Doctor of Education in the Field of 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 and 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.

Neuroscience Foundations (6 credits)

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 (6 credits)

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

Research Tools (15 credits)

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

Advanced research elective (3 credits)

3 credits in Level B research methods coursework selected in consultation with the advisor.


SPED 8354 Doctoral Internship: Special Education

Electives (9 credits)

9 credits in interdisciplinary elective courses selected from the following in consultation with the advisor:

SPED 6299 Federal Education Policy Institute
SPED 8303 Administration and Supervision of Special Education
SPED 8311 Doctoral Proseminar: Scholarly Writing in Applied Settings
SPED 8345 Consultation and the Change Process

Dissertation (15 credits)

SPED 8998 Doctoral Seminar in Special Education
SPED 8999 Dissertation Research (taken for a minimum of 12 credits)

Comprehensive examination

Successful completion of a comprehensive examination is required.


Freund, Maxine Associate Dean for Research and External Relations; Professor, Special Education and Disability Studies
Gresham, Doran Assistant Professor, Special Education and Disability Studies
Ihrig, Karen Assistant Professor, Special Education and Disability Studies
Kester, Joan Assistant Professor, Special Education and Disability Studies
Rice, Elisabeth Associate Professor, Special Education and Disability Studies
Tuckwiller, Beth Associate Professor and Department Chair, Special Education and Disability Studies


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)
  • GRE not required

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


Applications are now being accepted for Fall 2023. We encourage you to apply as early as possible.

Priority Deadline Nov 1
Round 1 Deadline Dec 15
Round 2 Deadline Jan 16
Round 3 Deadline March 1
Round 4 Deadline May 1
Round 5 Deadline Aug 1


For more information, contact the GSEHD Admissions Team at or 202-994-9283.

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Transformation Begins Here

Learn more about the Doctorate in Special Education program. Complete the form linked below or contact the GSEHD Admissions Team at 202-994-9283.

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