Master's in Secondary Special Education

GW’s nationally recognized Secondary Special Education (SSE) Master’s degree program has a strong focus on social justice, and graduates of this program are effective advocates for enhanced learning, classroom experiences, and outcomes for all students.

The Secondary Special Education (SSE) program focuses on preparing teachers to work in secondary (middle and high) schools and results in teacher licensure and a master's degree in Secondary Special Education. The SSE model is an innovative approach to prepare special education teachers who have the knowledge and skills to be psychoeducators. The program addresses teacher and student wellbeing, efficacy, resilience, and social emotional competence, factors that lead to improved social-emotional learning and academic performance among students and teachers. The program also bridges best practice and new learning in adolescent development to optimize how teachers design and deliver innovative instruction in classrooms to maximize student engagement and learning. A small cohort design provides significant mentoring and support.

Graduates of this program are highly sought after for post-program employment, as well as demonstrate teacher-retention rates many times higher than the national average.

This program is focused on preparing teachers of students with high incidence disabilities in grades 6-12. If you are interested in working with students with emotional behavioral disabilities (EBD) in grades K-8, please explore our Special Education for Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities program.

Program Philosophy

Wellbeing and Strengths-Based Perspectives, Social Justice, and Reflective Practice

These are the three pillars of the SSE program. We prepare our graduate intern teachers with an explicit focus on positive psychology, providing participants with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills to empower them to be strengths-based educators and agents of positive education and development in their school communities. Furthermore, the GW SSE teacher preparation model has long been intertwined with social justice, critical literacy, and the importance of teacher and student relationships. We conceptualize special education as social justice work and provide graduate intern teachers with strategies and skills to provide equal access to high-quality educational experiences for all children and youth. Graduate intern teachers learn to reflect on their interactions with youth and develop the capacity to build effective relationships with students and maximize educational outcomes. Graduate intern teachers also learn skills to cultivate a reflective practice, to develop insight into what is working in their teaching practice, and identify skills and strategies they possess to work continually toward excellence in practice. Finally, as the field of education works to integrate neurodevelopmental research into what we know about the importance of students’ cultural frameworks in their learning experiences, graduate intern teachers develop skills in culturally responsive pedagogy (Hammond, 2015) and learn how to maximize its utility for learning in culturally diverse internship sites.


Nationally Recognized: The program is nationally recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children, is accredited by Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and has been training exemplary special educators for twenty years.

Convenient Schedule: Courses are scheduled once a week in late afternoons and evenings (Monday-Thursday) to accommodate internship experiences in schools.

Location: Unique to the 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.


33 credits in required courses and successful completion of a master’s comprehensive examination.

SPED 6201 Overview and Legal Issues in Educating Exceptional Learners
SPED 6203 Research and Practice: Diagnostic Reading for Exceptional Learners
SPED 6231 Curriculum and Instructional Methods in Special Education and Transition
SPED 6236 Introduction to Career and Career–Technical Education and Transition Services
SPED 6238 Issues in Educating Individuals with Learning, Emotional, and Intellectual Disabilities
SPED 6239 Analysis of Teaching and Collaboration for Professionals Working with Students with Disabilities
SPED 6280 Developmental Assessment of Adolescents
SPED 6288 Characteristics of Individuals with Learning, Emotional, and Intellectual Disabilities
SPED 6290 Affective Development and Behavior Management in Special Education
SPED 6992 Behavior Management Practicum: Adolescents with Disabilities
SPED 6996 Teaching Internship in Transition Special Education

Master of Arts in Education and Human Development comprehensive exam required

Completion of the relevant teacher licensure assessments (i.e., PRAXIS) required by the District of Columbia Educator Licensure Services Office


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 graduates are Special Educators in both public and non-publics schools throughout the nation. In addition to classroom teaching, our graduates are also administrators of special education programs, advocates in the policy arena, researchers and faculty in higher education, and educational consultants.


Program Entry: Summer
Prerequisites: Bachelor's Degree
Campus: Foggy Bottom

Application Requirements

  • Online Application
  • Resume
  • Statement of Purpose
  • 2 Letters of Recommendation
  • Transcripts (unofficial)
  • 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 soon as possible.  If you have questions about the application process, please contact our Admission Office at or at 202.994.9283.

Transformation Begins Here

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