Doctorate in Special Education

The doctoral program in special education advances our understanding of the relationship between structural and functional changes in the brain across time and experiences, examines cognitive processing, and considers the implications of those findings for teaching, learning, and educational policy. We also address the challenging demands of disability in society and institutional improvements essential to support individuals with disabilities.  Included in the course sequence are leadership, policy and research courses, as well as foundational courses in brain development from early childhood through adulthood. The program works closely with Graduate School of Education and Human Development's Center for Applied Developmental Science and Neuroeducation to provide research and internship opportunities for students to translate and apply research related to learning for diverse populations.  Graduates will leave prepared to have an impact through leadership in academic settings, research communities, policy institutions, and advocacy organizations.

For more information contact Brandon Brown, Executive Program Assistant, at


Why a GW Doctorate in Special Education?

  • Training a New Generation of Scholars: Doctoral students gain research and practical knowledge, learning to integrate, apply, and advance educational and neuroscientific perspectives. The program and its collaboration with the Center for Applied Developmental Science and Neuroeducation is leading the way in research relevant to special educational practice and policy.

66 credits, including 27 credits in required courses, a minimum 12 credits in research courses including 3 credits in advanced research, 6 credits in internship courses, a minimum 15 credits in dissertation courses, 6 credits in elective courses, and successful completion of a comprehensive examination.

Core Courses

SPED 8305 Foundations of Neuroscience in Special Education
SPED 8306 Advanced Study in Development Science and Variance I: The Early Years
SPED 8310 Advanced Study in Development Science and Variance II: The Later Years
SPED 8311 Proseminar in Special Education: The Interdisciplinary Foundations
EDUC 8110 Advanced Study: Ideas, Issues, and Practices in Education
SPED 8100 Selected Topics
SPED 8352 Disability and Public Policy
SPED 8304 Research and Trends in Special Education
SPED 8308 Preparation for the Professoriate in Special Education

Research Methods

EDUC 6116 Introduction to Educational Statistics
EDUC 8120 Group Comparison Designs and Analyses
EDUC 8122 Qualitative Research Methods
3 credits from the following:
EDUC 8100 Experimental Courses
EDUC 8130 Survey Research Methods
EDUC 8131 Case Study Research Methods
EDUC 8140 Ethnographic Research Methods
EDUC 8142 Phenomenological Research Methods
EDUC 8144 Discourse Analysis
EDUC 8170 Educational Measurement
EDUC 8171 Predictive Designs and Analyses


SPED 8353 Post-Master’s Internship in Special Education
SPED 8354 Doctoral Internship: Special Education


6 credits in consultation with advisor


SPED 8998 Doctoral Seminar in Special Education
SPED 8999 Dissertation Research (minimum 12 credits needed to complete requirement)

Successful completion of comprehensive exam required
Approved dissertation proposal required

(202) 994-1547
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-9061
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-5986
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-1534
(202) 994-1536
Visiting Assistant Professor
(202) 994-5817
Associate Professor
(202) 994-1535
(202) 994-3291
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-9860
Career Outlook


Our Special Educators teach, lead, and manage educational programs. They are:

  • Evaluation Coordinators at DC Public Schools
  • Directors of Early Childhood Development & Intervention at Catholic Charities
  • Managers of the National Youth Transition Services Initiative
  • Professional Development Trainers at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education
  • They are Principals and Special Education Teachers in K-12 classrooms across the country
  • “I started as a DCPS Special Education teacher. My Master’s led to policy work, a Doctorate, and the decision to focus my skills, energy, and commitment on co-founding a middle school with a GSEHD colleague. In a Title I setting, we have designed and are delivering the best,
    comprehensive education model for students. Our project based, small group learning builds problem solving skills, a strong sense of community, and confidence. We draw no lines - all of our students - general and special education alike - learn to advocate for
    themselves “

    Elizabeth Shook-Torres, Ed.D.
    Co-Founder, Washington Global Public Charter School

    In the News

    Carrie Gillispie, doctoral candidate in Special Education and Disability Studies, gave a presentation to the Bridging the Word Gap (BWG) Leadership Team at the BWG National Research Network preconference at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Austin, Texas.

    GSEHD student Zach Weingarten (Ed.D. candidate, special education) recently started working as a researcher in the Policy, Practice, and Systems Change Service Area at the American Institutes for Research. His work is focused within the Special Education Practice Area where he supports the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part D Program Analysis, Communication, Dissemination, and Meetings Multiple Award Task Order contract through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the Department of Education.

    GSEHD doctoral candidate Carrie Gillispie (special education and disability studies) has been selected as one of the 2017-2018 four Emerging Research Scholars in the Bridging the Word Gap (BWG) Research Network. She will work under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Frey, a BWG Research Network member.

    GW's team won the grand prize at the 2016 DC Public Health Case Challenge for their solution titled Communities for Collective Action (C4CA)! The annual challenge aims to promote interdisciplinary, problem-based learning around a public health issue of importance to the local Washington, D.C. community. This year's topic was The Changing American City and Implications for Health and Well-being of Vulnerable Populations.