Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Special Education

JCPS Tuition Waiver

Please note: If you are a JCPS teacher in a magnet career academy, you may be eligible for limited tuition at local state universities. The University of Louisville is a partner in this program. Please contact your school principal to access and complete the appropriate form. The signed form should be submitted to the UofL Bursar's office once you are registered for a course(s).

As part of a premier metropolitan research university, the Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Instruction prepares students for faculty positions in research and teacher education and leadership roles in schools and agencies. In this program, students work collaboratively with faculty to develop an individualized program of study based on their area(s) of interest.

The program is flexible for both working professionals and full-time students. Students may choose from one of three specializations: (1) Languages, Literacies, Cultures, and Communities (L2C2); (2) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); and (3) Special Education (SpEd) .

The Languages, Literacies, Cultures, and Communities (L2C2) specialization operates on the belief that languages, literacies, cultures, and communities are powerful, transformative, political, and multimodal. Faculty are committed to creating opportunities to think and investigate teaching and learning across the life span both in and out of school settings from a critical sociocultural perspective. L2C2 provides a wide variety of courses and experiences focused on theory, research, equity, and practice about identities, diversity, oral and written language, and culture, including the study of reading and writing processes, culturally sustaining pedagogies, digital literacies, early childhood education, and discourse analysis, among many.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program specialization offers a wide variety of courses and experiences focused on theory, research, equity, and practice in STEM education. By studying and engaging in research and teaching with nationally-recognized leaders in mathematics or science education, you develop expertise expertise in (1) how P-20 students think and learn, (2) how educators facilitate that learning, and (3) how to conduct scholarly investigations to answer important STEM education questions.

The Special Education program's doctoral specialization adheres to the principal of evidence-based practice,. We believe that all students can learn, regardless of ability or disability, and that we are responsible for basing practice on the best available scientific evidence. Students in this specialization will develop skills in generating new knowledge through conducting research so that they can add to our evidence base. Students also will develop skills in synthesizing existing evidence and translating research into practice; this takes the form of teaching preservice teachers, providing professional development in schools, and authoring practitioner-focused publications.

What to Consider before Applying to the Program

Upcoming Information Sessions

  • Friday, June 30th, 5 - 6 p.m., College of Education, room 284
  • Friday, July 28th, 5 - 6 p.m., College of Education, room 284

Contact Dr. Monica Delano, 502-852-2546, with questions about the program. Information sessions are scheduled throughout the year. The next session dates will be announced soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

These address many potential questions potential students have about the program. They are found in the FAQs tab at the top.

Areas of Concentration

The program is flexible and permits students to design a specialty area concentration in consultation with their faculty adviser.


Please contact the program advisor for detailed information about program curriculum as it is subject to change.

Admission Requirements

Application Deadlines

There are four annual admission deadlines. Depending on specific individual goals and situations, different deadlines may be more relevant for you.

Fall semester start, full-time status with Graduate Assistantship funding possibilities:

  • Graduate Assistantships (GA) and University Fellowships are competitive and awarded to full-time students for the fall semester well in advance--as early as mid-January for Fellowships--and typically by late March or April for Graduate Assistantships. Applications for both should be submitted by:
    • November 1
  • Specify the subsequent fall semester as your intended start date on the application. Indicate interest in assistantships on your Statement of Purpose.
  • For those interested in part-time doctoral student work or otherwise not interested in Graduate Assistantship funding:
    • November 1 - Spring semester start (or later semester as indicated on application)
    • February 15 - Summer semester start (or later semester as indicated on application)
    • May 1 - Fall and Late Summer semester start (or later semester as indicated on application)

Members of the Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction admissions committee evaluate all applications after the appropriate admission deadline. Admission decisions are made by the professional judgment of the admissions committee according to established criteria. Admission to the program is competitive and preference is given to applicants who have strong academic records, experiences and abilities that show demonstrated excellence in professional performance and research potential. All applicants will be notified in writing regarding their admission; typically this notification occurs approximately three weeks after the admissions deadline.

To be considered for admission, all materials must be submitted prior to the admission committee's review. If materials are incomplete, applicant will be notified and may submit again during next review.

Please note: Application for admission consists of two parts: (1) documents submitted to the University of Louisville for Graduate Admission and (2) materials submitted directly to the Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction program ("Program Application Requirements," see below) by the established deadline date. See the Application Process Overview [PDF] document for details.

Admission Materials

  • Graduate Application (online University of Louisville Graduate Application)
  • Three Letters of Recommendation [PDF] (see Directions for Applying for more information). If you have recommendation letters on file from a previous University of Louisville program application, you will need three new letters of recommendation for this application that speak to your potential in a doctoral program. In addition to the standard University form linked above, please have these individuals submit letters with supporting details for the recommendation. At least one of the three recommendation letters you choose should come from someone familiar with the rigor and requirements of a doctoral program.
  • GRE scores (required - see Directions for Applying for more information). The Curriculum & Instruction Doctoral Committee takes a holistic approach to the evaluation of applications, and while GRE scores are one part of the application package, they do not determine admission (i.e., very high scores do not guarantee admission, and low scores do not preclude admission). The holistic approach takes into account all aspects of a student’s application (written statement, letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores), and faculty evaluate those pieces of evidence against two broad concerns: (a) is the student prepared for doctoral study, and (b) is the student likely to successfully complete the doctoral program in Curriculum & Instruction?
    Please note: when submitting GRE scores through ETS, have scores sent to the general University of Louisville code, 1838.
    Need help preparing for the GRE? Sign up for a GRE Information Session.
    Online Guide to taking the GRE
  • TOEFL scores for non-native speakers of English (if needed - see Directions for Applying for more information)
  • Transcripts from each college you have attended other than the University of Louisville. Have all official non-University of Louisville transcripts sent to the Graduate school.
  • Statement of Purpose [PDF] To assist applicants with the process of crafting a strong Statement of Purpose, in addition to the directions on the Statement of Purpose document, an Annotated Exemplar of Statement of Purpose [PDF] is provided here for guidance. This document provides detailed annotated notes about the strengths of a particular example Statement of Purpose.
  • Interview Guidelines and Advisor Signature [PDF]. The process of mutually identifying a faculty member who agrees to serve as your doctoral advisor includes an applicant-initiated two-way interview process. As noted on the linked form, faculty with whom you interview in the process of identifying an appropriate advisor are requested to submit input to the admissions committee – such input becomes a portion of the evidence with which the admissions committee will make an admission decision.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vita [PDF]


Monica E. Delano, Ph.D.
Curriculum & Instruction Doctoral Program Coordinator
Department of Special Education
College of Education and Human Development
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292
m.delano @


Tim Landrum
Interim Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, and Professor
Area: Special Education
Room 123D - 502-852-0952
t.landrum @

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction

Is a Ph.D. right for me?
  1. Why would I pursue a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction?

    One way to think of doctoral-level work is to consider that this is a transformative process whereby you become a generator of knowledge as well as a consumer of it. Through intense study and mentoring experiences, you develop an expertise and a network of other professionals who collectively define and shape your particular field of study. This is very much a nonlinear, interactive process that is qualitatively different from many pre-doctoral degrees which tend to be highly structured, as exemplified by presenting lists of courses or course options that serve as requirements for those degrees. Rather than experiencing a program that has been designed by others, doctoral students, in essence, create their own programs (within broad guidelines from the university) – a process that makes this experience more challenging than a pre-structured sequence of courses. Of course, you don't do this on your own without help: Rich mentoring experiences from the faculty guide and help you shape your experiences throughout your program.

    A doctoral degree opens many career paths: This is often a stimulus for many to seek this terminal degree. You may envision yourself as a future college of education faculty member, mentoring new and experienced teachers in the field and engaging in research to expand our knowledge of how to enhance education for all students. Or you may be striving for positions in state departments of education, shaping curriculum and policy at a state level. Career options also include governmental agencies, non-profit think tanks or educational research institutes, large multinational corporations with education foundations and training departments, non-governmental organizations (NGO), or any number of other possibilities. One way to structure your thinking about the appropriateness of a Ph.D. is to decide what career goal you have for yourself and investigate the credentials and qualifications that would be necessary to excel in that field. If those credentials include a doctorate, then perhaps this degree is right for you.

  2. Is a Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT – a degree that also incorporates an initial teacher certification) an appropriate prerequisite Master's degree for Ph.D., or should I first earn a Masters in Education (M.Ed.- a degree for experienced teachers to deepen and strengthen their teaching expertise)?

    The MAT is acceptable as a prerequisite for this Ph.D. program, so it is not necessarily true that you need an M.Ed. if you already have a MAT. However, although the MAT is technically adequate, omitting the M.Ed. may not be the best route for some people:

    1. If you are interested in additional certifications or endorsements (e.g. English Language Learners endorsement, reading, adding science certification, etc.) then the Ph.D. is NOT the right option and M.Ed. might be.
    2. If you don't have much teaching experience (typically at least three years based on job announcements from universities across the nation), then a Ph.D. may not (yet) be right for you because you won't be eligible for most college of education faculty positions, a common career path for those who complete the Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction. If you are early in your teaching career (fewer than 3 years experience), you may want to pursue advanced study via an M.Ed. program; that would permit you to develop into a stronger teacher before considering a career with a focus on research in education. Having a Ph.D. in education without a robust classroom experience might put you in a situation where you aren't a strong candidate for the post-Ph.D. careers you may be targeting.
    3. If you have weak GRE scores (less than 1100 in verbal + quantitative), then you may find an M.Ed. program (which has lower GRE requirements) the better route initially. While you strengthen your knowledge and experience base, you can simultaneously study and strengthen your GRE scores if you later decide to pursue admission to a Ph.D. program.

    NOTE: the M.Ed. program does NOT become part of the Ph.D. in addition to MAT – you can only use one master's degree to satisfy the specialty area component of the Ph.D. program (see 60-hour program sheet link). Thus, doing an M.Ed. is NOT a way to "get started on Ph.D." because you aren't – the focus and requirements of the programs are different. Instead, an M.Ed. program is strengthening your knowledge and experience base to better position yourself for future career opportunities and to become a more effective teacher, regardless of whether you ever pursue a Ph.D. or not.

  3. How is the Ph.D. program different from a Master's degree program?

    Unlike most Master's degree programs, the doctoral program is much more individualized, intense, and built on a student being mentored into the profession in a role different from Master's graduates. This requires students who are proactive in developing a program of study (courses) and eventually a research direction, who can work independently as needed, and who will flourish under the mentorship model (faculty-student), which is quite different from most Master's programs in which you complete a suite of coursework and are finished. In contrast to a Master's degree program, a Ph.D. program has a central focus on understanding and advancing the intellectual field by creating new knowledge.

    If the questions you are thinking about tend to be along the line of, "What courses are needed?" then a shift in thinking about a doctoral program would be appropriate. Rather, the question should be, "What experiences will I need to prepare me for my next career goals?" A noncomprehensive list of a few central differences in a doctoral program compared to a non-doctoral degree program are:

    • Coursework options are less structured: You must have active input and, with the help of a faculty committee, play a large role in crafting your own experiences.
    • The goal isn't to check off a list of required courses but to craft experiences to enable you to complete a dissertation and prepare for future career goals: In essence, you will become a knowledge generator as well as enhance your ability to consume knowledge.
    • Intensive mentoring relationships with faculty are central to the program.
    • Within broad parameters, each program is tailored to an individual's strengths, experiences, and career goals.

    The purpose of the coursework is not to merely satisfy requirements but to craft a series of experiences that contribute to the development of the skills and perspectives that will enable the student to successfully complete a quality dissertation and be prepared for a wide variety of career opportunities. This is an interactive process that is unique for each doctoral student.

  4. Is it possible to work full time while doing this program?

    It is possible to take many courses during the evening and in the summer, although that may not be true for every course a person might want to take. Many students do work full-time while taking doctoral coursework part-time. Some continue to work full-time while doing the dissertation, but that possibility depends on the nature of the dissertation. Full-time work is often found to be a significant barrier to completing the degree. In general, we recommend serious consideration of full-time degree status at least during the dissertation component of the program. The more full-time effort that can be expended in the program, the richer and more varied the experience tends to be for the student.

  5. What are the particular strengths of University of Louisville's Ph.D. program?

    Our Ph.D. program in Curriculum & Instruction features extensive individual mentoring of students into their new professional roles. Because of the wide range of experiences and career goals of students entering our Ph.D. program, the program is designed to be flexible to meet the needs of individuals. Coupled with this flexibility is a research core (courses and dissertation) that ensures that all students develop competencies in consuming and producing research.

    Examples of doctoral program experiences that are available as appropriate to the needs of the student include opportunities to co-teach some courses relevant to one's future career direction. Co-taught courses allow the student to take advantage of the experience and guidance of the professor and develop capacity for future teaching at the college level. Students also can engage with all aspects of research projects, including submitting proposals and presenting at national professional conferences, preparing and editing journal articles, and contributing to grant proposals as appropriate. Students are mentored into a professional network and guided to serve as professional conference proposal reviewers and as journal article reviewers. In addition to these individual mentoring opportunities, we offer a Future Faculty program that works with cohorts of doctoral students across campus to enhance their capacity to be successful in their future roles as university faculty.


  1. Can I use letters of recommendation from my Master's degree program?

    A doctoral program is qualitatively different from a Master's degree program (see FAQ about these differences), and your recommendations should be addressing your potential in the doctoral program, which means that new recommendations are needed. When you speak to those who will write these new letters, the following characteristics are helpful ones that could be included in their comments:

    • your potential for independent, sustained work at a significant depth of intensity;
    • your potential to be successful in developing and carrying through research projects;
    • your potential to be successful in understanding and using research methodology, both quantitative (e.g., statistics) and qualitative.

    This isn't a complete list, of course, but is intended to give you some guidance on the characteristics of successful doctoral students.

  2. What GRE score is needed for admission, and what if my scores are old?

    The age of GRE scores is not a major concern for the admissions committee, and strong GRE scores from 10 or 15 years ago are acceptable: There is no statute of limitations on scores. If, however, your GRE scores are not strong, you may wish to consider taking them again to increase your score and hence your chances of being admitted.

    There is no strict GRE cut-off score for admissions. The admissions committee looks at all of the application materials and considers all evidence when making a decision. Because of the challenging nature of doctoral-level work, the committee seeks evidence of strong potential to be successful in the program: The GRE is only one source of that evidence. Because of the research focus of a Ph.D., successful graduates must be able to read, understand, and employ research statistical techniques: The GRE quantitative score is one indicator of potential in this arena. Because of the extensive requirements to clearly and concisely communicate in written form, the GRE verbal score is one indicator of potential in this arena. In general, the admissions committee expects to see GRE scores of at least 550 quantitative and 550 verbal as evidence of potential in these two critical skill sets of doctoral students. If an applicant's score on either of those subscores falls substantially below approximately 500, the committee seeks strong alternative evidence of potential (e.g., successful completion of a sequence of statistical courses on a transcript, or copies of journal articles or other professionally vetted writing that has been accepted by the larger community).

  3. How do I find an advisor (doctoral mentor) at the University of Louisville?

    Identification of an advisor is the responsibility of the student: An advisor will need to sign a form as part of the admission packet. The website provides a link to CEHD Faculty Research Interests [PDF], which is a good resource to identify faculty who might have similar research interests and backgrounds and could potentially serve as an advisor. We recommend that you schedule meetings or phone calls with any faculty you identify who might be a good fit to explore the possibility with them. Having at least a draft of your Formal statement of goals is likely to be helpful to bring focus to the conversation, and a clear articulation of your intended career path is also helpful. Agreement to serve as your advisor is a process that is reached by mutual agreement between the two parties. The person who serves as your program advisor (the coursework portion of the program) may or may not serve as the dissertation advisor: This decision depends on the particular research direction taken by the student and the fit between the advisor's and the student's interests.

  4. What if I can't find an advisor who has my specialty area?

    The rationale for requiring doctoral admissions packets (using the "faculty mentor form") to already have identified an advisor (faculty mentor) is to avoid a situation where a student may be admitted to the doctoral program, but then find out that there is no one on faculty with the expertise to guide them in their program. This situation is not helpful for the student who then becomes stuck, having started a program but unable to finish or progress because of this gap in faculty expertise. Because of the many specializations possible in Curriculum & Instruction, and because of the necessarily limited number of faculty specialties available, it happens regularly that a potential applicant is seeking a program focus which we are not able to accommodate because of a lack of faculty expertise.

    However, it isn't necessary that a faculty member MUST have the same specialty area as the candidate seeking the degree. The requirement is that the faculty member him/herself, in conjunction with the potential doctoral student, must evaluate their own abilities to effectively mentor the doctoral student. As an example, we may not have anyone specializing particularly in English Language Learners. We might, however, have faculty with an interest in literacy learning and who may have a specialty niche in learning second languages (e.g. learning Spanish if you are a native English speaker). If that is close enough, in the faculty member's estimation (in consultation with the student), then that faculty member may be comfortable accepting that student as a doctoral student.

    As another example, suppose someone were interested in specializing in art education for their doctoral program. We do not currently have a faculty member in our department with that particular expertise. There are several possibilities for approaching faculty with this particular research interest in mind. For example, if your interests are particularly on young children and the use of art as a medium for learning, expression, etc., then someone who specializes in Early Childhood Education may be someone you would wish to make contact with and have a conversation. Alternately, if your interests are more in line with the interconnection of art and gifted education, a faculty member with an interest in gifted education may be a person to talk with. These are a few examples of how you may need to think about your intended direction within the field of art education in the search for identifying a doctoral mentor. If none of these fit and you are unable to identify a faculty mentor for your areas of research interests, then it may be that we are not able to offer the expertise appropriate for your doctoral degree.

  5. Is financial aid available?

    Financial aid opportunities are available to full-time Ph.D. students. The nature of that aid varies widely. Some examples include:

    • graduate or research assistantships with the department, college, or with grant-funded projects;
    • university or other fellowships (very competitive);
    • external fellowships;
    • targeted dissertation grants from external organizations;
    • loans.

    See the "Financial Aid" tab (above), for more information.

Program Components

  1. What is the difference between the 60-hr program and the 90-hr program?

    Each doctoral student is expected to have established an area of expertise – a Master's degree is accepted as evidence of meeting that requirement. Those who enter the doctoral program with a Master's degree take the 60-hour program since their specialty area work has already been completed. Those who enter without a Master's degree will take the 90-hour program; 30 hours of that program will be in coursework to establish an area of expertise similar to a Master's degree.

  2. How long does the program take?

    There is no one answer to this, of course. There are two primary components to the Ph.D. program: a coursework phase and a dissertation phase. A few considerations are presented below. Course requirements include a minimum of 90 semester hours beyond the baccalaureate degree or a minimum of 60 semester hours beyond a Master's degree (each course is typically 3 credit hours). 12 of those credits are dissertation credits. If you already have a Master's degree and are doing the coursework part-time (including summer), the 48 credit hours of non-dissertation courses might be completed in 3-4 calendar years. The time frame for completing a dissertation varies widely, but typically a MINIMUM on a full-time basis is one calendar year.

  3. Will graduate courses I've taken past my Master's degree count toward my Ph.D.?

    Coursework towards a doctoral degree is selected with the endpoint in mind; many courses already taken may or may not fit with that goal. The student and program committee (a group of 3 faculty) collaboratively decide on the courses right for each person using broad guidelines specified by established program sheets. The program committee must ultimately sign off on the approved coursework. At the program committee's discretion, up to 6 credit hours of graduate work taken prior to the program which isn't part of a Master's degree may or may not count towards course requirements in the doctoral program.

  4. What are the courses I would take?

    This is actually not the right question to ask (see FAQ "How is the Ph.D. program different from a Master's degree program?"). A doctoral program isn't about checking off a prescribed list of courses, but rather is about designing courses and other experiences (such as conference presentations, reviewing proposals for professional conferences, and conducting and writing research) so that the student acquires the competencies to be successful in the intended future career. There are a few required courses (see the "Program Sheet" link in the right hand menu of the main page), but doctoral courses are selected and designed by the student in consultation with the advisor and program committee.

  5. What is the role of my doctoral advisor?

    Your doctoral advisor guides you throughout the program. This should be someone with an expertise area that is compatible with the expertise you are developing so that he or she can adequately guide and mentor you, although you will play the dominant role in developing your expertise fully. Your advisor chairs the 3-member faculty program committee who will assist you with course selection and formally approve your coursework. After completing the written comprehensive exams at the end of the coursework phase (a process managed by your advisor), you may choose to continue with the same advisor in the dissertation research phase or may decide that a different faculty member's research is a better fit for you. Your dissertation advisor chairs the 5-member faculty committee that guides and formally approves your dissertation. Throughout the entire degree program, your advisor is a primary contact for (a) networking with other professionals in the field, (b) mentoring you in preparing and delivering professional presentations at conferences and other events, and (c) providing general guidance throughout. Other faculty members will play similar roles, but typically the advisor tends to be primary in this role, largely due to the similarity of research expertise he or she possesses that is consistent with the expertise you are developing.

  6. What is a dissertation?

    A dissertation is an extended, thorough, systematic investigation into an area of intellectual interest to your field that generates new knowledge. It is much more than a "paper," although you do communicate the acquired knowledge in written form. Although the particulars of any dissertation vary greatly and are determined by the nature of the research, components of the dissertation process generally include:

    • systematic review and synthesis of the state of knowledge relevant to your area of investigation;
    • identification and exploration of theoretical framework(s) that guide your research;
    • development and refinement of research questions that guide your work;
    • development and defense of research methodology to be employed, including issues such as sampling, measurement identification or development, research design and associated components, and analysis process;
    • implementation of the research plan, with ongoing modifications or refinements as needed;
    • analysis of the data, including meaningful presentation in both graphical and text formats;
    • interpretations and articulation of the meaningfulness of the results, frequently including revisiting the knowledge base of the field to situate and contextualize your work within the larger frameworks of the professional community;
    • communicating the whole process to others (e.g. your dissertation committee of faculty members and others in your profession) in a clear manner.

    Although the short list above may give the impression that the dissertation process is straightforward, this short description does not capture the complexity and interactive nature of the process. There are a number of books commercially available that offer guidance and suggestions for writing dissertations; you may find some of them helpful to clarify your understanding of this process. The time period to complete dissertations varies widely, but in general between 1-2 years of full-time work is a common time frame for this portion of the doctoral program.