Washington, DC PhD in Reading & Literacy Education Programs - PhD in Literacy

Earning a PhD in reading education and literacy teaches how to analyze current theories and apply research to create more effective curriculum in teaching literacy to students of all ages.

Continue reading to learn about the common courses, available concentrations and electives, and the common admissions requirements for the doctoral programs in reading education and literacy.

Did You Know?

Reports show that the rate of low literacy in the United States costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.

What Is Literacy Education?

While literacy is the ability to read and write, more and more educational programs are considering literacy to include the complete understanding and confident use of language.

Therefore, literacy education doesn’t just focus on one’s ability to read and write, but rather a person’s ability to use language as a way to communicate in one’s culture and society.

EdD Teaching Adult Literacy PhD in Reading Education and Literacy

All About Reading Education and Literacy Doctoral Degrees

As the definition of literacy and the importance of reading continues to change, doctoral programs in the field need to stay ahead of trends and concerns. Therefore, one of the key aspects of earning your doctorate in reading degree include contributing your own theories and research to the field through your dissertation.

Admissions Requirements for Doctorate in Reading and Literacy Programs

Some of the common admissions requirements for a PhD in reading education and literacy programs include:

  • Master’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • Official transcripts
  • Statement of goals
  • Professional resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Letters of recommendation

Every college and university has a unique set of requirements and some may be more difficult than others. Plus, some may have additional requirements than those listed above.

For instance, some schools may require that you earned a 3.2 GPA while earning your master’s, while others may not have that requirement. In addition, some schools may look for applicants with a specific number of years of teaching experience or recent academic writing.

Therefore, it’s important to check with each of your top selections before applying to sure that you’re a good fit.

Graduation Requirements PhD Literacy

While every program has unique requirements when it comes to earning your doctorate, some of the most common requirements include:

  • Complete required courses (usually a combination of core courses and electives)
  • Comprehensive exam
  • Dissertation (propose, write, present, and defend in front of a board of faculty)

One of the differences may include submitting a digital portfolio every year for three years instead of taking a comprehensive exam. These portfolios work in a similar manner and allow faculty members to gauge your understanding of key concepts.

Other programs require that you complete a portfolio as a comprehensive record of your experiences and ongoing progress toward academic and professional goals near the end of your required courses as opposed to every year. As always, for specific requirements check with each school. 

What You’ll Learn in a PhD in Literacy

Literacy and reading education doctoral programs are designed to build upon your previous education and work experience to teach a complete understanding of all the elements involved in teaching students how to communicate.

More and more, this includes analyzing and including, when relevant, all sources of reading, such as social media, websites, and information regarding the sociopolitical landscape. One of the reasons for this is because of the nature of communication and the changing definition of literacy to include all types of communication in our society.

Other key topics in reading education and literacy PhD programs are:

  • Analyze the changing curriculum to meet new requirements and standards
  • Analyze the challenges faced in improving literacy and reading assessments
  • Develop literacy programs that enhance students’ ability to communicate
  • Support the professional development of teachers
  • Apply current theories, research, and best practices to improve one’s professional practice

Though these are some of the most common topics covered, the specifics may vary depending on the program you choose and the school you attend.

Common Curriculum in a PhD in Literacy Studies

While earning a PhD in reading education and literacy, common courses include:

  • Responding to Literature
  • Multicultural Issues in Education
  • Issues in Instructional Leadership in Reading and Writing
  • Leading and Managing Literacy Programs
  • Program Improvement in Reading and Literacy
  • Reading and Literacy Assessment and Evaluation

Keep in mind that every school and every program possesses a unique design and won’t follow the same course schedule. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to check with a variety of schools before applying to make sure that you only send an application to the one’s that fit your specific goals and expectations.

Either way, your courses strive to prepare you for leadership positions in schools, school districts, and even state departments of education.

As a result, many courses, including portions of your dissertation, will focus on statistics and various research methods, such as quantitative and qualitative, and how to apply them to implementing effective curriculum.

Key Concepts of a Doctorate in Reading and Literacy

As literacy continues to include one’s entire ability to communicate and comprehend language, and as technology continues to alter the way we read and gather information, there are many issues that arise in helping both children and adults improve their reading and writing skills.

Some of the issues that many doctoral programs in reading education teach include:

  • Media literacy: distinguishing between credible and incredible sources on the internet and how to think critically about the information, even from credible sources.
  • Personalized learning: technology and various software allows teachers to create more personalized programs for students, who may have dramatically different comprehension levels even in the same class or age group.
  • Apply data: understanding how to track the success or failures of different techniques and methods with a specific set of students means you can create more effective curriculum.
  • Continued professional development: engage in critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving and conduct field-based research to improve your professional practice.
  • Understand the context of schools: design and deliver assessment-driven standards based curriculum, instruction, and training and demonstrate the vision to lead classrooms and schools as adaptive learning environments.

What Is Language and Literacy?

According to new research, the first three years of life are a critical period for language development because a child’s brain is developing rapidly. In fact, some research suggests that a baby can distinguish the sounds of his or her native language while still in the womb.

This means that language development and literacy are integral parts of a child’s learning. However, that doesn’t mean that those lessons should stop. In fact, the importance of literacy is that it should continue developing throughout one’s life.

Therefore, one of the key aspects of a doctorate in reading education and literacy is how to effectively develop language throughout the different stages of one’s life, which include creating curriculum and lesson plans for:

  • Early childhood
  • Elementary students
  • Secondary students
  • Adult learners

Possible Concentrations for a PhD in Reading Education and Literacy

Often, reading education and literacy is a concentration for a Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education. Therefore, few programs offer additional concentrations for your degree.

Though there may not be many, some of the available concentrations include:

  • Children’s and Young Adult Literature
  • Early Childhood and Elementary Literacy
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language (ESL), World Languages

Available Electives

However, many doctorates allow you the option of choosing a certain number of electives, which may include courses in fields such as:

  • Teacher education
  • Pedagogy and curriculum
  • Urban education
  • Adult and community based literacy
  • Multicultural education
  • Literacy in international contexts

While these may not be considered as a concentration, if your program allows it, choosing specific courses for your electives may provide the option of learning more about specific elements of literacy education.

Keep in mind that while most programs allow you the option to take electives, not every schools provides you the opportunity to take as many electives as you’d like.

If this is important to you, be sure to check the curriculum and the number of electives you’re allowed to take before applying.

Different Degree Names

As in many education fields, there are different types of doctoral degrees conferred in reading education and literacy programs. The two most common are:

  1. Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  2. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

While academically equivalent, these programs usually have a different focus. For instance, a PhD in reading education and literacy is more research-based and usually prepares students for careers in academia or research.

On the other hand, an EdD is more practice-based and strives to prepare students for positions in school leadership.

Important Tip:

Some schools also offer an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree, which falls between a master’s and a doctorate. Though these are advanced degrees and may jumpstart your career, be sure to recognize that they are not academically equivalent to a doctorate.

Choose Your Learning Format

Many programs allow you the option to choose how you want to pursue your degree. For instance, many schools offer an on-campus PhD in reading education and literacy and an online option as well.

These formats are academically equivalent, but allow you to choose the format that works best for you, your learning style, and your goals. For example, online doctoral programs in reading education and literacy may offer you the flexibility to view lectures, take exams, and post to course message boards whenever it is convenient for you, making online PhD in literacy and reading specialist PhD programs online a popular choice. 

In addition, sometimes online programs have additional requirements such as attending at least one residency on-campus. However, this is not required of all online programs.

On the other hand, on-campus programs provide you the ability to gain face-to-face time with your professors and classmates, which may create more sense of camaraderie.

Before applying, be sure to consider your goals and how you learn to make sure that you find the perfect program for you.

Did You Know?

The BLS projects that the number of postsecondary teachers will increase 15% during the ten years from 2016 to 2026.i

Potential Careers in Reading and Literacy

There are a number of careers that you may pursue upon earning your reading education and literacy doctoral degree. Some of these, and the 2016 median annual salary according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are:

  • Postsecondary Teacher: $75,430ii
  • Instructional Coordinator: $62,460iii
  • Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal: $92,510iv
  • Training and Development Managers: $105,830v
  • Postsecondary Education Administrators: $90,760vi

Keep in mind that some of these careers, such as instructional coordinators, only require a master’s degree and not a doctorate.vii On the other hand, most postsecondary teachers and administrators require a doctoral degree.viii

Apply to a Reading Education and Literacy Program Today!

Searching for a degree where you can help others develop the communication skills needed to succeed in modern society? Then a reading education and literacy PhD may be the degree you’re looking for!

Click on any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about each school, such as common courses, when the next starting date is, and how to apply.


[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-6 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-5 [iii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm#tab-5 [iv] bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm#tab-5 [v] bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm#tab-5 [vi] bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm#tab-5 [vii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm#tab-4 [viii] bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm#tab-4

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