How to Become a Special Education Teacher in D.C.

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Washington, D.C. Special Education

With a rating of “Needs Intervention,” for its special education services from the U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. ranks lower than most states in the region and the nation. However, the need for these services is high: The Institute of Education Studies reports that the District of Columbia has one of the highest percentages of students with Individualized Education Programs in the country, at 16.8 percent, nearly four percentage points higher than the national average of 13 percent. There is one public school district in D.C., containing 238 public, 99 charter and 87 private schools. D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and its Division of Special Education determine and implement policy regarding the city’s special education services.

Licensure Requirements

For Undergraduates

Undergraduates seeking to become special educators have more options in D.C. than in many other places in the United States. Those holding a bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited college can apply for two-year, non-renewable Regular I license as long as they show proof that they are enrolled in an OSSE-approved teacher certification program. Another route is to major in education or special education at a university that concurrently awards a bachelor’s degree and a D.C. teaching license. For more information, see OSSE’s teacher licensure guide. Educators in D.C.’s public charter and private schools are not mandated by the OSSE to possess a state teaching license, but local education agencies may require licensure.

For Graduates

No level of teaching licensure in Washington, D.C.demands a master’s or doctorate degree, but if you choose to pursue a graduate course of study in education or special education, consult with your department to ensure that the program provides the coursework and field experience required for you to apply for a D.C. teaching license in the area of specialization you’re seeking. For guidelines and links to all OSSE-approved programs, refer to the Educator Preparation Program Approval and Accreditation webpage.

License Types

The OSSE grants three types of teaching licenses:

  • The one-year Transitional License in non-renewable and is granted to an individual who is currently ineligible for a Regular I or II license, but is hired by a D.C. local education agency to teach in a high-need area in which that individual has a degree or can demonstrate mastery.
  • The Regular I License is the typical option for new teachers who have a bachelor’s degree, are enrolled in approved teacher preparation programs and have passed OSSE-mandated pedagogical and subject mastery exams. Candidates for this license must provide proof of current employment as a teacher in a local education agency.
  • The four-year Regular II License is for educators who have completed certification programs, fieldwork and mandated exams.


According to the OSSE’s Interstate Licensure Agreement, educators can apply for a Washington, D.C. teacher license if they completed an approved, comparable out-of state preparation program and hold a valid, full-credential teaching license from any state. In addition, the OSSE honors endorsement areas already on your license if those endorsements are based upon content area mastery and pedagogy exams. Educators who studied at accredited post-secondary institutions in foreign countries can apply for D.C. licensure after submitting their credentials to an approved foreign credential evaluation service that can verify equivalency to D.C. requirements.

Special Education Teaching Programs in Washington, D.C.

D.C.’s sole public institution of higher education is University of the District of Columbia. Its National Center for Urban Education offers several degrees and certificates, among them a master’s degree in special education. The School of Education, Teaching, and Health (SETH) at American University gives students the option of pursing an undergraduate minor in special education, as well as a master’s degree in special education with a focus on learning disabilities. In addition, the school offers a dual degree special education program that results in a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

For profiles of all the schools in D.C. that offer master’s in special education programs, click here.

Alternatives to Certification

There are a few alternative routes to educator licensure in Washington, D.C. For example, candidates can apply for licensure based on their experience or take part an alternative training program. The DC Teaching Fellows program places experienced professionals and recent college graduates in Washington’s highest-need schools and subject areas. Participants take part in intensive pre-service training and complete certification coursework through the TNTP Academy while working as teachers. Teach for America also serves D.C. public schools by placing corps members in high-need areas.

Teaching Special Education in Washington, D.C.

Professional Development

Washington, D.C. Special Ed Teacher Professional Organizations

D.C. Special Education Blogs

  • Teacher SOL: The winner of multiple educational blogger awards, Maria Angala is an exceptional needs specialist in D.C. who writes about advocacy and methods for inspiring students in the classroom.
  • Mrs. V’s Special Education Classroom: Part blog, part local resource directory, this site keeps families and educators in the special education community informed about services and events.
  • SOE News: The e-newsfeed for American University’s education department features items impacting regional and national education.