Special Education Doctoral Program

Considering equity and culture for disability advocates and teachers.

Offered In

San Francisco's Main Campus

With a focus on equity, access, and inclusion, the Ed.D. in Special Education prepares students for research, leadership, and higher education teaching. Our interdisciplinary approach, allows students to draw from, critique, and contribute various perspectives on disability and its intersection with other social markers — to advocate for, and walk in solidarity with people with disabilities.

Program coursework provides a strong methodological and theoretical foundation, and prepares students for three practicum experiences: higher education teaching, research, and school consultation and collaboration, providing opportunities for career advancement. In each practicum, students are matched with a faculty mentor from USF or another university and given the opportunity to take part in a research study, teach a graduate level course, or collaborate with a community-based organization.

Program Delivery

To meet the needs of working professionals, the program follows a schedule of alternate weekend classes that convene nine times a semester (Friday evenings and all day Saturdays). See our Teaching Weekend schedule.

Program Progression

The doctoral program consists of 60 credit hours of study beyond the master's degree and culminates in the completion of a doctoral dissertation.

By taking 12-15 credits per year, students can complete the doctoral program in five years. Upon completion of the program, graduates will be able to conduct meaningful research related to the issues and challenges faced by students with disabilities, provide evidence-based teacher education, and collaborate with school personnel to improve the educational outcomes of students with disabilities. They will be able to consider and address a variety of cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, contextual, and communicative factors as they prepare future K-12 special education teachers to serve students with disabilities.

Students can complete the Ed.D. in Special Education program in five years or less depending upon how many courses are taken in a semester. The following is a typical program of study over 5 years.

Year 1 | Portfolio Review

In year one of the program, all doctoral students in the Special Education Doctoral program enroll in four foundational courses. These courses address fundamental competencies in psychological and cognitive theories, data analysis, and research methods and provide a foundation for more advanced coursework throughout the program.

  • Applied Educational Statistics
  • Research Methods in Education
  • Psychological Foundations
  • Cognitive Psychology

There are specified requirements for each course which are included in the students' qualifying portfolio. All students are conditionally admitted until they pass the portfolio review process. Once they pass the portfolio review, students are fully admitted into the Special Education Doctoral program.

Years 2-4 | Special Education Core Courses & Practicum Experiences

Core Courses

In years 2 through 4 of the program, students enroll in 6 special education core courses. These courses are designed to prepare higher education faculty with the competencies essential to conduct research and train K-12 special education teachers. This includes:

  • understanding key special education federal mandates,
  • current research and issues in the field,
  • cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic considerations,
  • atypical learning theories and research,
  • data-based decision making processes, and 
  • evidence-based practices in curriculum development.

Practicum Experiences

Students complete 3 practicum experiences during years 2-4. Each practicum will be conducted over 1 semester. These practicum experiences provide students with opportunities to enhance and apply pedagogical, research, and school consultation and collaboration competencies to prepare K-12 teachers for students with disabilities. In each practicum, the students will be matched with a mentor and follow an apprenticeship model.

The 6 special education courses, plus the 3 special education practicum experiences, comprise the major of the Ed.D. in Special Education.

Years 2-5 | Research Methodology and Elective Courses

Research Methodology

In years 2 through 5 of the program, students will enroll in a minimum of 3 advanced research methodology courses (in addition to the 2 research courses in year one). These courses are designed to prepare students with the advanced research competencies needed to analyze and conduct research using a variety of measures and data analysis techniques. This methodological background is essential to the functioning of higher education faculty.

The third advanced methods course will be selected in collaboration with the student’s faculty adviser and/or dissertation chairperson and will be relevant to his or her dissertation study. During this time, students will also have the opportunity to enroll in two Learning & Instruction elective courses.

Elective Courses

The elective courses allow students the opportunity to enhance their program and deepen their knowledge of the social, emotional, cognitive, and research processes involved in teaching and learning.

Years 3-5 | Dissertation Courses

In years 3 through 5, students will complete four dissertation courses that culminate in a dissertation study that is original, independent, and has an applied focus on special education teacher education and/or learning outcomes for students with disabilities. After completing 30 credits of coursework, students may enroll in the Proposal Development Seminar to help them prepare a prospectus for the dissertation study. Students will then select a faculty member to chair their dissertation committee and two additional faculty members for their committee whose expertise supports their research.

Under the guidance of the chairperson, students will prepare a dissertation proposal, which will be presented to the full committee during an oral dissertation proposal defense. Students advance to candidacy after completing 45 credits of required coursework and submitting an approved dissertation proposal. The final dissertation will be presented to the full committee for approval during an oral dissertation final defense.

Refer to the program details for a listing of the courses students take in our Special Education EdD program.

Contact Info

School of Education

Monday–Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

2130 Fulton St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 422-5467