Online Master’s Programs in Elementary Education

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Updated on: 01/31/2019

Helping children learn about the basics of reading, science and mathematics is often cited as a rewarding part of careers in elementary education. Many teachers working in the field long-term choose to pursue an online master’s degree in elementary education to cement their knowledge and skills within the discipline. Learn how online programs can help anyone thinking about earning a master’s in elementary education, and find which grad schools offer the best mix of affordability and quality programs for students in elementary education master’s programs below.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Elementary Education Program

Because many degree seekers who pursue these programs already have at least some background in education, coursework tends to focus on practical, hands-on skill building in areas of lesson planning, teaching students of diverse backgrounds, instructing in different subject areas, handling disciplinary issues and time management.

Students can expect to walk away with knowledge of:

  • The best practices for classroom management
  • An in-depth understanding of the latest scientific research on childhood education
  • Insight into supporting education for children with special needs or learning differences
  • Information on the latest technologies available for the elementary classroom
  • Understanding of the federal and state regulations for elementary education

There are also different degree paths to define when talking about earning an online elementary education master’s degree. Elementary education is often a defined specialization within one of the following degree paths, and though each sounds similar, what is taught during and the desired outcomes from each are varied:

  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MA, MAT) – Focused on instructional skill building, an MA or MAT may be ideal for students with undergraduate degrees in unrelated fields who want to further their work by becoming a teacher.
  • Master of Science in Education (MS) – Adding a research component, an MS also focuses on practical experience and skill building but helps students already working in the field better evaluate educational practices and build new learning strategies.
  • Master of Education (MEd) – A professional degree that broadens the range of learning another step, an MEd moves into evaluation and psychology of the administrative aspects and instructional design of elementary education.

What common courses are offered in an online master’s in elementary education program?

While all online master’s in elementary education programs offer unique coursework in some respect, the following section highlights some of the more common classes found in a majority of master’s in elementary education degree plans.

Child and Early Adolescent Development

This survey course introduces students to how learners at the elementary education level grow by covering individual topics such as cognitive, emotional, linguistic, physical, and social development. This knowledge proves valuable as students move into other coursework focused on designing and teaching developmentally-appropriate course materials.

Special Education at the Elementary Level

After reviewing typical growth and development, this course introduces degree seekers to a range of disabilities that may alter how a child learns. In addition to reviewing common disabilities, students learn how to develop and modify lesson plans that cater to these individual needs and also reviews laws and regulations regarding special education.

Classroom Management

This course begins by highlighting some of the common behavioral issues encountered in elementary classrooms before discussing theories and frameworks surrounding discipline and motivation. Students learn about methodologies such as restorative justice and how these can be used to create more harmonious, productive classrooms for all learners.

Educational Technology

This required class helps students find innovative ways to introduce technology into their lesson plans and engage students in digital learning. In addition to reviewing some of the common technologies available, students create lesson plans that demonstrate their ability to integrate these tools into daily classroom settings.

Best Practices for Teaching Mathematics

Students take a variety of similar courses that focus on individual subjects taught at the elementary level. Aside from reviewing the concepts students learn at this age, degree seekers work with their professors and peers to successfully integrate teaching standards into lesson plans and develop materials that support learning.

What exams or projects should I expect?

In addition to completing a thesis or capstone project to graduate, most teachers-in-training are also required to take PRAXIS exams upon graduation. At the elementary education level, the Multiple Subjects and Content Knowledge exams are common. Both are administered by the Educational Testing Service.

What specializations are available in a master’s in Elementary Education program?

ESL/ENL

For students hoping to work with learners whose first language is not English, this specialization covers language learning foundations, approaches to instruction, socio-psycholinguistics, reading and writing instruction and special issues within ESL.

Gifted and Talented

This specialization delves into common topics within the field of gifted and talented education, including cognitive development and psychology, common curricula and methods for teaching students placed in gifted and talented programs.

Reading

Learners planning to work in language arts often undertake this specialization, as it provides them the knowledge needed to successfully address advanced studies, common reading difficulties and how to diagnose them and how to integrate foreign language teaching into the curriculum.

Special Education

For degree seekers who plan to work with exceptional learners, this specialization equips graduates with the tools needed to provide individualized lesson plans to students with learning disabilities while also addressing common academic and social issues.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Elementary Education Degree?

Though many teachers-in-training may think their master’s in elementary education only prepares them for the classroom, the reality is that many jobs exist within the field to suit a variety of personalities as well as personal and professional needs.

Special Education Teacher

Serving children with varied emotional, learning, mentaland physical disabilities, special education teachers meet students where they are and develop specialized lesson plans that cover the standard elementary topics in reading, writing and math. They create individualized education programs (IEPs) for their students, which can be shared throughout the school. They also design and implement developmentally-appropriate activities, maintain regular contact with parents and help students prepare to move into the next grade.

Elementary School Principal

As the person in charge of overseeing all employees and students within a school, elementary school principals have a lot of responsibilities on their plates. When not creating class schedules and consulting with instructional designers about changes to the curriculum, principals meet with teachers and parents to discuss individual students, oversee disciplinary management, develop professional education programming for teachers and staff, oversee the school’s annual budget and supply inventory and monitor security protocol for the school as whole. Individuals interested in this path pursue an educational leadership specialization.

Instructional Coordinator

Working alongside the principal and teaching staff, instructional coordinators are tasked with creating and coordinating developmentally appropriate curricula throughout the school. They provide training and workshops to teachers about curricular changes, recommend textbooks and learning materials for meeting standards, assess implementation procedures and analyze student data regarding the curriculum to test for effectiveness. Those who want to work as instructional coordinators can often find a curriculum/instruction specialization.

Professional Organizations

No matter whether they are still completing a master’s or have been leading classrooms for decades, those in the world of elementary education can benefit significantly from membership in a professional organization. Many different membership-based associations exist, but a few are highlighted below.

Council for Exceptional Children

Designed for teachers who work within special education, the CEC offers support within special ed topics, professional development workshops and conferences, a series of publications, and policy guidance.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

With nearly 60,000 members who educate children from ages birth through eight, NAEYC is one of the most dynamic professional organizations in the field today. Aside from publications, resources and professional development opportunities, the group also regularly hosts member events.

National Association of Elementary School Principals

NAESP supports its members by providing countless resources, an interactive learning center, opportunities for networking, an active career center and an advocacy arm that fights for members’ rights.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

No matter the grade taught, NCTM exists to provide timely and helpful benefits to members in the form of classroom resources, in-house publications, research, advocacy, professional development, conferences and a range of grants and awards.

How Much Money Can I Make with a Master’s in Elementary Education Degree?

Since elementary education covers a wide variety of potential career paths depending on specializations, there are a variety of careers available to those with a master’s degree in elementary education. The chart below shows the range of salaries currently earned in this field. Be aware, however, that certain careers and salaries may require different certifications, experience or other requirements in addition to a master’s in elementary education. Salary rates also vary by area.

Career Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Instructional Coordinator Less than $35,550 $63,750 More than $101,500 +11%
Elementary Principal Less than $60,760 $94,390 More than $140,780 +8%
Special Education Teacher Less than $38,660 $58,980 More than $95,320 +8%
Education Administrator Less than $60,760 $94,390 More than $140,780 +8%

As demonstrated by the projected job growth shown in the column above, roles for graduates of master’s in elementary education programs are set to grow respectably in the coming years. The national rate of growth for careers sits at seven percent, yet many elementary education positions are growing even faster. While job stability represents an important factor in choosing a career, salary potential does as well. Many times, this potential relies heavily on the level of degree an individual attains. According to Georgetown University’s report by the Center on Education and the Workforce, the median annual salary for those with a bachelor’s in elementary education is $43,000, while their master’s level counterparts earn $57,000 each year. Advanced degree holders in the top 25 percent of earners, meanwhile, earn average salaries of $73,000.

Online Master’s in Elementary Education Program Accreditation

Accreditation can sometimes go overlooked when considering the many other factors that make up a great online master’s in elementary education, but students who want to ensure they can easily transfer credits, take up competitive roles and, in some cases, receive licensure should make sure they do their homework in this regard. Within the world of teacher education, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) oversees the accrediting process. Learners may also see the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), but this organization merged with CAEP recently. The process of accreditation requires education programs to submit to a rigorous, independent process whereby representatives of the accrediting body review how the program prepares graduates for elementary education roles, if they adequate support students, and if the curriculum is sufficiently thorough.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Elementary Education Degree

Paying for a master’s in elementary can cost big, but fortunately several options exist to help students avoid extreme debt. In addition to these options, students should look at obtaining federal financial aid through FASFA

  • School-Based Support

    As is the case at the University of Iowa, many colleges and universities provide departmental scholarships that future teachers can take advantage of. Other schools, such as Auburn University, offer a limited number of student assistantships that often cover all tuition. Students should always check with prospective schools about this type of funding to ensure they take full advantage.

  • Scholarships and Grants

    Another option is to investigate federal, state, and local scholarships and grants. The federal TEACH Grant, for example, offers $4,000 a year to students who plan to work in a low-income area upon graduation. Degree seekers should also research foundations, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies for independent scholarships.