
  • GRE is not required


Coordinator: Dr. Ysaaca Axelrod