Early Childhood Education vs. Elementary Education: Which Career is Right for You?

Choosing a degree that leads to the career of your dreams is a big decision for many – and not something to take lightly. The degree you decide on could influence the career you choose and ultimately, your future lifestyle.

The question now is which career is right for you and your future? If you know you enjoy working with children and you have a passion for helping others, education is a field that will put both of those passions to work.  

And although there are many paths you can choose take within primary and secondary education, there are definite distinctions between early childhood education and elementary education that are important to understand.

“Grouping (early childhood education and elementary education) together has facilitated teachers to work in any grade, but has harmed the developmental differences between teaching young children in primary grades, particularly kindergarten, and upper-grade children,” said Julie K. Nelson, kindergarten teacher and professor at Utah Valley University. “I teach kindergarten guidance to elementary education students, and try to instill the sensitive differences between teaching younger and older grades.”

In an effort to help you make an informed decision about early childhood education (ECE) versus elementary education, we outlined the differences between them below.


ECE vs. elementary education: degree needed

  • ECE

ECE focuses on the academic, social and cognitive skills that develop in children from birth through preschool. The degree requirements for an ECE degree differ depending on whether you would like to be an assistant teacher, also known as a paraprofessional, (Associate’s degree) versus a preschool teacher (Bachelor’s degree).

  • Elementary education

Elementary education refers to the primary education that comes after preschool but before middle school. A Bachelor’s degree with state licensure is the most typical route for those interested in elementary education. But if you’re looking to teach at a private school, you don’t necessarily need a state licensure. If you hold a degree other than education, such as math or science, you can become an elementary teacher after passing an alternative teacher certification exam. You will also need recommendations from a school site team of teachers and the school principal, as well as, college professors.

ECE vs. elementary education: skills needed

  • ECE

For someone who would like to become a preschool teacher the general skills needed for an ECE career include lesson planning, first-aid and child care. But specifically, according to O*Net the skills needed for a career in ECE include speaking, learning strategies, instructing, active listing, coordination, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, monitoring, reading comprehension and service orientation.

The basic idea for becoming an ECE teacher means you should be able to use the skills listed above to teach basic social, intellectual and physical skills to students 0-8 years old.

  • Elementary education

Some of the core skills needed for teaching elementary education include having patience and being able to collaborate with other teachers. But according to O*Net,  useful skills for someone looking to become an elementary school teacher include instructing, speaking, learning strategies, active listening, active learning, monitoring, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, decision making and reading comprehension.

Becoming an elementary education teacher includes using the skills listed above to teach students the academic, formative and social curriculum in private or public school setting.

ECE vs. elementary education:  job availability

  • ECE

Employment in ECE is on the rise in many states throughout the country. With more than 13,000 ECE jobs posted over the past year, these careers outweigh the number of available jobs in elementary education by more than 11,000 listings, according to BurningGlass.com*.

  • Elementary education

Kindergarten and elementary school jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is attributed to declines in student-teacher ratios. The reason for the decline is because there are more full time teachers in public schools than there are students. The student-teacher ratios declined from 22.4 in 1970 to 15.0 in 2009.

ECE vs. elementary education:  career salary

  • ECE

According to our analysis, the nationwide mean salary for preschool teachers in June 2013 was $34,759 – up from the BLS number of $25,700 in May 2010.

  • Elementary education

According to our analysis, the current median salary for an elementary school teacher in June 2013 was $51,567 – up from the BLS number of $51,380 in May 2010.

It’s unclear why there is such a difference in salaries between these two career paths, but it’s likely due to the additional experience and licensure required to be an elementary teacher.  .

It’s your decision: early childhood education vs. elementary education

Imagine the education career that you are most passionate about. These side-by-side comparisons should have given you a better outlook at the education career path that is right for you.

The last decision to make is whether you will get a degree in early childhood education or elementary education. So before you dive head first into the degree, be sure that you have done your research on which education degree fits your needs.

If you want more information on the education industry in regards to job outlook, salaries and more check out our Education Career Outlook Guide.

*Analysis of education job postings, 06/08/2012-06/07/2013. BurningGlass.com

*Analysis of education skills, 06/08/2012-06/07/2013. BurningGlass.com


External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Kendall is an Online Community Specialist at Collegis Education who oversees online communities on behalf of Rasmussen College. She has a passion for social media and enjoys motivating and encouraging former, current and future learners.

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