Doctoral Degree: Special Education Concentration

The purpose of this doctoral concentration in Special Education is to help students develop advanced foundational knowledge in the area of special education, yet provide the latitude necessary for a program of research that meets the individual research focus of the doctoral student in collaboration with the advisor. Our doctoral students are likely to arrive with an extensive knowledge base at the master’s level of special education, which often exceeds 42 credits. The Ed.D. concentration in Special Education extends this knowledge base, by encouraging the development of both breadth and depth in an area of study that will carry students well-beyond the dissertation as they transition into research careers. Special Education meets the criteria established by national and state accrediting boards, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Disciplinary accreditation is critical to national visibility, placing graduates, and developing a national pool of strong applicants.

The goals of the Special Education doctoral study are as follows:

  • to prepare doctoral students who will generate new knowledge and are able to apply this knowledge to the field of special education.
  • to provide a program of study that prepares doctoral students to have a strong and broad-based knowledge of special education which they are able to apply in a variety of diverse school settings.
  • to advance knowledge and research through doctoral education of the learning and development of children who require specialized instruction, educational adaptations, and support for their learning efforts to succeed.
  • to train students who can be critical producers and consumers of both quantitative and qualitative research.

Special Education concentration website

Admission Considerations

Applicants applying for the Ed.D. in Special Education should possess a master's degree in special education or a related area (e.g. psychology, school psychology, communication disorders, school counseling, elementary/secondary education, educational administration) and demonstrate they have met the prerequisite competencies in special education which include the foundations of special education (e.g., laws, policies, and beliefs), assessment, curriculum and instruction in special education, and child development. It is preferred that applicants possess a teaching and/or administrative license from an NCATE approved program in special education or a related area and at least three years of teaching and/or administrative experience.

Applicants will meet criteria for admission to the Graduate School and admission policies of the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Admission decisions are based on multiple sources of information. Graduate Record Examination scores, college transcripts, work experience, interests, and recommendations are considered in the selection process. Quantitative, verbal, and analytic aptitude, motivation to do well, a specific interest in the field of special education, and likely fit are four characteristics that are evaluated in the selection of potential doctoral students.

Students selected from the initial applicant pool will be asked to campus for an interview with the faculty.

Course of Study

Doctoral study in Special Education consists of a minimum of 51 required credits, including the 18 required dissertation credits. The courses have been configured to help students acquire doctoral level inquiry skills and a broad perspective of research subsumed under Special Education during the first two years. As part of the first two years, students are required to enroll in three core courses (9 credits) as part of their special education major and also begin to focus on their area of specialization within their special education major. The specialization will consist of 12 credits (e.g., assessment, instruction, leadership, and literacy and language). In addition, students are required to enroll in research methods and evaluation courses that will provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out independent research.

Students will also be encouraged to take 3 -12 credits in electives of their choosing. All doctoral students in the College of Education must demonstrate competency in five (5) required areas: social issues/justice, pedagogy (instruction), philosophy of education, and research. If these competencies have been met at the master's degree level, doctoral students will not be required to undertake additional course work in these areas upon admission. Course-electives may be used to meet these competencies.

Course completion culminates with the comprehensive exam, the successful completion of which demarcates doctoral candidacy. The doctoral candidates then declare a program of doctoral research which ultimately leads to the Ed.D.

Doctoral Requirements

Doctoral study includes core courses, specialization courses, research and evaluation methods courses, optional elective courses, and dissertation credits.

Core Courses (9 credits):
Courses in this category form the foundation of doctoral study.

  • EDUC 891E   Research Design in Special Education(3 credits)
  • EDUC 892C   Disability & Social Policy (3 credits)
  • EDUC 880     Current Issues Facing Special Education Leaders (3 credits)
    or a social justice education course

or a social justice education course

Area of Specialization (12 credits):
Courses in this category will be in the area of doctoral focus (e.g., assessment, instruction, leadership, and literacy and language) and selected in consultation with the student’s advisor. Students will select courses from existing offering in the College of Education and across the University.

Research & Evaluation Methods (12 credits):
Courses in the areas below provide the foundation for the identification of research constructs, variables, and available tools to assist data collection and the background necessary for designing research studies and organizing and managing collected data. In each of these areas, students will select from among existing course offerings in the College of Education.

  • Statistics & Measurement (6 credits)
  • Qualitative Data Instrumentation & Analysis (3 credits)
  • Research Design & Evaluation (6 credits)

Optional Electives: (3 -12 credits)
Thesis Credits: (18 credit minimum)
Total credits: 51-63 (36 required course credits plus 18 required dissertation credits meet the minimum total.)

Additional Information

As part of ongoing student mentoring by faculty each doctoral student is expected to engage in professional development activities in the following three areas, that we have termed Doctoral Program Professional Development Activities:

  • College Teaching and Practicum Supervision Experiences
  • Professional Writing for Refereed Journals, Grants, and Conference Presentations
  • Service to the Profession

Contact Information

Concentration Coordinator: John Carey (Professor)

Associated Faculty

Mary Lynn Boscardin (Professor), Joyce Butler (Lecturer), John Carey (Professor), Michael Krezmien (Assistant Professor), Alexandra Lauterbach (Assistant Professor), and Stanley E. Scarpati (Professor Emeritus).