Online Master’s in Reading and Literacy Degree Programs

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told supporters of the Children’s Reading Foundation of Mid Columbia that “children who can’t read or read below grade level are a lot likelier to drop out, experience social difficulties and therefore are more likely to be attracted to the wrong lifestyle.” There is a mountain of research and anecdotal evidence that “kids who read succeed” and those who don’t, or can’t, can experience lifelong problems — socially and in the workplace. Teaching children how to read is clearly an investment worth making.

Choosing the Right Literacy Education Degree

Reading is the basic foundation upon which higher education is built. The inability to read or to read well is a problem that can be addressed by properly trained teachers. Specializations such as reading literacy, elementary literacy and reading, or literacy curriculum development are available at different degree levels including Master of Education (M.Ed.) and Master of Science (M.S.) in Education, Education Specialist (Ed.S.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

Teachers can also further specialize in elementary, middle school or secondary school literacy and reading. Online degrees in literacy and reading are great options for teacher education. Online education degrees enable teachers to learn while still working in the classroom and sharing ideas online with other teachers nationally and globally — an opportunity for collaboration that can only enhance the educational experience.

Adult literacy and reading is another career opportunity. States have their own requirements for education and licensure for adult education teachers. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient, but the trend is toward requiring a master’s degree. Specializations are available in areas such as adult education and literacy or remedial education. Students can also enroll in master’s degree programs specifically for Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Graduate certificates in areas such as adult education, reading instruction, literacy and language teaching provide specialized knowledge, especially for teachers who already hold master’s degrees in the field, and may be required for reading specialist licensure in some states.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 2020 mean annual wages and 2019-2029 expected job growth data for the following teaching careers:

  • Elementary school teacher: $60,660 (4 percent growth)
  • Middle school teacher: $60,810 (4 percent)
  • Secondary school teacher: $62,810 (4 percent)

Adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers earned mean annual wages of $56,800; expected job growth in the field is 15 percent. Of the 60,670 teachers in this field in 2017, 24,320 were employed in elementary/secondary schools. Another 17,940 were employed at junior colleges. According to 2009 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, 26 percent of 12th-grade students were considered “below basic” in reading achievement, a figure that hasn’t changed substantially in more than 10 years. The need for teachers with expertise in literacy and reading is plainly crucial to improving the education standards of the country.

Reading and literacy at a glance:

  • Literacy and the economy: Improving literacy rates may be a key to a growing economy. For example, illiteracy and low literate workers cost Georgia businesses $7 billion a year, according to Georgia’s Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy.
  • Necessary skills: Reading teachers must understand how literacy develops and know a variety of methods to teach reading
  • Need for literacy professionals: In 2009, 26 percent of 12th-graders read at a “below basic” level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Statistics show that one in four children in the United States will grow up without learning how to read, which means that qualified teachers are needed in order to combat this problem. Online master’s degrees in reading and literacy can help prepare students to tackle the problem of illiteracy in America and meet the challenges of teaching reading to students of different competencies. Core curriculum in these programs emphasizes developing and implementing a reading syllabus that will address the needs of individual students, as well as best practices for teaching reading and evaluating how students are progressing.

What Does a Master’s Degree Program in Reading and Literacy Entail?

When enrolled full time, students in master’s degree programs in reading and literacy can expect to finish their degrees in about two years. The program is designed to give students a theoretical framework on how reading is taught to children in different grade and skill levels, while giving them the hands-on experience they need to become proficient in the classroom. In addition, this program provides strategies on how to help students not only learn to read but also to incorporate reading into their daily lives. Examples of course topics include:

  • Foundations of Literacy: This course gives an overview of teaching strategies used in reading instruction. Course topics include the five pillars of reading (phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and phonemic awareness); the use of technology in literacy instruction; how language is developed; and the social, political, cultural, and economic factors that influence how students learn to read. In addition, this course will cover best practices of comprehensive literacy instruction and the historical framework that guides the field. To ensure that students have a deep understanding of the course material, they may be required to participate in a research project that focuses on an aspect of literacy instruction, create a curriculum for a reading class based on research theories in the field, or role-play how teachers should handle reading instruction in various classroom scenarios.
  • Literacy Assessments: Assessments are an important part of tailoring classroom content that best suits the needs of individual students. This course covers how to create and administer assessment tests that meet the diverse learning needs of students on different reading levels. Class topics include how to identify students who have challenges with reading, the reading diagnostic process, how to administer formal and informal literacy assessment tests, how assessment tests are constructed, and the psychometric principles involved in literacy assessment. Students may be required to create a diagnostic case study, construct a class curriculum that factors in the results of literacy assessments, and write an assessment test that can be used by an educator.
  • Writing Instruction: This course teaches students the methods for teaching writing to students of different grade levels and different reading levels. In order to do this, the course content includes information on the reading and writing process, techniques and materials that can be used for teaching students how to write, writing process theories, writing assessments, how writing skills are developed, the relationship between writing and critical thinking, and the technological tools that can be used to teach writing to students. Students will also learn how writing skills are developed in early childhood and the relationship between reading, writing, and literacy development. In order to give students real-world experience with the course material, they may be required to participate in exercises such as designing a writing curriculum, completing activities that demonstrate their knowledge of how writing is taught, and creating a teacher’s manual that outlines the best practices for teaching writing.

Students enrolled in online reading and literacy master’s degree programs may also be required to complete a master’s thesis or a comprehensive examination, depending on the requirements of the program they choose. In addition, students may be required to obtain a state license, depending on where they live, in order to find employment as a teacher.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master’s Degree Programs in Reading and Literacy

There are a number of job options for students who complete a master’s degree program in reading and literacy. One available career for these graduates is teaching middle school, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is on the rise. In fact, the agency expects a 12 percent increase in the amount of jobs for these professionals between 2012 and 2022. Job duties of these teachers include keeping parents informed about the progress of their children, creating lesson plans, enforcing rules of conduct for students to follow in the classroom, supervising students during detention or lunchtime, preparing students for standardized tests that may be required by the state, and creating and grading assignments designed to assess student progress.

Another career option for these graduates is teaching high school. According to the BLS, between 2012 and 2022, there will be a six percent increase in the amount of jobs available for these teachers. Professionals in these jobs are responsible for helping to prepare students for required standardized tests in their state, creating lesson plans for the classroom, creating and grading homework and tests, supervising students inside and outside of the classroom, assessing students’ progress, and working with students individually in order to help them improve on their weaknesses.

Graduates with a master’s degree in reading and literacy may also pursue a career as a literacy coach, coordinator for a literacy program, curriculum specialists, adult literacy educator, or reading specialist.

“High School Teachers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January, 2014,
“Middle School Teachers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014,

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