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Department of Special Education

The mission of the Department of Special Education is to improve the lives of children and youth with disabilities by preparing exceptionally competent teachers and researchers, conducting research that informs and improves educational programs and behavioral interventions, and leading professional associations and advocacy for persons with disabilities. We are committed to equipping students with diverse backgrounds and experiences to provide exceptional services and support to people with disabilities and their families.



A U.S. News & World Report top-ranked Special Education Program in the nation for more than a decade, our department has long been the vanguard both in research and in practice. We rank first in scholarly production and lead in equipping special educators to deliver high-quality education for students with disabilities.  


Degree Programs

Undergraduate Program

The Department of Special Education has a rich tradition of excellence in teacher education and is routinely ranked as one of the top training programs in the country. Our four-year degree program is structured to endow students with the skills necessary to assess, plan, and monitor the progress of persons with disabilities. Our program can also lead to licensure for kindergarten to twelfth grade.

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Master’s Program

The Department of Special Education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College conducts groundbreaking research, establishes innovative practices, and develops widely used methods. Our master’s program graduates typically receive multiple offers of employment, and our doctoral program graduates assume faculty and research positions in leading universities across the country.

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Ph.D. Program

The doctoral program is designed to prepare students for faculty and leadership positions in colleges, universities, research institutes, or human-service agencies. The program is competency based, with specific emphasis on research and teaching. An individually crafted program of study consists of core requirements and a series of courses and competencies designed for each student.

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Our master’s and doctoral students receive robust funding through research grants, U.S. Department of Education federal training grants, scholarships, and other awards. Indeed, most of our graduate students are fully funded.

Special Education students have extraordinary opportunities to develop research and teaching skills. Our graduate students participate in field experiences, contribute on research projects, collaborate with faculty on innovative initiatives, and take part in colloquia with experts across disciplines. Our students also have opportunities to publish articles and present widely at local, regional, and national conferences. As it happens, Peabody faculty, alumni, and students produce one in five publications in all of intellectual disability and psychology literature. To learn more about what makes our department distinctive, click here.

At Peabody, exciting next-generation research is always underway. As a Peabody student, you will be involved in that research right from the start. Visit our faculty pages to learn about current research projects.

SPED Student Highlights

Master’s student Noel Lopez

For Lopez, who plans to work with young children with autism, Peabody provides the chance to combine special education with applied behavior analysis and work with the leaders in the field.

Doctoral Student Jennifer Bumble

WATCH: Volunteering for a project to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities across Tennessee fueled her passion to pursue her doctorate.

Research and Outreach

The following list represents a sample of the research projects currently being conducted by Special Education faculty members:

Learning Disabilities Innovation Hub

This project works to identify the role language comprehension plays in math problem-solving and reading comprehension. The research represents one of four LD Hubs established by the NIH in 2012 to address the causes, symptoms, and treatments of learning disabilities affecting reading, writing, and mathematics.

For further information, contact Lynn Fuchs.

Maximizing outcomes for preschoolers with developmental language disorder: Testing the effects of a sequentially targeted naturalistic intervention

Researchers in the Vanderbilt KidTalk Lab are joining researchers at two other universities to conduct a clinical trial of an intervention for young children with language delays in a study funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The five-year, $6.3 million study is the first U01 grant funded by NIDCD that focuses on language intervention with young children. KidTalk is a research group in the Department of Special Education that includes multiple projects to study language growth in young children with disabilities.

For further information contact Ann Kaiser.

Early Academic Achievement and Intervention Response: Role of Executive Function

Despite the fact that a substantial number of school age children struggle with both reading and math acquisition, the brain mechanisms of the overlapping aspects of reading and math skills, thought in part to be linked via executive functions (EF), are not fully understood. Based in the Education and Brain Sciences Research Lab, this project will use a longitudinal design, following children from Kindergarten through 1st grade, to understand how the brain networks associated with reading, math, and EF interact to predict academic outcomes and, in those who struggle academically, intervention response. The ultimate goal is to develop brain-based causal models of academic success or failure to better understand how to effectively individualize instruction in a way that maximizes academic success and prevents academic failure.

For further information, contact Laurie Cutting.

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Faculty and Staff

Administrative Faculty

Andrea Capizzi
  • Associate Professor of the Practice and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Special Education
Alexandra Da Fonte
  • Associate Professor of the Practice, Director of Professional Studies, Department of Special Education
Robert Hodapp
  • Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Special Education
Jeannette Mancilla-Martinez
  • Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Education, Office of the Dean
  • Associate Professor, Department of Special Education
Kimberly Paulsen
  • Associate Director, IRIS Center
Joseph Wehby
  • Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Special Education

Administrative Staff

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