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.


60 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 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

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:
SPED 8304Research and Trends in Special Education


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 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 8100Selected Topics


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
Associate Professor
(202) 994-9061
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.

    Transformation Begins Here

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

    In the News

    GSEHD's Special Education and Disability Studies (SPED) program supported the 4th annual DC3C Spring Break program on GW's campus last week. The DC3C works to close the employment gap for people with disabilities through this weeklong job-readiness program focused on professionalism and interview skills for high school students. Many of SPED faculty, staff, current/previous students volunteered. DC3C is a program within the DC Special Education Cooperative, for whom GSEHD alumna Dr. Rebecca Foster (Ed.D., Special Education) is the Director of Secondary Transition.

    Special Education and Disability Studies faculty, staff, students and alumni presented at the recent Council for Exceptional Children conference. Dr. Joan Kester, with doctoral students Matthew Flanagan and Julie Stella, presented the session "Transition Discoveries: Data-Driven Planning and Pathways to Success," where participants learned about the Transition Discoveries Quality Indicator research project, a multi-year participatory action study. Dr. Elisabeth Rice, Dr. Karen Ihrig, and GSEHD alumna Dr. Amy Srsic (with the University of Pittsburgh), presented a poster session entitled, "Raising Girls with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Perceptions of 16 Caregivers."

    Faculty and students represented GSEHD at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Conference in Tampa, FL:

    • Dr. Daniel Klasik and doctoral student Angel Jones (Ph.D. in Education) presented in a Paper Session: The Many Paths to College Enrollment: Re-Conceptualizing College Choice. Dr. Klasik also presented in a Paper Session: The Consequences of Geographic Immobility on Postsecondary Outcomes for Low-Income Students.
    • Dr. Maxine Freund and doctoral candidates Lauren Hunter Naples and Elisabeth Kutscher (both Special Education and Disability Studies) presented in a Paper Session: Beyond Accommodation: Advancing a Culture of Neurodiversity in Higher Education. Elisabeth Kutscher also presented in a Round Table Session: “We’re Not All Cut from the Same Cloth”: A Mixed Methods Investigation of College Persistence in Students with Disabilities and/or Learning Differences.
    • Dr. Ashley Stone presented in a Paper Session: Reframing Rurality: How Empowering Rural Students Enriches Rural Research. Dr. Stone also presented in a Paper Session with a colleague from the University of Maine on The Positionality of Place: Examining How Scholarship Engages with the “Where” in Higher Education Research.
    • Doctoral student Nancy Stalowski (Higher Education Administration) presented in a Round Table Session on: The White Male Benefactor: Venture Philanthropy in Higher Education.
    • Dr. Deniece Dortch presented in a Paper Session: Naming and Disrupting the Problem of White Western Models of Socialization: Toward a New Understanding of the African American Doctoral Student Experience.

    GSEHD alumna Michele Stites (Ed.D, Curriculum and Instruction) and Heather Walter (doctoral student/visiting instructor, Special Education and Disability Studies) presented their paper, "These Aren't The Kids I Signed Up For: Preservice Early Childhood General Education Teachers in Special Education Settings," at the Division of Early Childhood Conference in Orlando, Florida.

    A group from the Special Education & Disability Studies' Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services program presented at the annual Division on Career Development & Transition conference, "River of Dreams" in Cedar Rapids, IA. Dr. Joan Kester and doctoral student Matthew Flanagan presented a session called "Transition Discoveries: Authentic Data-Driven Action Planning to Improve Transition Practices." In addition, Mr. Flanagan and Dr. Kester presented the poster, "Interdisciplinary Professional Development Needs of Transition Professionals Serving Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders." Doctoral student Julie Stella and Dr. Kester presented the poster, "Digital Inclusion for Students of Transition Age."