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Early Childhood Education Careers for Doctorate in Education Graduates

July 31, 2019

While many people may consider high school or college to be the most important part of children’s education, schooling during their early years can be far more formative and impactful. The National Association for the Education of Young Children reports that up to age eight, children’s brains undergo rapid development, much faster than at any other time in their lives. Reports from the National Education Association suggest that education in these early years is a factor in determining children’s later academic performance, professional success, and economic outcomes, and it can even influence the probability of their being involved in criminal activity in the future.

Because of the importance of those formative years, early childhood education careers are vital in setting learners up for success. In the field of education, the Doctorate in Education (EdD) degree is a terminal degree that can prepare professionals to make an impact in early childhood education. EdD graduates who have studied topics like leadership and education policy can make a positive difference in school districts, classrooms, nonprofits, and other settings that deliver early childhood education.

List of Six Careers in Early Childhood Education

When EdD graduates enter the field of early childhood education, they focus on students’ crucial formative years—ensuring they receive the highest level of education possible. Within that field are numerous professions with different goals requiring different though often overlapping skills. This list of six careers in early childhood education focuses on several dynamic opportunities.

Kindergarten & Elementary School Principal

Every kindergarten and elementary school needs a strong and patient guiding voice as its leader. Ideally, this leader will have an advanced background in education, will know how to foster learning and success in young minds, and will be able to support the needs of faculty and staff. With some variation depending on district and whether the school is public or private, kindergarten and elementary school principals are responsible for making hiring decisions, setting curriculum standards, overseeing financial matters, handling enrollment, and more. As leaders in their school, they set an overarching vision and use strong communication skills to coordinate with the superintendent, other principals, the board of education, and parent boards to ensure all stakeholders have a voice and that the school meets all targeted standards of academic performance.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the 2018 median wage for school principals was $95,310, with those earning salaries in the bottom 10 percent of the range earning $61,490 and those in the top 10 percent earning $144,950. These numbers vary depending on geographic location, school district, experience, and education. The BLS predicts the job market for school principals will grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, which outpaces the projected average national job growth rate during that time.

Child Care Director

While a terminal degree isn’t always necessary to run a child care center, it can provide a director with important tools. Running a child care center puts EdD graduates in a position to shape the contours of early education outside of the traditional classroom. They need excellent communication skills, as they interface directly with parents, many of whom are deeply invested in their child’s developmental years. They are responsible for developing the school’s educational programs and making their child care center stand out from the rest, which often requires patience and a willingness to mentor team members on best practices.

The BLS identifies the median salary for a child care center director as $47,940, noting that those who worked for religious organizations and preschools tended to make more (median salary $51,170) than those at nonaffiliated child care centers (median salary $46,310). Other factors that affect pay include education level, experience, and geographic location. The BLS projects the job market for child care center directors will grow from 61,800 jobs in 2016 to 68,500 jobs in 2026, which is an 11 percent growth rate.

Family Support Specialists

While the phrase “early childhood education” may conjure up images of happy, healthy children learning together, some students are part of at-risk populations and need additional support. Family support specialists help families with children who are at risk of falling behind their peers, including those who have mental or physical health needs and those who are under financial stress. Exercising their empathy, patience, and ability to communicate and listen, family support specialists enhance the well-being of their community by helping one family at a time. These specialists assist children’s caretakers with how best to help the children succeed throughout their school years and beyond. Family support specialists serve as advocates for the children and their families, help them find resources, provide instructional support, and offer emotional support.

PayScale reports the average salary for family support workers is $31,386, while those who earn salaries at the top 10 percent of the range make approximately $42,000. Education level can boost a candidate’s chance of earning on the higher end of the scale, as can years of experience. The BLS projects the job market for social and human service assistants will grow at a rapid pace of 16 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Child Researcher

Some professionals who earn their EdD might want to put their curiosity to work in order to further the field by pursuing research. Researchers who work with children can measure large-scale effects of different educational policies, conduct studies in small test groups, conduct one-on-one research with case studies of individual children, and more. Regardless of the chosen method, research requires professionals to develop their studies according to best practices using established research methods, conduct research, analyze data, write findings for publication in a journal or paper, and sometimes follow up with further studies.

PayScale reports the average salary for medical researchers is $78,140 and for experimental psychologists it is $91,966. reports that education researchers employed by the federal government made $124,507 on average in 2017. Education level, employer, and geographic location, among other elements, can affect salaries.

Speech Pathologist

A valuable member of the educational team, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a key role in early education, especially in childhood and elementary settings. Their focus is on a wide variety of speech, mouth, and language disorders, which can arise for a number of reasons. With patience and empathy, these specialists help mitigate the effects of these disorders and mentor parents and teachers on ways to improve success. In school settings, speech-language pathologists can also work with speech-language pathologist assistants (SLPAs), who assist them in the day-to-day care of students.

Of the nearly 150,000 SLPs in the U.S. as of May 2018, according to the BLS, 43 percent worked in educational services, more than double the amount in therapists’ offices. The median yearly salary for all SLPs is $80,990. Those professionals who work in educational services make a median salary of $68,270. The BLS projects job market growth for speech-language pathologists to be strong, with an expected 18 percent increase in jobs between 2016 and 2026, a rate more than double the national average.

School Superintendent

No matter the size, virtually every school district has a superintendent. The superintendent, who answers to the elected board of education, is responsible for running the district as well as representing the organization to the public. As leaders in their districts, superintendents oversee budgeting, curriculum, staffing, and other in-school concerns. Additionally, they participate in school board meetings and listen to the concerns and suggestions of administrators, parents, students, faculty, and staff, using their input to set goals. They flex communication and listening skills while they interact with the community at large to make sure they’re best serving the public’s interests, while also advancing education in their district and pushing its standards to new levels.

The BLS reports that there were over a quarter-million elementary and secondary school administrators in 2018, a number that includes assistant superintendents. The median pay rate for that group was $95,310, with those making salaries at the bottom 10 percent of the range earning under $61,490 and those at the top 10 percent bringing in over $144,950. The pay rate depends on geographic location, experience, education level, and other factors.

Learn More about Early Childhood Education Careers for Graduates with a Doctorate in Education

The list of careers in early childhood education extends beyond what this article has covered. For EdD graduates who hope to impact children’s lives on a small scale or educational policy on a large scale, there are many opportunities. Explore American University’s online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership and see how this dynamic terminal degree program can help you advance your early childhood education career goals.