One of the teacher's tapes that the Teacher of the Year board is a reference to John Keating, Robin Williams' character in the film Dead Poets Society (which is mentioned negatively by one of the board members).
Keating is voiced by Dan Castellaneta, who would later voice Disney's The Genie from Aladdin, another one of Robin Williams' characters, when Williams wasn't available to voice the Genie.
Homer first mistakes Little Richard for Prince (when he asks him to play "Purple Rain") for Michael Jackson. In "Stark Raving Dad", he met a mental patient who claimed to be Michael Jackson.
The song "Happy Together" by the Turtles, which plays in Eastern Airlines' "World of Tomorrow" presentation from 1965 (and also in the "Executive Producer/Executive Producers" credits in the end credits), was actually released in 1967. (The song may have come to the ride later.)
The title of the episode is a parody of Special Ed, abbreviation of Special Education.
Pam Dawber, referenced by Skinner when he walks into Edna's classroom, is the actress who played Mindy in Mork and Mindy.
EFCOT Center is a parody of the EPCOT Center. A sign outside the park reads "When Every Other Place is Booked", and Homer moans that EFCOT is "even boring to fly over!"
The references to EPCOT Center being different from Walt Disney World is confusing, since EPCOT is indeed one of the four Disney theme parks in Orlando that makes up the Walt Disney World Resort. Homer's reference to Disney World and the location to which he escapes at the end is most likely a reference to the Magic Kingdom park. Alternatively, it may be an indication that EFCOT is a distinct entity from Walt Disney World's Epcot.
The park is called EFCOT to parody EPCOT, yet later, in Catch 'Em if You Can, a character actually refers to EPCOT by name.
The "Ride of Broken Dreams" is a mockery of the Enron scandal. The ride goes up for quite a distance, then suddenly drops steeply and levels out for a while and then drops down into a poor house shed.
The World of Tomorrow attraction has some basis in the former Magic Kingdom attraction If You Had Wings, which was sponsored by Eastern Airlines.
The building where the award ceremony is held is an exact likeness of Epcot's Horizons.
The Electric Car of the Future - A parody of World of Motion, which was sponsored by General Motors (its replacement, Test Track, was still sponsored by General Motors until December 6, 2012, when it is now sponsored by Chevrolet when the ride was redone)
The nighttime fireworks/laser display being watched by Homer and Marge is a parody of Epcot's IllumiNations, taking place in a facsimile of Epcot's World Showcase.
The "World of Tomorrow" ride parodies the fact that most of Epcot's attractions were sponsored by huge corporations (General Electric, AT&T, Exxon, United Technologies) that used their attractions to offer a very clean version of themselves and how they were bringing the future to the American public.
Julio Estudiante, the teacher who was awarded the title "Teacher of the Year", is a parody of Jaime Escalante and the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, where Escalante indeed taught inner city school students that differential equations were more powerful than bullets.
When Homer and Bart ride the electric car, the gay robots say "One of us! One of us!", which is a homage to the classic line from the 1932 film Freaks, which was parodied in a few episodes prior. The ride, sponsored by "gas producers of America", exhibits a veiled parody of smear campaigns and conspiracies by oil companies (such as the Streetcar Scandal) to squash alternative transportation (such as mass transit and electric cars) and expand the use of gasoline-powered automobiles.
The music in the scene where Skinner drives Willie's car and appears on a screen is similar to James Bond.
The opening music to the documentary on holes is the beginning of "Fragile" by Sting. This is a reference to the IMAX documentary The Living Sea, whose soundtrack featured the same song.
EPCOT had an attraction called The Living Seas from 1986 until 2006, and was replaced by The Seas with Nemo & Friends.
When Lisa mocks Bart for befriending Edna, she quotes "put mothballs in the beef stew", a line from the Simpsons' hit single "Do the Bartman".
When Skinner asks Bart to prevent Edna from winning the award, Bart is playing "Halloween Hit and Run", which is a reference to The Simpsons: Hit & Run. Skinner also mutters that "he can't believe they got away with this", which may be referring to the extreme amount of violence the game has.
The Electric Car of the Future's voice resembles that of Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Hardy Har Har.
Eastern Airlines was a real airline that ceased operations in 1991, and appears here in the joke that they would be predicted to remain afloat as did many companies in the 1960s.