Doctorate in Special Education Online

Candidates for earning a Ph.D. in special education online need inquisitive minds and must enjoy learning, researching, and teaching. As caring people motivated to improve the lives of students with disabilities, Ph.D. holders typically contribute to the special education field by sharing best teaching practices or educating special education teachers.

Organized and personable, many special education Ph.D. holders take on leadership roles as administrators in K-12 schools. Given the growing number of students with disabilities and the current lack of special education expertise among administrators, educators, and human service agency leaders, graduates of online special education Ph.D. programs anticipate promising career prospects in many schools and communities.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Special Education?

Online doctoral degree programs in special education allow professionals working in the field to research exciting new special education teaching trends, including team teaching, individualized instruction, mixed-age teaching, and brain-based teaching. Due to the current national shortage of professionals with special education expertise, those pursuing a doctoral degree in this field can expect a more secure professional future than many of their counterparts in other education fields.

Earning a Ph.D. in special education opens the door for current K-12 educators to transition into higher education

Earning a Ph.D. in special education opens the door for current K-12 educators to transition into higher education. Long-time K-12 special education teachers often use this Ph.D. to transition into research roles, allowing them to use their career experiences to guide current and future teaching research and practices. Educators ready for a lifestyle shift often find the flexible teaching schedules attractive.

This Ph.D. also provides the unique expertise that qualifies teachers and other education professionals to shift from teaching to much-needed special education leadership roles in K-12 schools. Pursuing an online Ph.D. in special education provides a flexible and alternative path for education professionals who must balance coursework with external commitments.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Special Education?

An online Ph.D. in special education grants education professionals access to a variety of highly specialized positions that require advanced knowledge and leadership skills. Special education Ph.D. holders often work as professors, but those who prefer research to teaching often work at research centers located at universities, state or federal government organizations, or nonprofits.

Other special education Ph.D. holders work as school or program administrators or educational consultants who play a role in guiding, assessing, or accrediting special education programs and institutions. Those interested in curriculum production or professional discourse may take jobs researching, writing, or editing special-education-related materials within the educational publishing industry.

Professionals specializing in special education technologies find work in education technology design or training. Special education Ph.D. holders interested in instigating or implementing large-scale social change often shape education policy through research and advocacy at the federal, state, or community levels. Below are a few popular career options for special education Ph.D. graduates.

Special Education Ph.D. Program Overview

Online Ph.D. programs in special education are academically rigorous and require demonstrated academic aptitude and theoretical interest in the field. An online Ph.D. program in education often involves considerable dissertation research, and the practicums involved in this process often put students in the field with students. Those more interested in leadership and applied organizational or social reform often pursue an Ed.D. in special education instead.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Special Education

Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees in special education differ significantly in terms of research directions, curricula, and career outcomes. The Ph.D. usually attracts special education teachers aspiring to become university professors or researchers. These individuals use their teaching and research skills to shape the education system and guide future special education teachers, directing them toward productive new research.

Unlike the Ed.D., the Ph.D. typically focuses on enhancing special education teaching skills. The degree involves independent field work, quantitative research, and in-depth specialization in unique education areas. Online special education Ph.D. coursework varies by school and program, but often allows many specialization opportunities, like early childhood special education, school and state policies on special education, cognitive disability education, or communication disability education.

Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees in special education differ significantly in terms of research directions, curricula, and career outcomes.

Ed.D. programs typically integrate research into graduate coursework. Ed.D. dissertation research is usually more localized and involves the creation and analysis of a specific program in a classroom or school. Education professionals wishing to work in corporations or K-12 schools often choose Ed.D. degrees, which prepare them to design curricula, manage teachers, and take positions in private education businesses.

Common Ed.D. curriculum tracks include K-12 policy and leadership, which prepares candidates for research and leadership positions in K-12 schools or government, and higher education policy and leadership, which prepares candidates for administrative jobs in universities or consulting companies. In this role, professionals evaluate and incentivize teachers or assess and address gaps in student achievement. Students can complete most Ed.D. programs in three years, while Ph.D. programs typically take at least four years.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Common prerequisites for online doctoral degree programs in special education include an advanced degree in education from an accredited school, a 3.0 or higher GPA, and a curriculum vitae or resume demonstrating special education teaching experience or licensure. Some schools also ask for GRE scores, admission interviews, or written submissions like recommendation letters, answers to application questions, essays outlining the applicant's goals, or professional writing samples.

Curriculum

Earning an online Ph.D. in special education usually takes about four years and requires students to complete about 75 credits of graduate coursework. In many programs, students take about 15 core leadership and administration course credits, 15 core research methods credits, 15 core special education courses, 15 specialization courses or electives, and 15 dissertation credits. Many programs allow students to transfer up to 12 credits of prior equivalent graduate coursework completed at an equivalently accredited institution.

Although the programs occur primarily online, most online special education Ph.D. programs maintain residency requirements. These often include meeting with a special education Ph.D. cohort and professors during short summer or weekend sessions.

Core curricula for online doctoral degree programs in special education typically focus on special education research methods and application, special education theory and teaching practice, and special education administration. In addition to core courses, students often choose from a variety of specialized tracks or concentrations based on research or career interests.

Focus areas vary by program and school, but often include curriculum development, specific categories of disability, and law and policy. Many online Ph.D. in education programs require students to pass a comprehensive exam, conduct original research, write a dissertation, and pass a dissertation defense. Common core courses in special education doctoral programs include:

Special Education Foundations

This course covers the disability categories educators most often encounter in P-12 classrooms. This introduction includes familiarization with relevant laws, agencies, and services that shape the educational trajectories of special learners.

Qualitative Research and Special Education

This course gives an overview of qualitative research theory, methods, and applications.

Legal Issues and Special Education

This course provides an overview of American disability laws and judicial decisions, including the IDEA legislation, FERPA, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as these statutes influence special education practice. This course also sometimes includes information about state laws relevant to the location where students plan to work.

Special Education Instructional Technologies

This course examines the various assistive and instructional technologies useful in special education. Students learn to use these technologies for administrative purposes, to remediate and assess learners, and to adapt methods and materials to the individual needs of exceptional learners.

Dissertation Seminar

The dissertation seminar guides students in shifting from coursework to the dissertation process and usually helps students refine and focus their dissertation ideas and preliminary research into a cogent dissertation proposal. This proposal typically entails a problem statement, conceptual framework, literature review, and research methodology.

Program Outcomes

A Ph.D. in education familiarizes students with current special education theories, quantitative and qualitative research methods, technologies, and policies used to guide best practices in schools and human service programs. Students conduct their own studies and use their findings to improve special education discourse and policy. Earning an online Ph.D. in education prepares students to serve as expert special educators with the skills needed to engage effectively with students, teachers, families, and communities.

Accreditation for Online Special Education Doctorate Programs

Earning a Ph.D. in special education online from a regionally accredited institution typically garners more respect than the same degree from a nationally accredited program. Regional accreditation testifies to an educational institution's quality, indicating that the school offers a highly credentialed faculty, advanced research facilities, rigorous programs, and other standards of educational excellence.

Individual Ph.D. programs may also be programmatically accredited. This accreditation comes from teaching associations, like the Teacher Education Accreditation Council or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

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