Literacy Education Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degree programs in literacy education can lead to careers helping people learn to read. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your master's or doctoral degree in literacy education.
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Study Literacy Education: Degrees at a Glance

Students earning a degree in literacy education typically study theories and methods for increasing reading development in grades kindergarten-12. Typically, you'll learn to assess the literacy of children, then implement and adapt reading curriculums to accommodate different learning styles as well as disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most job openings from 2010-2020 are likely to come through replacing teachers who retire or leave the field. There's likely to be job competition in some localities, especially in states and districts that offer higher pay and better benefits.

The BLS projected that between 2010 and 2020, the job growth for special education reading teachers would be at 17%, or just above the average for all occupations. Growth for kindergarten, elementary and middle school teachers was at 17% as well, while growth for secondary school teachers was significantly lower, at seven percent. Job growth for postsecondary teachers was also at 17%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to teach reading at the K-12 or junior college level or work specifically with special needs kids who need help with reading People interested in working as reading teachers or in academia as literacy researchers or professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Special education literacy teacher ($56,000)*
- Kindergarten or elementary teacher ($51,000)*
- Middle school teacher ($56,000)*
- Secondary school teacher ($57,000)*
- Community college teacher ($65,000)*
- University teacher and/or researcher ($65,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Usually about 30-40 credit hours
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Teaching requirement
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- Approximately 50-60 more credit hours
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in literacy education or a related field Bachelor's or master's degree in literacy education or a related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Literacy Education

A master's degree in literacy education is designed for teachers and administrators who wish to extend their professional training, gain new skills, meet continuing education requirements and become eligible for higher salaries. Some skills you may acquire in such a program include literacy assessment, curriculum development, program design, idea implementation, working with different cultures and classroom communication.

Typically, these programs to tend to have a heavier literacy-based courseload than a bachelor's degree program in education or a related discipline. In some, you can earn your teaching licensure with the state as part of the program. You can also typically expect smaller class sizes and more one-on-one work with professors. Most programs require that you gain a significant amount of classroom experience.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree program in literacy education provides you with the skills and knowledge you need to help children (and sometimes adults) overcome literacy issues and flourish
  • With a master's degree, you'll usually command a higher salary than with a bachelor's degree
  • Many programs aren't particularly competitive to get into


  • If you're currently employed as teacher, earning your master's degree at the same time can leave you with very little time
  • If you don't have much experience as a teacher, a master's degree could make you educationally overqualified for many entry-level literacy education positions
  • Job searches tend to be nationwide or even international in this field, so it may be necessary to relocate

Courses and Requirements

As a student in a master's degree program in literacy education, you'll usually learn specific skills and approaches for improving reading in classrooms and schools. The courses that you'll take depend largely on the age of the children on whom you focus. A few courses you may encounter include:

  • Curriculum assessment
  • Achievement gap improvement
  • Classroom management strategies
  • Language theories and research
  • Teaching reading to kids with special needs
  • Assessment-based reading instruction
  • Digital literature
  • Reading instruction theory and practice
  • Teaching students with reading difficulties
  • Reading and early childhood development

In addition to your exams and classes, you'll most likely be required to research and write a master's thesis and complete a certain number of classroom hours.

Online Degree Options

If you're currently employed or will have trouble attending a full-time, on-campus program for any other reason, then you can consider your online options. A plethora of online course options are available in literacy education. However, most programs also have independent research requirements that require you to work on campus some of the time. You'll also most likely be required to get classroom experience in the real world.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

If you're interested in travel, some programs may help with placement in international schools and American schools abroad. You can also attend international school job fairs and potentially secure a position before completing your degree program.

Ph.D. in Literacy Education

Getting into a doctoral program in literacy education is often considerably more difficult than getting into a master' degree program. While some programs may accept candidates with a bachelor's degree, far more require a master's degree, strong GRE scores and a high grade point average. You may also be required to have a certain amount of professional literacy education experience.

Because Ph.D. programs in this field tend to be somewhat small and exclusive, you can typically expect to have a lot of contact with doctoral advisors and professors. Earning your Ph.D. in literacy education involves a large amount of research and writing. If your chosen area of expertise is similar to a faculty member, you could end up helping with their research or acting as a research assistant as you prepare to write your dissertation.

Pros and Cons


  • A doctorate degree program in literacy education prepares you to work in academia and potentially earn tenure
  • You research could potentially affect education policy and how literacy is approached
  • You could potentially get a job conducting education research for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education


  • Earning tenure is a long, difficult process and far from guaranteed
  • If you want to teach literacy at the K-12 level, then a Ph.D. is almost never required
  • As is the case with a master's degree, your job search is likely to result in your relocation

Courses and Requirements

Your courseload as a Ph.D. student in literacy education will usually be largely determined by your specialization. For example, if your focus is literacy in adult populations, your core coursework will be somewhat different than if you're focused on early elementary reading. You'll also typically be required to complete a research core. A few courses that you may encounter are:

  • Quantitative and qualitative education research
  • Advanced research techniques
  • Foundations of reading education
  • Educational policy
  • Problems with literacy

In addition to coursework and doctorate-level exams, you also may be required to gain teaching and research experience. You'll also present a dissertation proposal before a board. Once accepted, you'll be required to research, write and defend a dissertation. You may also be required to attend seminars and conferences.

Online Degree Options

There are few, if any, options for earning a doctorate degree in literacy education online. This is due the fact that a doctoral program in this field is very hands-on and research intensive. You'll probably consult with faculty and advisors a great deal and spend a considerable amount of time working in classrooms.

Stand Out With This Degree

While you're still earning your Ph.D., you can focus on ways to stand out in the job market when the time comes. The following are a few ways that you can accomplish this:

  • Try to get the research from your dissertation or other writings published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
  • If you're interested in breaking into education policy, completing an internship with an educational policy organization can be helpful.
  • Computer literacy and saying abreast of latest developments in education technology can help you secure a position.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Walden University

    Program Options

      • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Literacy (Grades PreK-6)
      • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Mathematics (Grades K-6)
      • MS in Education - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment (Grades K-12)
      • MS in Education - Self-Designed
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Liberty University

    Program Options

      • MED: Reading Specialist Endorsement
      • MA: Music Education: Music Studies
      • MAT: Master of Arts in Teaching (45 Hours): Middle Grades Education
      • MED: Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood Education
      • MED: Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Law (Non-Licensure)
      • MED: Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Technology (Non-Licensure)
  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Athens, GA

    University of Georgia

Featured Schools

Walden University

  • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Literacy (Grades PreK-6)
  • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Mathematics (Grades K-6)
  • MS in Education - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment (Grades K-12)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
  • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning

Which subject are you interested in?

Liberty University

  • MED: Reading Specialist Endorsement
  • MA: Music Education: Music Studies
  • MAT: Master of Arts in Teaching (45 Hours): Middle Grades Education

What is your highest level of education?