Doctorate in Special Education

Research from the interdisciplinary field of developmental science, which examines the biopsychosocial mechanisms that underlie typical and atypical development, is changing our understanding of human growth, language, and development. These discoveries have enormous implications for the development of children with and at-risk for disabilities.

The Special Education Doctoral program prepares individuals determined to transform educational and social institutions into inclusive environments through relevant and rigorous research in order to improve the lives of all persons 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. Students will study structural and functional changes in the brain, examine cognitive processing, and consider the implications of those findings for teaching, learning, and educational policy.

Graduates will leave prepared to have an impact through leadership in academic settings, research communities, policy institutions, and advocacy organizations.


Why a GW Doctorate in Special Education?

    Location: Unique to the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area, our location gives students in the Special Education & Disability Studies Department access to urban or suburban; public, charter, or private schools. This allows students to examine, compare, and contrast schools with widely different student populations, structures, and demographics.

    GSEHD's Center for Applied Developmental Science and Neuroeducation: 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. 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.

    Convenient Schedule: Courses are scheduled once a week in late afternoons and evenings (Monday-Thursday) to accommodate the schedules of working professionals, and for internship experiences.


54 credits, including 15 credits in foundational courses, a minimum 15 credits in research courses including 3 credits in advanced research, 6 credits in internship courses, a minimum 15 credits in dissertation courses, 9 credits in elective courses, and successful completion of a comprehensive examination.

Developmental Science Foundations

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

Leadership Foundations

SPED 8308 Preparation for the Professoriate in Special Education
SPED 8352 Disability and Public Policy

Research Tools

EDUC 6116 Introduction to Educational Statistics
EDUC 8120 Group Comparison Designs and Analyses
EDUC 8122 Qualitative Research Methods
SPED 8304 Research and Trends in Special Education

Level B Advanced Research Elective; 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
EDUC 8172 Multivariate Analysis
EDUC 8173 Structural Equation Modeling
EDUC 8174 Hierarchical Linear Modeling
EDUC 8175 Item Response Theory
EDUC 8177 Assessment Engineering


SPED 8354 Doctoral Internship: Special Education

Interdisciplinary Electives

9 credits in consultation with advisor from recommended list below:
SPED 6299 Federal Education Policy Institute
SPED 6210 Universal Design for Learning and Assessment
SPED 8303 Administration and Supervision of Special Education
SPED 8311 Doctoral Proseminar: Scholarly Writing in Applied Settings
SPED 8100 Selected Topics


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) 994-1509
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-5986
Assistant Professor
(202) 994-1534
Associate Professor
(202) 994-1535
Associate 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



    Program Entry: Fall, Summer
    Prerequisites:Master's Degree
    Campus:Foggy Bottom

    Application Requirements

    • Online Application
    • Resume
    • Statement of Purpose
    • 2 Letters of Recommendation (must be academic)
    • Transcripts (unofficial)
    • Standardized Test Scores (GRE or MAT)
    • Application Fee

    *Additional application requirements may exist for international applicants
    For more information on any of these requirements, please visit our Admissions FAQ page.

    We encourage you to submit your application as early as possible. We are accepting Fall 2021 applications on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the admissions team with any questions.

    Transformation Begins Here

    Learn more about the Doctorate in Special Education program located on campus (202-994-9283).

    In the News

    GSEHD doctoral student Maria (Conchita) Hernandez Legorreta (Special Education) published an article entitled, "I Grew Up Latinx & Disabled — & I’m Creating The Change I Want To See" on

    GSEHD doctoral student Tonya Jefferson (Special Education and Disability Studies) was a guest on The Talk on Main Street's Juneteenth Facebook Live Event about moving the country forward regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, Ms. Jefferson was appointed VP of Graduate Student Policy on the GW Student Association Executive Cabinet.

    Drs. Natalie Milman and Beth Tuckwiller published an article entitled, "Fostering blended and online students' well-being" in the journal Distance Learning [17(1), 48-52]. In addition, Drs.

    Dr. Beth Tuckwiller presented a talk entitled, "Building Individual and Organizational Resilience" to GW's Division of Development and Alumni Relations.

    Drs. Elisabeth Rice and Karen Ihrig published an article with Special Education and Disability Studies alumnae Margaux Brown, Kandace Hoppin, Amy Srsic, Adelaide Kelly-Massoud and doctoral student Melissa Boston in the Journal of Child and Families Studies.

    For more information, please request information or contact our admission office at or 202-994-9283.