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An Introduction to Elementary Education

If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, elementary education offers a lot of opportunity.

Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary school? If you had good teachers, those memories are likely tinted by the excitement and wonder of learning and playing. Perhaps you’re considering devoting your career to giving elementary students that same positive experience. But before you go to school to become a licensed teacher, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of elementary education in the U.S. and where it may be headed. Here are some facts to know.


The Basic Definition

The U.S. Department of Education divides its statistics between pre-kindergarten through eighth grade (grouping those as “elementary school”) and ninth grade through 12th grade (grouping those as “secondary school”). However, most school districts consider kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade to be elementary school and most educational literature and teaching strategies define elementary education within that same K–6 range. In other words, while the statistics for elementary education include middle school, those in the profession use a more selective categorization.

The Raw Numbers

According to enrollment reports from the National Center for Educational Statistics:

  • Over 90% of all U.S. students are enrolled in public schools.1
  • The U.S. has 35.6 million public school students in pre-K through eighth grade.1
  • Five million of those students are in public pre-K or public kindergarten programs.1
  • Pre-K through eighth grade enrollment increased 5% from fall 2000 to fall 2015.2
  • The states with the largest enrollment increases were Nevada (37%), Utah (35%), and Texas (31%).2
  • Enrollment of pre-K though eighth grade students is projected to increase by another 3% between 2015 and 2027.2
  • U.S. public schools are, on the whole, majority minority, with white students accounting for just under 48% of all students. Hispanic students account for just under 28%. Black students account for just over 15%. Asian students account for just over 5%. The remaining students are Pacific Islander, Native American, or identify as two or more races.1
  • The percentage of both white and black students is expected to decline in coming years while the percentage of Hispanic students, Asian students, and students identifying as two or more races is expected to rise.1

The Core Importance

Elementary school is a vital step in preparing children for later learning and life in general. It’s where most children learn to read, where they learn the fundamental concepts of science and mathematics, and where they gain a basic understanding of the world and its history. Without elementary education, all other learning would be difficult if not impossible. Indeed, studies have shown that learning to read before fourth grade can actually increase a student’s lifelong earning potential.3 In other words, the quality of education a child receives in elementary school can affect his or her entire life.

The Teachers

Those who teach in public elementary schools typically hold a teacher certification from their state. Each state has different requirements, but in general, to become a certified teacher you have to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher education program, and pass both a skills test and a background check.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over 1.5 million kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the U.S., with that number projected to increase by 116,300 (7%) between 2016 and 2026. The median salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is just under $57,000 a year.4

The Path to Becoming a Licensed Elementary School Teacher

If you want to teach in an elementary school, the most direct path is to earn a teaching degree. In specific, a BS in Elementary Education can help you gain the teaching skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the classroom and prepare for teacher licensure/certification.

An elementary education degree program prepares you to teach elementary grades from preschool to fifth, with some programs preparing you to teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grades as well. Most students pursuing an undergraduate degree in elementary education also spend a term under observed teaching, improving their teaching experience and preparing to lead their own classrooms.

To become an elementary education teacher, a student can expect to take the following courses:

  • Child Development
  • Community Building for Effective Classroom Management
  • Literacy K-6: Instruction and Assessment
  • Mathematics K-6: Instruction and Assessment
  • Science K-6: Instruction and Assessment
  • Demonstration Teaching/Seminar

While earning an education degree used to require you to live close to a university campus, online learning is making the process more convenient. Rather than having to be close to the college you wish to attend, you can earn a BS in Elementary Education online and complete your courses right from home or anywhere else you have internet access. Plus, in an online bachelor’s program, you can attend class at whatever time of day you want, giving you a lot more control over your daily schedule.

If elementary education seems like the right choice for your career, a BS in Elementary Education can help you get there. And an online university can help ensure earning that bachelor’s degree is a real possibility.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,