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News >  Idaho

Idaho schools chief hopeful earned specialist degree, not doctorate

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 22, 2014, 5 p.m.

Sherri Ybarra (Betsy Russell)
Sherri Ybarra (Betsy Russell)

BOISE – Sherri Ybarra, the Republican candidate for Idaho state superintendent of schools, claimed for months that she expected to get a doctorate in education in August, giving her a top educational credential when she’d take office, if she’s elected in November.

But in August, Ybarra had only been enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Idaho for one semester. That month, she received an educational specialist degree, not a doctorate.

Ybarra’s campaign spokeswoman, Melinda Nothern, said there was no intentional misrepresentation. “She’s been working toward this for a long time,” Nothern said. Nothern said Ybarra decided to apply some of her credits toward the lesser degree in August, and keep working toward the doctorate.

“She changed her mind,” Nothern said.

The confusion over Ybarra’s degree prospects was the latest in a series of missteps in her campaign. She’s acknowledged that her campaign website plagiarized material directly from her opponent’s, for which she apologized. She incorrectly named a former GOP primary rival as an official of her campaign when he hadn’t endorsed either candidate. She acknowledged misstating her personal history, neglecting to mention a previous marriage and instead suggesting her current husband’s military career brought her to the state in 1996. And she admitted never voting in a general election since she moved to the state; Ybarra said she’s running for state superintendent in part to “repay” Idaho for that lapse.

She repeated that stand Tuesday night in a live, televised debate. “That’s a civic duty,” Ybarra said of voting, “and if elected, this will be a civic duty that I will repay Idaho through for my lack of having a consistent voting history. And I would be honored to do that.”

Ybarra, who earned a master’s degree in education from the U of I in 2007, has been enrolled on and off for several years in the university’s educational specialist degree program, university records show. Then, in the summer semester of 2014, she enrolled in both that program and the Ed.D doctorate program.

“She’s still enrolled and still working toward her doctorate,” Nothern said. “She’s still actively going to pursue that, is pursuing that.”

Jana Jones, Ybarra’s opponent in the election, who earned her doctorate in education at Idaho State University in 2001, said there’s “no way” to earn a doctorate in education in a single semester. “I was working full-time, so it was supposed to be five years and it ended up being six,” she said.

“At this point with everything else that’s gone on, I just think she misleads the public,” Jones said. “And I don’t understand why. But she does. And then acts like it’s no big deal. And I just find that puzzling.”

Ybarra’s campaign website says that she received an “EdDs in Educational Leadership” in August of 2014. The U of I offers an Ed.D degree, a doctorate in education, and a Ph.D degree, a more research-based educational doctorate. It doesn’t offer a doctorate matching Ybarra’s description. Its educational specialist degree is referred to as an Ed.S degree.

Jerry Evans, former longtime Republican state superintendent of schools in Idaho, said, “There’s a lot of difference between an educational specialist and a doctorate.” He noted that the specialist degree is the certification that’s required to serve as a school district superintendent in Idaho; a doctorate is not required. “I had the specialist, but I didn’t have the doctorate,” he said. “It goes well beyond.”

The University of Idaho’s educational specialist degree requires 30 credits above a master’s degree, according to university spokeswoman Andrea Barlow. An Ed.D degree requires an additional 23 credits, exams, and a dissertation.

Evans noted that when he served as state superintendent from 1979 to 1995, an educational specialist degree was required for the position, as were at least three years of teaching experience in Idaho. In his final term, two lawmakers who lacked the degree and experience were considering running for the post, and the Legislature removed the requirements.

Evans objected to the move at the time. “I said, ‘Would you hire someone to be the captain of your ship who had never seen the ocean?’” he said.

Currently, Idaho’s state schools chief is required only to have a bachelor’s degree, be at least 25 years old, and have lived in the state for two years. Current Superintendent Tom Luna, the first non-educator to hold the post, has a bachelor’s degree from New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State College.

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