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 doctoral candidate Elisabeth Kutscher (Special Education and Disability Studies) was awarded the Patricia L. Sitlington Emerging Researcher Award for her poster, "A Mixed Methods Exploration of Persistence in Postsecondary Education Among Young Adults with Disabilities or Learning Differences" at the Division on Career Development and Transition annual conference. This award recognizes a graduate student who, through research completed during their doctoral program, shows significant promise for contributing to positive outcomes for transition-aged youth and to the field of transition through transition research. Dr. Beth Tuckwiller is her dissertation chair.

    GSEHD doctoral student Elisabeth Kutscher (Special Education and Disability Studies) and Dr. Beth Tuckwiller had their manuscript "Persistence in Higher Education for Students with Disabilities: A Mixed Systematic Review" accepted in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

    Dr. Joan Kester presented at the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition 2018 Capacity Building Institute, along with GSEHD doctoral student Matthew Flanagan (Special Education and Disability Studies). They presented her research and intervention school improvement model in a session entitled "Using Youth and Family Research Data to Improve Secondary Transition Practices in Pennsylvania."

    GSEHD doctoral candidates Lauren Hunter Naples and Heather L. Walter (Special Education and Disability Studies) co-presented their poster "Using a Mixed Methods Research Design to Examine Special Education Teacher and Student Wellbeing through the Dual-Factor Model of Mental Health" at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Education Research Day Conference. In their post-conference statement, they wrote: "The conference offered wonderful opportunities to experience the diverse work of other graduate students from across the country and provided invaluable contacts and connections for our future endeavors. We were able to gain essential knowledge of the national priorities and trends in educational research, while sharing our own unique work."

    In addition, the following GSEHD doctoral candidates also presented at the conference:

    • Binyu Yang (Curriculum and Instruction) - "College Students’ Self-Regulation in Online Vocabulary Learning Courses"
    • Chelsea Manchester (Counseling) - "Transition to Old Age: How Do Sexual Behaviors and Personality Contribute to Successful Aging?"
    • Isaac Agbeshie-Noye (Higher Education Administration) - "Branding and Organizational Culture at Historically Black Colleges and Universities"
    • Justin Jacques and Yoonsuh Moh (Counseling) - co-presented "A Latent Class Analysis of Suicide Risk Behaviors in College Students" and "The Impact of Sleep Quality on College Student’s Academic Success when Controlling for Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, and Substance Use: A Quantitative Study"
    • Tamilah Richardson (Educational Administration and Policy Studies) - "How Early Career Minority Teachers’ Decisions to Remain Committed to or Exit the Profession are Impacted by Individual Perceptions of Teacher Leadership Experiences"

    Dr. Jennifer Frey and doctoral student Carrie Gillispie (Special Education and Disability Studies) published a book chapter entitled "The Accessibility Needs of Students with Disabilities: Special Considerations for Assessment and Instruction" in the newly released second edition of the Handbook of Accessible Instruction and Testing Practices.