Online master's and doctoral degree programs in early childhood special education are designed for educators who are already working with special needs children in the classroom. Many courses in both programs can be completed online, with students accessing archived lectures and course materials at their own pace, within established deadlines. They can communicate with instructors and classmates through e-mail, online forums and chat rooms. Doctoral (Ph.D.) programs may require several brief on-campus residency periods as well as some internships.
A master's degree in early childhood special education gives students advanced training in the development and delivery of educational services to children with disabilities. Required core courses, which are offered fully online in some programs, cover educational theory, technology and leadership. Students also learn about the laws and policies regarding the education of this population and may take courses in language development, behavioral support and curriculum development.
Ph.D. programs are more personalized and prepare students for administrative roles or jobs in academia. These programs consist of courses that may include legal issues in education, leadership in special education and curriculum development. Students learn about research methodologies and spend time researching and developing a dissertation based on original research.
These degree programs do not provide the training needed for initial certification as a teacher. Students wishing to gain certification as teachers should check with their state teacher certification agencies to find out the requirements.
Master's Degree Programs in Early Childhood Special Education
Most students seeking a Master in Education (M.Ed.) degree in early childhood special education are educators who already work with children. Their students often have educational and behavioral challenges that mandate the application of special training and knowledge. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field and acceptable scores on graduate entrance exams are prerequisites for the master's degree program.
Program Information and Requirements
A master's degree program typically takes 2-3 years to complete. Students interested in distance learning need a computer with high-speed Internet access. Instructors combine traditional texts with modern online teaching methods, such as a course management system and online presentations, in order to create a virtual classroom experience.
Common Master's Degree Courses in Early Childhood Special Education
Graduate-level courses in early childhood special education prepare students for a focused career path in education. Courses examine current educational laws and policies, as well as strategies for working with behaviorally and academically challenged children in the classroom.
Mental Health Issues in Education
Students receive a comprehensive overview of elementary and secondary school students' unique mental health issues and challenges, including ADHD, family problems, self-esteem and bullying. This course focuses on successful classroom integration of challenged students.
Introduction to the Learning Process
During this course, students learn contemporary, tested principles of human learning and practical applications of those principles. Current education research is also a focal point.
Education and Policy, Law and Ethics
Federal laws concerning education and specifically laws impacting challenged children, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the No Child Left Behind Act, are topics covered in this class. Students also study the current state of the juvenile court system, abuse and neglect reporting, drugs, weapons and states' safe schools acts.
Doctoral Programs in Early Childhood Special Education
Individuals aspiring to educational leadership positions or looking to teach at the college or university level will find a doctoral degree to be an asset. A master's degree in a relevant field is a prerequisite, as is prior professional experience. Students complete advanced seminars in special topics focused on working with emotionally and academically challenged children in the classroom.
Program Information and Requirements
Those interested in distance-learning can take advantage of online and hybrid degree programs, which can be completed in 3-4 years. Students need a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. Since many classes require students to complete academic papers, a good word processing program is required.
Common Doctorate Courses in Early Childhood Special Education
Doctoral courses consist primarily of special topic seminars on special education issues such as behavioral disorders, working with ethnically diverse students and current academic testing tools. Doctoral candidates also conduct academic research in writing a dissertation.
Disabilities and Multiculturalism
This course looks at the classroom challenges of cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences. Topics of special interest include prejudices, handicapism, discrimination and minority viewpoints. Students study, analyze and practice preventative tactics and problem resolution.
Academic Research in Education
This course provides students with a comprehensive overview of how to conduct academic research on topics in education. Students identify research questions, review contemporary literature and conduct self-directed research
Advanced Behavioral Analysis
This advanced course looks at behavioral analysis from a research standpoint, with emphasis on classroom application. Topics of special interest include stimulus control, rule-governed behavior, setting events, verbal behavior and functional analysis.
In addition to a degree, states also require K-12 teachers to be licensed and complete a teacher education program. While employment is possible with only a bachelor's degree, a master's degree is highly preferable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected a 6% rise in employment during 2014-2024 for special educational teachers with an average annual salary of $57,670 in 2015.
Prospective college or university teachers and high-level academics overwhelmingly hold a doctorate degree. In November 2016, Salary.com reported typical annual salaries for associate professors and professors of special education to be $57,929-$88,172 and $71,022-$121,013, respectively.
Individuals seeking a master's or doctoral degree in early childhood special education have fully online options available. Issues that are discussed in these programs include mental health issues, educational law and ethics, disabilities and behavioral analysis.