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PhD Early Childhood Education / Early Childhood Special Education Specialization

The PhD in Education Program is individualized, interdisciplinary, and experiential. Students may opt to specialize in early childhood and early childhood special education (EC/ECSE) or incorporate coursework within a self-defined interdisciplinary program of study.

Have questions? Attend an information session or contact the specialization representative, Daniel Ferguson.

About the Specialization

Many of the most well-respected educators and policymakers in the world have advanced degrees in early childhood education.

What Will You Learn?

The specialization features coursework and applied internships that will enable you to meet the following standards:

  • Candidates will demonstrate knowledge of significant theory, developments, and practices in culturally, racially, linguistically, ability and socio-economic diverse early childhood education and early childhood special education settings.
  • Candidates will demonstrate the ability to utilize and interpret basic principles and methodologies of interdisciplinary research design and data analysis within the field of early childhood education and early childhood special education settings.
  • Candidates will demonstrate skills as reflective early childhood and early childhood special education practitioners, including demonstration of analytic and integrative thinking.
  • Candidates will demonstrate ability to conduct, report, and defend original research within the field of early childhood education and early childhood special education.

What Our Students Are Saying

As my doctoral journey draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect on how much I’ve grown as an educator, scholar, and researcher. My path has been a long and windy one, and very different from what I anticipated when I began my journey. I am so very grateful for the amazing mentors that I have had, the friends I have made, experiences in the classroom and at conferences, and finding my place as a teacher educator. The Early Childhood Education program has prepared me to honor the voices of children and families from diverse backgrounds and to support the growth of the preservice and inservice teachers with whom I will continue to work. The Ph.D. program at Mason has prepared me well to step into the role of Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama, and I am excited for the future!
~ Erin Geiger, current student
Since I started my PhD program at George Mason, I have met so many people who are like-minded and passionate about their research as well as service to their community. The PhD journey has been full of awakening and growth pain that helped me to break out of my shell to be bigger and stronger. My experience in class and doing GRA work is preparing me to be open-minded and critical to serve the families from marginalized communities and think about equity in the field of education. The feedback that my professors are providing in my life is shaping my worldview and building my character to be humble and professional.
~ Jihyae Choe, current student
The faculty and students I have met and had the pleasure of collaborating with during my time in the PhD in Education program have helped guide me in my goal to bridge research to practice. The mentorship I’ve received has provided me with the confidence to engage in independent research, teaching, and service opportunities within the early childhood and early childhood special education fields.
~ Clarissa Wade, current student

Our Graduates

Sehyun Yun, PhD 2022 

  • Dissertation Title: Cultivating Assessment Knowledge, Perspectives, and Competencies of Early Childhood Education Preservice Teachers 
  • Dissertation Chair: Dr. Julie Kidd 
  • Employment on Graduation: Assistant Professor, Ball State University 

Payal Shah, PhD 2021 

  • Dissertation Title: An Exploratory Study: How Early Childhood Preservice Teachers Construct their Understanding of Technology Integration in a Technology-infused Social Studies 
  • Dissertation Chair: Dr. Julie Kidd 
  • Employment on Graduation: Research Support Manager, University of Miami 

El'Tanya Brown, PhD 2020 

  • Dissertation Title: Not the Woman I Once Was: How Turning Points Shape the Trajectories of Military Mothers Parenting Young Children with Disabilities  
  • Dissertation Chair: Dr. Colleen Vesely  
  • Employment on Graduation: Founder, Kinderjam; Instructor, American University 

Rabaah Alqassem, PhD 2019 

  • Dissertation Title: Early Writing in Saudi Arabian Kindergarten Classrooms: The Role of Teacher Preparation in Developing Young Writers  
  • Dissertation Chair: Dr. Julie Kidd  
  • Employment on Graduation: Princess Naourah bint Abdulrahman University 

Rhode Fernandez, PhD 2019 

  • Dissertation Title: Observational Study of Head Start Teachers' Verbalizations and Their Relationship to the Mediated Learning Experience Rating Scale Scores  
  • Dissertation Chairs: Dr. Susan Burns & Dr. Julie Kidd 
  • Employment on Graduation: Visual Impairments Teacher, Fairfax County Public Schools 


Each student in the PhD in Education Program is mentored by faculty in the development of their own personalized program of study that fosters their ability to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of significant theories, developments, and practices in one's chosen area of study
  • Understand, utilize, and interpret basic principles, ethical practice, and methodologies of educational research design and data analysis
  • Effectively communicate both orally and in writing to a variety of professional audiences

Supported professional experiences and internships beyond required coursework support mastery of these competencies, including:

  • Attending and/or presenting your scholarly work at professional conferences to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners
  • University teaching and/or co-teaching experiences in professional areas of expertise
  • Supervising pre-service teachers
  • Writing, editing, and reviewing for scholarly journals
  • Research apprenticeships and assistantships
  • Supported independent research in an area of professional interest
  • Internships unique to the individual’s area of study
  • Building a professional portfolio

The PhD in Education is awarded after the successful completion of:

  • Coursework
  • A comprehensive portfolio assessment
  • A written dissertation
  • An oral dissertation defense

Why This Program?

Are you ready to expand your impact in the field of education?

A PhD in Education from GMU can help you reach that goal! Our accomplished faculty can help you leverage your existing expertise in the field of education and deepen your toolkit of professional knowledge and skills that will take your career to the next level of influence. 
Our graduates have attained consequential professional positions such as:

  • Academic faculty at post-secondary institutions
  • Leadership and research positions in federal and state government, post-secondary institutions, research organizations, and non-government agencies
  • Analysts and consultants with private companies, political advocacy groups, education or research think tanks, and professional associations
  • School, district, and statewide leadership positions in major preK-12 school districts, technical assistance centers, and other informal educational agencies
  • Curriculum and instructional materials developers

Our flexible student-centered program structure allows each student to design a personalized, interdisciplinary program of study that helps them to become outstanding educational researchers, practitioners, and leaders in their respective fields. Our faculty have strengths in:

Theoretical & Applied Research

  • Choose from a wide range of advanced quantitative and qualitative research methods coursework options
  • Have the opportunity to gain research experience on projects funded by federal agencies, including the Institute for Education Sciences and the National Science Foundation 

Advanced Teacher Preparation

  • Choose from a wide range of teaching and teacher preparation coursework and internship options, including opportunities to co-teach university courses with faculty and supervise teacher internships
  • Receive advanced training in online teaching and learning

Education Leadership & Policy

  • Choose from a wide range of coursework and internship opportunities in leadership and policy fields, both national and international
  • Have unique opportunities for experiential learning due to proximity to Washington DC and several of the largest school systems in the country

Movement & Sport Sciences

  • Choose an intensive Kinesiology program with opportunities for experiential learning in state-of-the-art movement labs.
  • Or, create a custom program of study in fields related to movement and sport sciences, including teaching in physical education and sport management

How Can I Learn More?

Visit our Frequently Asked Questions and Answer Page

Frequently Asked Questions

Attend an Information Session

The PhD in Education Program periodically conducts information sessions to acquaint applicants with our program and the admissions process. Information sessions include an overview of the PhD in Education Program followed by breakout sessions with faculty who can answer questions about professional specialization areas. Scheduled sessions are listed at the top of this page.