What is an Ed.D. in Special Education?
Ed.D. programs in special education, gifted education, autism education, intellectual disability education, learning disability education, and related fields are designed for students whose specific needs make exceptions to standard educational goals beneficial. They are designed primarily for special education teachers and the directors and coordinators of special education who supervise and assess them, but may also be useful to administrators, curriculum specialists, and educational technology specialists who deal primarily with students in special education communities.
Types of Doctorate in Special Education Programs
The Ed.D. in Special Education is a fairly specific degree with specific objectives, but there is still a great deal of opportunity for specialized and interdisciplinary study.
Specialized Special Education Degrees
Two Ed.D. programs in our database, in particular, offer an unusually wide range of specializations. The Ed.D. in Special Education offered by Ball State University comes with optional tracks allowing each student to specialize in applied behavior analysis and autism, emotional and behavioral disorders, high-incidence learning disabilities, low-incidence learning disabilities, or systems-based approaches. The University of Pittsburgh’s Ed.D. allows for optional specialization in applied behavior analysis, autism, early intervention, emotional and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, severe disabilities, or issues pertaining to vision, mobility, and awareness. It is not rare to find programs that include optional tracks in one or two of these fields. It also isn’t rare to find programs that do not technically include the phrase “special education” as part of the major but still address exceptional student communities, such as Lamar University’s Ed.D. in Deaf Studies and Deaf Education and Columbia University’s Ed.D. in Gifted Education.
Interdisciplinary Special Education Degrees
If you’re interested in taking more of a wide-angle-lens approach and study special education within or alongside another field, there’s plenty of opportunity for that, too. The two most common cognate majors for Ed.D. programs dealing with special education are administration and leadership, as per the K-12 special education track within Grand Canyon University’s Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership, and curriculum and instruction, as per the special education track within Boise State’s online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Special Education: What’s the Difference?
There’s one context where a Ph.D. in Special Education might be significantly preferable to an Ed.D. in the same field: teacher education. Because courses for teachers are taught at the college level, and because the Ph.D. seems to be preferred over the Ed.D. among college-level instructors and researchers, it’s possible that a Ph.D. will open doors that an Ed.D. might not.
If training the next generation of special education teachers factors heavily into your plans, you can mitigate the Ph.D. effect by making sure you pursue an Ed.D. program that has a strong research coursework component and a dissertation requirement. If you can show that your Ed.D. program is just as research-focused as a Ph.D., any misgivings decisionmakers might have about the general value of the Ed.D. as a research degree should become less relevant.
Earning an Ed.D. in Special Education
Ed.D. in Special Education Prerequisites
Applicants are generally expected to hold a master’s degree in a related field, sometimes with a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher. Teacher licensure is rarely required, but a few programs, such as Kennesaw State’s, do expect it. Professional experience of a more general nature is often, but not always, required. Nova Southeastern University’s low-residency Ed.D. in Special Education, for example, technically requires no professional experience as a prerequisite for admission, though a student’s professional background may factor into the final admission decision.
Other common requirements include the GRE exam (and/or Miller Analogies Test), an autobiographical admissions essay, and letters of recommendation. An Ed.S. in Special Education or a closely related field will typically grant advanced placement.
Ed.D. in Special Education Curriculum
Ed.D. programs in Special Education vary with respect to the amount of attention they give to the area of specialty. Some programs center around general coursework in curriculum and instruction and/or educational leadership, tailoring these topics to focus on special education. More specialized programs, like George Washington University’s Ed.D. in Special Education, deal more specifically with neuroscience, developmental psychology, disability policy, psychometrics, and other issues that define or otherwise affect different categories of exceptionality. You’ll get a blend of general education topics and special education topics in both cases, as no accredited Ed.D. program in special education will completely neglect either category.
Ed.D. in Special Education Dissertations and Capstone Projects
Some Ed.D. programs allow students to skip the dissertation and submit a capstone project instead, though the capstone project is expected to be a substantive contribution to the field. The University of Pittsburgh calls its Ed.D. in Special Education capstone project a “dissertation of practice.”
Ed.D. in Special Education Internships and Field Work
Most Ed.D. programs in Special Education require some sort of internship or field work, with the details negotiated with faculty mentors on a case by case basis. Usually this work takes place as part of a program serving a special education student community, but sometimes it’s more academic. The internship requirements within Boston University’s Ed.D. in Special Education, which focus exclusively on teaching and research apprenticeships, are a good example.
Online Ed.D. in Special Education Programs
Are Ed.D. in Special Education Programs Offered Online?
Yes. One particularly well-known provider is the University of Florida, which offers an online Ed.D. in Special Education as part of a broad range of programs in the field.
Online Ed.D. in Special Education Residency Requirements
Most programs require one to three weeks of on-campus residency per year, but there are exceptions. Both Northcentral University’s Ed.D. in Special Education and Boise State’s Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction (with emphasis in special education), for example, can be completed entirely online with no on-campus residency of any kind required.
Special Education Careers
Ed.D. in Special Education Jobs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies special education teachers separately from other P-12 instructors. Those with an Ed.D. are classified into the highest pay brackets in most public school systems, and they’re more likely to graduate into director-of-special-education and special-education-coordinator positions that may involve assessment and supervision of other special education teachers.
The field includes about 440,000 professionals now, and is projected to grow by 8% over the 2016-2026 period (a fairly typical rate of growth for P-12 educators).
Ed.D. in Special Education Salary
The BLS estimates an annual median wage for special education teachers of $58,980, somewhat higher than Glassdoor.com’s $47,656 average for special education coordinators and Indeed.com’s $43,363 average for special education teachers. This suggests that there’s relatively little turnover among the highest-paying director and coordinator positions.
Is an Ed.D. in Special Education Worth It?
It usually is. If you work in the field of special education, and plan to continue to do so for a long time, even the relatively small teacher pay increase will more than compensate for the cost of a low- to moderately-priced Ed.D. program in the field. And if you aspire to direct a special education program, an Ed.D. may make the small number of highly competitive positions in this field accessible to you in ways that a master’s degree or Ed.S. would not.
If you don’t already work in special education as a field, but want to bring knowledge of special education into your educational administration or curriculum design work, you might consider pursuing a special education track within an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership or Curriculum and Instruction. This would give you both field-specific knowledge of special education and a degree general enough to serve a broader range of career goals.
If you want an Ed.D. but don’t have a passion for special education, it’s probably not a good general-purpose specialty to pursue. As we’ve noted above, this is not a particularly flexible major. The curriculum of an Ed.D. in Special Education tends to rightly center the specific goals and challenges of special education student communities, and might not be as broadly adaptable as the curriculum of a more general Ed.D. program.
Special Education Resources and Organizations
- Council for Exceptional Children (CEC): The leading U.S. organization for special education students and the professionals who serve them, CEC offers a wide range of benefits, services, and resources.
- The Journal of Special Education: This peer-reviewed journal publishes original research in special education.
- National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC): This organization provides teacher and community resources relevant to students who are classified as gifted.
- National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET): More specialized than the National Educators’ Association, NASET deals with the needs of special education teachers.
- National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD): An advocacy and research clearinghouse, NCLD provides useful community resources on students affected by dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other learning disabilities.