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Doctor of Education Dissertation Helps Change Pennsylvania Law

Dec 12, 2018

Doctor of Education Dissertation Helps Change Pennsylvania Law

Credit: Delaware Valley University. Dr. Ann Marie Vaughn, a member of the first class to graduate from Delaware Valley University’s Doctor of Education program.

When Dr. Ann Marie Vaughn chose her topic for her dissertation for Delaware Valley University’s Doctor of Education program, she was looking for a subject that would provide a solution for a real-world problem. Her work ended up being read by members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and, played a role in changing the state’s teacher certification requirements. 

For her dissertation, “The Division of PA Teacher Certification and Its Impact on Teacher Hiring,” Dr. Vaughn surveyed and interviewed elementary school principals about their challenges hiring teachers for the fifth and sixth grades. 

“Elementary teachers in Pennsylvania were previously certified in either Pre-K through fourth grade or fourth through eighth-grade,” said Dr. Vaughn. “A lot of colleges were unable to sustain both the early-childhood and the middle-level degrees, so there were not enough teachers for the fifth and sixth-grade levels.”

Dr. Vaughn said this teacher shortage presented hiring challenges for principals. 

“There were very few teachers maintaining the certification for fifth and sixth grade,” said Dr. Vaughn. “I found that this was impacting the quality of teachers some principals were able to choose from.”

For the project, Dr. Vaughn surveyed elementary school principals and supplemented the survey with in-depth interviews with seven principals. She was excited to see her work being used to find solutions for the challenges she heard about in the principals’ interviews. 

“It was crazy for me,” said Dr. Vaughn of the experience. 

She said being at a smaller school allowed her to take on the topic while balancing her responsibilities outside of school.

“I had a tremendous amount of support from professors,” said Dr. Vaughn. “The librarians were a phenomenal asset. I don’t think I would have had all of that support if I was at a larger university. Everyone was very interested in me being successful.”

The day after Dr. Vaughn defended her dissertation, Leonard Schwartz, interim director of the University’s master’s in education programs, shared her work with his colleagues. Dr. Robert Laws, a former Central Bucks School District superintendent, who helped to develop the University’s Doctor of Education program, reached out to Schwartz to share that there was a Pennsylvania House of Representatives bill aimed at changing the requirements for elementary teacher certification. The bill was sponsored by Senator-elect Kristin Phillips-Hill, who was at the time a state representative for the 93rd House District.

“I sent her my dissertation, and she shared it with other Pennsylvania House of Representatives members,” said Dr. Vaughn. “We stayed in contact and she kept me up to date throughout the process.” 

The bill ended up being signed into law, allowing for elementary school teachers to earn the K-6 certification again. 

“I think this change will help improve the quality of teachers for fifth and sixth grade,” said Dr. Vaughn. “Principals will now have a bigger applicant pool to choose from for fifth and sixth-grade positions.”

Dr. Vaughn, who is a currently serving as an assistant principal for Pocono Mountain School District, is proud to have been a part of improving the experience for students and teachers. 

“I found something that I was passionate about that directly impacted my students,” said Dr. Vaughn. “My intention was to choose a topic that I cared about that would find a solution and I did.”

As an assistant principal, Dr. Vaughn said she is taking everything she has learned from the program into her current role. She said the program prepared her with leadership skills and an understanding of strategic change that she feels helped her get promoted to her current role. 

“I apply the concepts from the program every day,” said Dr. Vaughn.