Project LEAD: Preparing Leaders in Special Education, Access, and Data-based Decision Making in High-Need Schools

Recruiting highly qualified students for doctoral study

The purpose of Project LEAD is to prepare knowledgeable, dynamic leaders in the field of special education who have expertise in supporting students with disabilities to gain access to the general education curriculum in high-need schools. Project LEAD involves a) collaboration among faculty and doctoral students from the Departments of Special Education and other units in the college (i.e., Curriculum and Instruction, the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities); b) facilitating relationships between participants and leading researchers in the field of special education; and c) developing intimate linkages with high-need schools locally and in Chicago. Project LEAD emphasizes five competency areas related to access to the general education curriculum:

  • Disability law and education policy
  • Improving outcomes through research and data-based decisions
  • Collaborative practices between regular and special educators in inclusive environments
  • Universal design for learning (UDL)
  • Service learning
Doctoral Program Support
  • Paid tuition
  • A yearly stipend for full-time 11-month participation
  • Annual stipend for conference attendance and research materials
Program Requirements
  • The Doctoral Program in Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires 64 credit hours beyond the master’s degree. Specialization in access to the general education curriculum will be achieved through:
  • Coursework: existing courses and newly created Advanced Topics courses on access;
  • Participation in the LEAD Seminar: bi-monthly meetings on research, teaching, and service issues related educating students in high-need schools;
  • Technology: use of videoconferencing to engage with national and state experts; opportunities to use assistive and instructional technologies that promote access; and
  • Participation in traineeships: research, teaching, and service learning process on access in high need schools;
  • Early research and dissertation: an early research project and dissertation focused on access to the general education curriculum in high need schools.
Traineeship Experiences

Participants in LEAD complete a 20 hour paid traineeship each semester that focuses on research, teaching, or personnel preparation (depending on the semester) and allows collaboration with key faculty and leaders in the special and general education communities. Five types of traineeships are offered:

  • Collaborative research experiences with the trainee’s advisors on topics related to access to the general education curriculum
  • Research experiences addressing access to the general education curriculum in high need schools
  • Teaching experiences in university courses
  • Supervision experiences with student teachers in high need schools
  • Completion of a service learning project on access to the general education curriculum
  • A unique aspect of the program is its emphasis on access to general education in high-need schools. Through the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities at the University of Illinois, students have opportunities to partner with master teachers in high-need schools to conduct research, supervise student teachers, initiate service-learning projects, and apply concepts learned in their coursework and seminars to authentic situations in high-need schools. We believe the combination of coursework focused on current research and pedagogy related to accessing the general curriculum in high-need schools, and hands-on practice with research, teaching, and supervision in high-need schools prepares participants to serve as leaders in improving academic and functional outcomes for students with disabilities.

Doctoral Program Eligibility

To be eligible for the LEAD program, a doctoral student must have:

  • A Master’s degree in special education or a related field
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent U.S. residency
  • A minimum grade point average of 3.0 out of 4.0
  • 2 or more years of experience with individuals with disabilities in school or community settings
  • Goals consistent with the program
  • A strong interest in research in the area of access to the general education curriculum
General Information
  • Project LEAD is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Personnel Preparation to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities Program.
  • Doctoral students who receive funding from Project LEAD will be required to meet service obligation requirements set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • Women, minorities and individuals with disabilities are particularly encouraged to apply. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.
For more information, please contact one of the members of the LEAD Team