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It's no coincidence that the names of your elementary school teachers are so often offered as a security question on websites. A memorable educator can have a profound influence on a person's life. And while a college degree can help you earn a career, it is your K-12 education that can help you earn that degree in the first place. Quality K-12 educators are vital to our society's health. A teaching degree is nearly essential for this field, and fortunately many schools offer the option and convenience of earning such a degree online.
Best Online Colleges for K-12 Education in 2018-19
Selecting an online school for a particular field of study often proves challenging since, unlike brick-and-mortar programs, you can't necessarily rely on campus tours and other in-person evaluations. Therefore, online research — including rankings — can help introduce prospective students to the top programs of study for a given academic discipline.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and our own unique methodology, we evaluated 104 schools that offered at least one online associate or bachelor's degree program in K-12 education. Below are our results: the top 10 online colleges for K-12 education.
East Carolina University
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Kaplan University-Omaha Campus
Chaminade University of Honolulu
Ball State University
Concordia University-Saint Paul
University of North Carolina at Greenboro
Nova Southeastern University
Degree Overview: K-12 Education
Students seeking online K-12 education degrees might wonder what they will encounter when they enroll. We've scoured numerous programs through online colleges for education to give students an overview of the courses they may take, as well as the specializations they can choose and the skills they might earn throughout their journey. Here's a peek at what students might be able to expect.
Online K-12 Education Courses
Though there are associate degrees that focus on K-12 education, students should keep in mind that those are designed to allow students to earn credits that transfer to the bachelor's degree. Since those who work in public schools for K-12 education must hold a bachelor's degree in order to teach, the associate degree does not prepare a student for entry-level work in the field.
Those pursuing online bachelor's degree programs in K-12 education can usually complete their degree in about four years, though accelerated degrees can cut that time down by six months to a year. Students at this level can choose the broad K-12 education program, but most choose to specialize in an area that suits their specific career goals, such as elementary education or secondary education.
Regardless of the specialization, some courses will remain the same. A sampling of the most common courses in K-12 education degree programs includes the following:
- Foundations of Teaching
- Teacher Education Foundations
- Effective Teaching Practices
Keep in mind that students who choose to earn their bachelor's degree in any teaching discipline will be expected to complete field work. This can be completed in the student's local area through an agreement with the student's online college and the local school district. Students should look at the particulars of their program for specific information on what will be expected from them for this hands-on component.
Those who desire a more administrative position will likely want to continue their education into a master's degree program, where specializations are the name of the game. Students can choose from a wide variety of options, such as:
- M.S. in Education Improvement and Transformation
- M.S. in Learning Technologies
- M.S. in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum: Advanced Studies
- M.S. in Special Education
Those who are interested in higher administration positions, as well as research opportunities in the world of education, can turn to the doctoral degree. Programs at this level will almost unanimously include a strong research component and a focus on leadership courses. The doctoral program is designed to prepare students for the rigors of working in leadership, policy, government and other decision-making positions with the responsibility of improving education for the K-12 set.
Career-Related Skills to Develop
Whether at the bachelor's, master's or doctoral levels, the goal of a degree program is the same: preparing students to handle work in the K-12 system. Naturally, teaching career-relevant skills is a critical part of this goal. During their programs, students should be working to hone their communication skills, both in listening and instructing. This is helpful not only for teaching students, but for working with other educators as well. Students must also learn to exercise patience, not just with their students, but with the "red tape" that often accompanies budgets, policies and other administrative factors that play into a school system.
Finally, K-12 education programs help students learn to be more resourceful, making the best use of what they have — whether it's distributing school supplies across a single class or spreading a tight budget across the needs of an entire school district. These skills help students learn how to tackle educational problems presented to them, no matter the level at which they teach or work.
K-12 Education Specializations
Students who choose to pursue K-12 specializations can opt for certificates that provide them with the education they need to put the finishing touch on their career options. By earning certifications in various specializations, educators can be prepared to work with a variety of different students, offer education in selected areas and apply their knowledge to making classrooms more enjoyable or administrative duties more effective.
Graduate certificates are available for working professionals who want to go back to school to specialize in a particular area of K-12 education. Some certificates require students to already hold a master's degree; however, many are available for those who hold a bachelor's degree and a license to teach.
What certifications are available to students can vary wildly between states or even between schools. However, here are a few commonly-available options:
- Foreign Language
- Teaching and Learning
- Early Childhood Special Education
- STEM Education
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Learning Disabilities
- Teacher Leader
Certifications awarded via online schools are often recognized by national organizations; for instance, the prestigious National Board Certification is backed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Because of this national recognition, students who earn certification can carry it with them throughout their career, no matter which state they choose to work in.
K-12 Education Career Outlook
Talented educators are something our country can always use more of. With student numbers swelling and the baby boomer generation considering retirement, education is a field that is expected to expand in the years to come.
While many teachers specialize in reading, writing and arithmetic, those who pursue careers as self-enrichment teachers focus on just about everything else. Unlike more traditional educators, these teachers provide instruction on topics that do not lead to a degree or professional certification. From piano to scuba diving to martial arts, self-enrichment teachers work with students who are interested in bettering themselves in some way.
Like other instructors, those who pursue self-enhancement education teacher careers create a class curriculum, give lectures and monitor students' performance. However, these classes are much less formal, so students are not necessarily expected to complete tests or homework.
Self-enrichment teachers do not need to have a formal education to land a job, but they should demonstrate expertise in the subject they're teaching.
Educators who like working with young children often pursue kindergarten teacher careers, which allow them to find employment at private or public schools. In addition to teaching a variety of subjects, such as English, math, music and art, these teachers are also responsible for promoting the social, mental and physical development of children.
Other responsibilities of kindergarten teachers include ensuring that classroom supplies and materials are fully stocked, supervising teaching assistants, planning field trips and addressing academic and behavioral problems. These professionals are required to keep their knowledge and skills current by participating in continuing education classes, conferences and workshops.
Educators who enter elementary school teacher careers not only teach basic academic subjects; they also help children in the first through fifth grades develop the problem solving and critical thinking skills they will use for the rest of their lives. As a result, teachers need to have strong organizational, listening and speaking skills — as well as patience and creativity.
The daily responsibilities of elementary school teachers include creating age-appropriate lesson plans that cover areas such as reading, social studies, science and mathematics; evaluating students and providing extra help as needed; preparing students to pass state-mandated standardized tests; and working with parents to improve student performance.
Educators in middle school teacher careers, who work with students in the sixth through eighth grades, help to bridge the gap between the basic learning that students received in elementary school and the more complex work they will be expected to master in high school. Like secondary school teachers, these professionals are often responsible for teaching one subject to students in different grade levels, so a math teacher may teach classes to ninth and tenth graders, for example. In other cases, middle school teachers may teach more than one subject, like math and science or English and social studies.
Middle school teachers write lesson plans, create and grade tests and homework assignments and provide assessments to determine students' strengths and weaknesses.
Secondary school teachers work with students in the ninth through twelfth grades, and can be employed by public or private schools. Their duties include creating appropriate lesson plans; grading tests and assignments; identifying students' weaknesses and helping them to improve; and communicating with parents and school administrators. Outside of the classroom, these teachers also supervise extracurricular activities and field trips, as well as work in the lunchroom or detention hall.
In order to be successful, those in secondary school teacher careers must have strong leadership, decision making and conflict resolution skills. Working with adolescents can be unpredictable, so teachers must be able to take control of their classrooms and create a safe and productive learning environment.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following four criteria for the specific subject being ranked:
- Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
- Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2016-17
- Have reported data for all 11 ranking variables listed below
We ranked 1,813 colleges and universities in the United States on 11 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS:
- Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
- Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
- Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
- Graduation rate
- Retention rate
- The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, Other)
- Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
- Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
- Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.
NOTE: Schools' tuition amounts are based on 2016-17 undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/