Joan McLaughlin, Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research

Joan McLaughlin

Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research

About Us

The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), one of the four Centers within the Institute of Education Sciences, supports rigorous research on infants, toddlers, children, and youth with and at risk for disabilities through advancing the understanding of and practices for teaching, learning, and organizing education systems. NCSER supports such research through its research grants program to identify existing practices, programs, or policies that may be associated with student outcomes; develop new, or modify existing, interventions; evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of fully developed interventions; and develop and validate measures and assessments. NCSER-supported Research and Development Centers aim to address important issues in special education by implementing large-scale but focused programs of research and leadership activities. Through its research training programs, NCSER supports institutions to train postdoctoral fellows, individual early career scientists, and methodology training institutes to develop the research skills in our next generation of special education researchers.

Commissioner Joan McLaughlin

Joan McLaughlin has been serving as the Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) since 2014.

McLaughlin first joined the Institute of Education Sciences as Deputy Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research in 2009. In addition to her role as Deputy Commissioner, McLaughlin served as NCSER's program officer for the Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education grant program. Before being named Commissioner, she temporarily served as the Acting Commissioner for NCSER.

Prior to joining IES, McLaughlin spent 16 years working in the Education and Family Services area of Abt Associates Inc., a research consulting firm. While there, she served as principal investigator or project director for numerous evaluations of federal education, food assistance, and early childhood programs. McLaughlin has also served as a program officer in the Office of Analysis and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, where she oversaw design, process, and implementation studies of programs and initiatives focused on maternal and child health and child nutrition issues. She also served as a program analyst in the Program Evaluation and Methodology Division of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

McLaughlin received her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and her master's and doctoral degrees in developmental psychology from Cornell University.

NCSER Program Officers

Sarah Brasiel
Math and Science Education
Reading, Writing, and Language Development
Technology for Special Education

Jacquelyn Buckley
Social and Behavioral Outcomes to Support Learning
Families of Children with Disabilities

Kimberley Sprague
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities

Amy Sussman
Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education

Katherine Taylor
Cognition and Student Learning
Professional Development for Teachers and Related Services Providers
Research Training Programs in Special Education
Special Education Policy, Finance, and Systems


Definition of Disability and Risk of Disability

For the purpose of Institute's special education research programs, a student with a disability is defined in Public Law 108-446, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), as a child "(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as 'emotional disturbance'), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services" (Part A, Sec. 602). An infant or toddler with a disability is defined in IDEA as, "an individual under 3 years of age who needs early intervention services because the individual (i) is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in 1 or more of the areas of cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development; or (ii) has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay" (Part C, Sec. 632).