Elementary Education Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance
Graduate programs in elementary education can lead to licensure or career advancement as an elementary teacher or to university teaching and research positions that allow you to influence future educators. A Ph.D. in elementary education may also prepare you for jobs in education policy or leadership roles in school districts or state education departments.
Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted average job growth for elementary teachers from 2010-2020, job opportunities vary widely by geographical location and are vulnerable to state and local government budget deficits. A master's degree may not increase your chances of landing a job in some regions, though job opportunities are better in rural and urban school districts than suburban. Similar budgetary factors affect employment growth for education professors. Many universities prefer to hire adjunct and part-time instructors, so fewer tenure-track positions are expected to be available.
|Who is this degree for?||People who wish to enter teaching or advance their careers|| - Bachelor's or master's degree holders seeking an academic career|
- Professionals seeking leadership, policy or research positions in the field
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary)|| - Elementary school teacher ($53,000- not entry-level salary)*|
- Elementary school special education teacher ($53,450 - several years of experience may be required to earn the median salary)*
| Postsecondary education teacher ($59,350)*|
-U.S. Department of Education researcher (varying pay)
|Time to Completion||1-2 years full-time||2-4 years full-time ( after the completion of a master's degree)|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Teaching internship |
- Final project (portfolio, thesis, exam)
| - Teaching or research assistantships|
|Prerequisites||Bachelor's degree in elementary education or a related subject|| - Bachelor's or master's degree in elementary education or a related subject|
- Related professional experience
|Online Availability||Yes||Very rare|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Master's in Elementary Education
A variety of reasons may motivate you to pursue a master's degree in elementary education. You may be seeking initial teacher licensure; the state in which you teach may require you to earn a master's degree after becoming licensed; you may wish to do in-depth research in a particular area of elementary education and perhaps eventually pursue a PhD; you may want to improve your teaching practice or you may be seeking to move into leadership positions in your school or district. Master's degree programs in elementary education are available to address each of these needs. Because of the diversity of programs, it's important to investigate graduate school options through research and questioning program directors to ensure the program corresponds to your career goals.
Typically, teacher licensure programs offer a more general course of study, focusing on elementary school teaching foundations and methods. You can expect your program to emphasize culturally responsive teaching and integration of technology into classroom teaching. Programs for certified teachers allow you to elect concentrations, such as teaching English learners or reading skills, which may serve as additional professional credentials. Regardless of the type of program you enroll in, you will typically be required to complete research methodology courses and research projects.
Pros and Cons
- A master's degree may entitle you to a higher teacher's wage at many schools. In Florida in 2011, for example, public school elementary teachers with bachelor's degrees earned an average $43,000, while master's degree holders earned $49,000.*
- A master's degree can help you advance into leadership positions at your district, such as instructional coordinators, who help teachers meet district standards. These professionals earned an average salary of $61,700 in May 2011.**
- Programs generally aren't highly competitive. Many don't require GRE scores, and the minimum GPA for admission at some schools is 2.75.
- If you're a practicing teacher, earning a master's degree while teaching full-time may leave you very little time for anything else.
- If you're seeking initial licensure, investing in a master's degree program may be risky, especially since post-baccalaureate certificate programs leading to teacher licensure are less costly. The realities of teaching may outweigh the rewards for some people aspiring to this career.
- Because job opportunities vary by geographical region, you may need to relocate to another state to find a job opening - even with a master's degree.
Sources: *Florida Department of Education, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Courses and Requirements
In master's degree programs in elementary education you will learn about the growth and development of elementary-age children, the role of technology in society and how to use it more in the classroom, culture and language as factors in learning and social interaction, pedagogical theories and educational practices. Typical core courses for master's degree programs include:
- Teaching strategies (for math, reading, science and social studies)
- Multicultural education
- Human development
- Curriculum development
- Assessment methods
- Classroom management
- Special education
- Research methods
In licensure programs, you will be required to complete field experience requirements that include student teaching, which typically is for one semester. Your program may provide you with a variety of classroom experiences in urban, suburban and rural schools. Some programs even offer the opportunity to do your student teaching abroad. A thesis isn't typically required for programs that lead to certification. Student teaching is often the culminating experience for these programs.
If you're a practicing teacher seeking a master's degree in elementary education, you typically take core elementary education courses and courses within a concentration. Among the available concentration options are early childhood education; math, science and educational technology; educational leadership; gifted and talented education; educational technology and special education. Some programs offer a variety of degree-completion options, which include the traditional thesis, an examination and a portfolio.
Online Degree Options
If you're a working teacher, numerous online programs are available in elementary education that can help you fit earning a master's degree around your busy schedule. If you prefer some real-world interaction, hybrid online/real-world programs are also common. Course loads, tests, papers and other requirements tend to be similar online to on-campus programs. You can also pursue your teacher certification through online master's degree programs in elementary education.
Getting Ahead With This Degree
Especially in a tough economic climate, approaching your master's degree program strategically can help you get the elementary education job you want when you graduate. Here are some ideas for gaining a competitive edge.
- Seek specialization in a high-need area, such as teaching English as a second language (ESL) or special education. Educators in these areas are in high demand, so job opportunities should be more plentiful.
- Develop your instructional technology skills. School districts across the nation are pushing to meet the needs of students by creating '21st century classrooms' that incorporate technology into teaching and learning. Employers are seeking candidates who can use a MacBook creatively in their lessons, navigate a Smartboard and have students respond in class with digital devices.
- Create an electronic portfolio. Incorporate your best lesson plans, student responses, assessment tools and essays that express your educational philosophy into an electronic portfolio you can present at interviews.
If you're interested in leading other teachers as an administrator in an elementary school or in a school district, a master's degree program in education administration or leadership is the indicated route. With this degree, you can become an assistant principal, principal or superintendent, for example. The BLS predicted average job growth for elementary, middle and high school principals from 2010-2020 and estimated that the average wage for this job category was about $87,000 in 2010.
PhD in Elementary Education
Doctoral programs in elementary education are also varied. Some schools offer Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in addition to Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in elementary education. You might consider applying to an EdD program if your career goal is to pursue an administrative role in a school district or a leadership position in an educational organization or governmental agency. Some PhD programs are designed primarily for students who are seeking academic careers, but other schools offer catch-all PhD programs with graduates who work as professors, researchers and administrators.
Regardless of the type of doctoral program you apply to, you can expect tougher admissions requirements than at the master's level, which will include submitting your GRE scores. Some programs only admit applicants who have earned a master's degree with a minimum of a 3.5 GPA. Professional experience related to elementary education may also be required.
Because fewer students are admitted to doctoral programs, you will enjoy more interaction with faculty, especially through your doctoral advisory committee. Your advisors will help determine the coursework needed to meet program requirements and lay the foundation for your specific research interests. Research is emphasized in all doctoral programs in elementary education. You will need to take a variety of courses in research methodology and design to prepare for your dissertation.
Pros and Cons
- A PhD program will give you the skills and qualifications you need to work in the world of academia as a professor or a researcher.
- A PhD in elementary education can qualify you for research positions with the U.S. Department of Education.
- You will have opportunities to conduct research that could affect educational policy, improve literacy programs or influence how future teachers are educated.
- Few PhD programs in elementary education are available that accommodate the needs of working educators.
- According to a 2009 study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, only a quarter of faculty members at institutions of higher education are tenured or on a tenure track.*
- Academic job searches are usually nationwide, so relocation may be necessary.
Source: *Inside Higher Ed.
Courses and Requirements
The curriculum of your elementary education PhD program may be structured in a variety of ways. Programs tend to include core elementary courses, a research core and courses in a concentration. Concentrations may include literacy, instructional design or an area of specialization you develop with your faculty advisory committee. Some programs require you to complete a minor or demonstrate competency in a foreign language. In addition to proposing and completing your dissertation, you may need to pass oral comprehensive exams and complete research and teaching assistantships.
Examples of courses from PhD programs in elementary education include:
- Educational statistics
- Child development and learning
- Educational philosophy
- Interdisciplinary curriculum development
- Advanced teaching strategies
Online Degree Options
Online PhD programs in elementary education are quite rare. Though PhD programs in education are available in which you could specialize in topics related to elementary education, an online PhD may not pass muster with some employers, such as non-profit universities. When acquiring your PhD, a traditional, real-world university will most likely provide you with the research facilities, staff and human connections you'll need to make as a doctoral student.
Stand Out With This Degree
Whether you want to work in policy, research, educational leadership or university teaching, you can expect to face competition in your job search. Following are some strategies for targeting your doctoral studies for employment:
- Do a policy internship. If your interest is in elementary education policy, completing a summer internship with an educational policy organization can give your resume a strong boost.
- Use technology in your classroom. University employers seek to hire education professors who know how to engage adult learners with educational technology.
- Publish your research. It's wise to try to get your work, particularly your dissertation research, published. A publishing credit in a scholarly journal can be a big push for your career.