Doctorate in Special Education

Addressing the challenging demands of disability in society through institutional improvements is essential to supporting individuals with 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. The doctoral program in Special Education has a unique emphasis on neuroscience research and how to interpret and apply it to the field of special education. 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.


60 credits, including 21 credits in required 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.

Neuroscience Foundations

SPED 8305Foundations of Neuroscience in Special Education
SPED 8306Advanced Study in Development Science and Variance I: The Early Years
SPED 8310Advanced Study in Development Science and Variance II: The Later Years

Leadership Foundations

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

Research Tools

SPED 8304Research and Trends in Special Education
EDUC 6116Introduction to Educational Statistics
EDUC 8120Group Comparison Designs and Analyses
EDUC 8122Qualitative Research Methods
Level B Advanced Research Elective; 3 credits from the following:
EDUC 8100Experimental Courses
EDUC 8130Survey Research Methods
EDUC 8131Case Study Research Methods
EDUC 8140Ethnographic Research Methods
EDUC 8142Phenomenological Research Methods
EDUC 8144Discourse Analysis
EDUC 8170Educational Measurement
EDUC 8171Predictive 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 8353Post-Master’s Internship in Special Education
SPED 8354Doctoral Internship: Special Education

Interdisciplinary Electives

9 credits in consultation with advisor from recommended list below:
SPED 6299 Federal Education Policy Institute
SPED 8303 Administration and Supervision of Special Education
SPED 8311 Doctoral Proseminar: Scholarly Writing in Applied Settings
SPED 8345Consultation and the Change Process


SPED 8998Doctoral Seminar in Special Education
SPED 8999Dissertation 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
Associate Professor
(202) 994-1535
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



    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 page.

    Transformation Begins Here

    Learn more about the Doctorate in Special Education program located on campus (202-994-8411).

    In the News

    Dr. Robert Eichorn, principal of Independence Nontraditional School and GSEHD doctoral student (special education and disability studies), gave a speech at the Prince William County Public Schools board meeting in honor of GSEHD alumna Dr. Renee Lacey (Ed.D., special education and disability studies), who passed away in July 2017. View a video of the speech. (Dr. Eichorn's comments begin at 36:20).

    GSEHD alumna Dr. Renee Lacey (Ed.D., Special Education and Disability Studies) passed away in July 2017. Dr. Lacey was director of the Office of Student Management and Alternative Programs for Prince William County Public Schools. She helped expand a range of programs for adolescents at risk for dropout from high school and those who had left school and wanted to return to complete their high school diploma.
    The Prince William County School Board named the media center at Independence Nontraditional School the Lacey Learning Center in Dr. Lacey’s honor. Dr. Robert Eichorn, principal of Independence Nontraditional School and GSEHD doctoral student (Special Education and Disability Studies), gave a speech at the board meet about Dr. Lacey's commitment to non-traditional students. Dr. Carol Kochhar-Bryant has called her "a tireless leader on behalf of alternative education for youth and a hugely respected person."

    Heather Walter and Lauren Naples, GSEHD doctoral students in special education and disability studies, participated in the 5th Annual D.C. Public Health Case Challenge at the National Academy of Sciences. Along with four other GW students representing the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the School of Medicine, the GW team was awarded the Best Interprofessional Solution prize for their solution to this year's case challenge topic: Lead and Adverse Childhood Experiences: Neurological and Behavioral Consequences for Youth in the District of Columbia. This prize reflects the innovative, translational lens and cross-disciplinarity the team brought to the case solution. The team was co-advised by Dr. Beth Tuckwiller and GW ISCOPES director (and GSEHD alumna) Dr. Angela Hinzey (Ed.D., human and organizational learning). Congratulations!

    Dr. Joan Kester and several special education and disability studies doctoral and master's students presented at the 2017 PA Community on Transition Conference. Amanda Szczerba, a master's student, co-presented with Dr. Kester in a session featuring her capstone project, "Career Development Opportunities for Students with Disabilities." Eric Duer, a recent master's graduate, presented "Entrepreneurship on a Budget." Dr. Kester and doctoral student Matthew Flanagan collaborated with Temple University and the PA Youth Leadership Network to present research findings in a session entitled "Transition Discoveries: Tools & Resources to Improve Transition Practices." Dr. Kester co-presented with Julie Stella and Matthew Flanagan, doctoral students, a session entitled "Digital Inclusion: Let's Brainstorm!"

    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.