What is an Ed.D. in Special Education?
Ed.D. programs in Special Education help education practitioners train for special education leadership roles in public & private institutions. You may wish to pursue an education doctorate in special education in order to:
- Close the gap between research & practice in the field of special education
- Acquire leadership skills for advanced professional practice
- Develop expertise in a particular area (e.g. autism, early intervention, dyslexia, etc.)
- Learn how to design practical, research-driven interventions & systems
- Foster meaningful improvements in the lives & education of individuals with disabilities
Although the Ed.D. in Special Education is primarily aimed at special education teachers and administrators, it may also appeal to curriculum specialists, education technology specialists, and K-12 administrators (e.g. Principal). Some graduates go on to found their own schools.
Types of Doctorate in Special Education Programs
Ed.D. in Special Education & Related Fields
The standard education doctorate in this field is the Ed.D. in Special Education. Within our program listings, you’ll find on-campus, hybrid, and online doctorates in special education from public & private universities. Many of the schools are CAEP-accredited.
To distinguish themselves from the herd, a few universities have tweaked the title to be more specific. For example, the University of South Dakota offers an Ed.D. in Director of Special Education.
During your research, you may also come across doctoral programs that do not include the phrase “special education” as part of the major but still address exceptional student communities. Examples of this phenomenon include the:
- Ed.D. in Gifted Education
- Ed.D. in Autism Education
- Ed.D. in Intellectual Disability Education
- Ed.D. in Learning Disability Education
- Ed.D. in Deaf Education
Ed.D. in Special Education: Specializations
If you have a specific job title in mind, you might wish to choose an Ed.D. in Special Education that allows you to pick a concentration in your area of interest. For instance:
- Ball State University’s Ed.D. in Special Education contains optional tracks in applied behavior analysis and autism, emotional and behavioral disorders, high-incidence learning disabilities, low-incidence learning disabilities, and systems-based approaches.
- The University of Pittsburgh’s Ed.D. in Special Education has concentrations in applied behavior analysis, autism, early intervention, emotional and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, severe disabilities, and issues pertaining to vision, mobility, and awareness.
- Webster University’s Ed.D. in Special Education offers specializations in dyslexia, positive behavioral interventions & supports, severe developmental disabilities & autism, and trauma-informed education & intervention.
Some of these concentrations will help prepare you for endorsements and/or national certifications. A number of doctoral programs in special education also include electives, which will allow you to customize the degree to a certain extent.
Ed.D. in Educational Leadership or Teaching: Special Education Concentration
Finally, you could consider doctoral programs in our listings that are rooted in educational leadership or instruction. In this scenario, you would take core coursework in the broader major (e.g. leadership, teaching & learning, curriculum & instruction, school improvement, etc.) alongside concentration credits in special education issues (e.g. development science, program planning, special education law, etc.).
The title says a lot about the doctorate:
- If you’re interested in shaping classroom work and teaching methods, an Ed.D. in Curriculum & Instruction – Special Education may be more useful than an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership – Special Education.
- On the other hand, if you’re aspiring to serve in an administrative role on the district or state level, you may want to look at Ed.D. programs in Special Education that have a core leadership component.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Special Education
An Ed.D. in Special Education is often the preferred choice for special education experts who are interested in hands-on leadership roles (e.g. Special Education Director) and education administrator positions. An education doctorate typically focuses on applied learning and real-world training.
A Ph.D. in Special Education may be more appropriate if you wish to get heavily involved in special education research or teach special education at the university-level. For faculty positions, Colleges of Education typically want to see a Ph.D. on your résumé.
- 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 traditional dissertation requirement.
- If you can show that your Ed.D. program is just as research-focused as a Ph.D., any misgivings decision-makers 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
Special Education Prerequisites
- Master’s Degree: Applicants are generally expected to hold a master’s degree in special education or a closely related field. An Ed.S. in Special Education or a closely related field will typically grant advanced placement.
- Minimum GPA: The standard minimum GPA is 3.0, although universities with a strong reputation may ask for higher (e.g. 3.25-3.5).
- Teacher Licensure: Teacher licensure is rarely required, but a few schools do expect it (e.g. Kennesaw State).
- Work Experience: Experience requirements vary widely from school to school. However, even schools with no obvious experience requirement are still going to consider it. For example, Nova Southeastern University’s low-residency Ed.D. in Special Education states that a student’s professional background may factor into the final admission decision.
- Additional Requirements: Schools may also want to see a professional résumé, GRE or MAT scores, an autobiographical admissions essay, letters of recommendation, and/or an academic writing sample.
Special Education Coursework
For the Ed.D. in Special Education, it pays to check the curriculum links in our listings. We’ve noticed a huge amount of diversity in special education coursework.
- Some education doctorates in special education are rooted in developmental science. For example, George Washington University’s Ed.D. in Special Education deals with neuroscience, developmental psychology, disability policy, psychometrics, and other issues that define or otherwise affect different categories of exceptionality.
- Some doctoral programs in special education may be concerned with practical leadership issues. For example, the University of Florida’s Ed.D. in Special Education has a core set of credits in areas such as school improvement, historical & theoretical foundations of disability in education, collaborative practice, instructional coaching, and proposal development.
- Some Ed.D. programs in Special Education can help with state endorsements or national certifications. For example, Ed.D. in Special Education students at Ball State University have the option to choose the Applied Behavior Analysis & Autism focus area and complete coursework for certification from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB).
- Doctorates in special education that spin off from an educational leadership or curriculum & instruction major will obviously contain credits in teaching, learning, and/or general leadership concerns. But there will always be concentration coursework in special education issues.
Bear in mind that all Ed.D. programs will contain a strong research component, including credits in research tools & methods.
Special Education Internship and Fieldwork
Many Ed.D. programs in Special Education require some sort of internship or fieldwork; placements are negotiated with faculty mentors on a case-by-case basis. Usually this work involves training & learning in programs that serve special education students.
Special Education Dissertation
Every Ed.D. program in Special Education is going to include a traditional dissertation (similar to the Ph.D.), a Dissertation in Practice (DiP), or a capstone project that addresses a problem of practice. We talk more about the differences between these options in our guide to No Dissertation Ed.D. Programs.
For instance, the University of Pittsburgh’s Ed.D. in Special Education contains a Guidance in Scholarly Practice. Students are expected to a) write a manuscript that reports on the improvement science process; and b) produce a portfolio that provides evidence of learning and success in foundations, inquiry, and ARCO experiences.
Online Ed.D. in Special Education Programs
Are Ed.D. in Special Education Programs Offered Online?
Yes. Our program database contains a large number of Online Ed.D. in Special Education choices. We’ve flagged them with an “Offered Online” marker. You’ll find online doctoral programs in special education from big public schools (e.g. UF), Christian schools (e.g. Liberty University), and private research universities (e.g. Drexel University).
Do Online Ed.D. in Special Education Programs Contain Residencies?
Most Online Ed.D. programs in Special Education have on-campus components (e.g. intensives or residencies). They’re usually quite short and designed to accommodate working education professionals (e.g. summer visits). Schools may wish to see you for an orientation, qualifying exams, your dissertation proposal and/or your dissertation defense.
Having said that, there are 100% online Ed.D. programs in Special Education out there. Both Northcentral University’s Online Ed.D. in Special Education and Boise State’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – 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
Graduates with an Ed.D. in Special Education tend to seek directorial or leadership roles in the field. Some of these jobs involve the assessment and supervision of other special education teachers. Sample job titles include:
- Director of Special Education
- Director of Early Childhood Development & Intervention
- Special Education Coordinator
- Evaluation Coordinator at the District-Level
- Special Education Manager
- Professional Development Trainer
- Teacher Educator
- School Principal
- Special Education Consultant
- School Founder
Ed.D. in Special Education Salary
For salary estimates for Ed.D. in Special Education graduates, start with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and its annual wage data for:
- Special Education Teachers: Kindergarten & Elementary School
- Special Education Teachers: Middle School
- Special Education Teachers: Secondary School
- Special Education Teachers: All Other
Although these numbers are for teachers, they will give you a sense of the lower end of the salary spectrum in your area. The state maps will also show you where potential employment opportunities lie.
Once you have these data in hand, you can start looking up specific job titles on salary sites (e.g. Glassdoor, Indeed, Payscale, etc.). Special Education Directors can earn upwards of $90,000 per year, but the final number will depend on all kinds of factors, including your level of experience, geographic area, and certifications.
Is an Ed.D. in Special Education Worth It?
- 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.
- 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.
As we’ve noted, this is not a particularly flexible major. The curriculum of an Ed.D. in Special Education tends to center on the specific goals and challenges of special education student communities.
- If you don’t already work in special education, but want to bring special education expertise 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 that’s general enough to serve a broader range of career goals.
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 (JSE): 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.