Date of Award





Doctor of Education

Degree Type



Counseling, Foundations & Leadership

First Advisor

Jennifer L. Brown

Second Advisor

Mary Beth Hendricks

Third Advisor

Thomas J. McCormack


This research study addressed the problem that school leaders may not be adequately prepared to address the needs of an increasing population of students with special needs. The purpose of the study was to examine the difference between beliefs and perceptions of middle and high school leaders and special education teachers about the knowledge and skills necessary to implement special education programs effectively. The conceptual framework of this study focused on the preparation of principals and assistant principals at the university level through certification programs and district level programs. For this causal-comparative research design study, the quantitative and qualitative data were collected using a Demographics Survey, Knowledge and Skills in Special Education Survey, and Qualitative Questionnaire, which was sent to 78 school leaders and 209 special education teachers from middle and high schools in five rural areas of Georgia. Valid responses were collected from 59 participants. The quantitative data were analyzed using a series of one-way ANOVAs. The qualitative data were analyzed using color coding and theme analysis. While no statistically significant differences between the groups were found, school leaders perceived that special education law, accommodations, behavior management, and instructional strategies were four key areas that preparation programs needed, and special education teachers perceived that special education law, behavior management, co-teaching, and assessment should be addressed in educational leadership preparation programs. Future research is needed to further examine the topics presented during university-level and district-level programs. These findings support the need to provide additional, ongoing professional development on the current trends in special education for school leaders.