Investing in Early STEM Education - A look at the effects of pre-kindergarten education in STEM and return on investment

by Brooke Fox, University of Colorado, Boulder

Chris Cochella, Founder of Brackitz

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is a growing topic of discussion in the U.S. According to the STEM Educa- tion Coalition, STEM jobs comprise 20% of all U.S. jobs, and job open- ings in STEM occupations outnum- ber unemployed persons 1.9 to one. STEM industries are under-staffed, yet they represent massive economic opportunity.

The earlier you start STEM education the more ingrained is a culture of language, creativity and experiemention. Brackitz is the perfect platform for early STEM learning.


For example, with the mean wage for engineers exceeds the all-occupation mean wage by $33,210, and have they higher job security at 3.8% unemployment.

Given the sizable opportunity in STEM positions, many organizations have taken action to increase STEM education in the U.S. Idaho, for ex- ample, recently established a new state office under the governor called the “STEM Action Center,” following the lead of states like Utah, which enacted a STEM Action Center in 2013 with a starting budget of $10 million. In 2010, President Obama emphasized the importance of STEM education, stating “Leadership to- morrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”

2.6 hours per week on science? You’re kidding....

Currently, of 34 developed nations, U.S. 15 year olds rank 21st in science test scores. Many attribute this to the lack of time spent on science in the classroom, with the average elemen- tary school student only spending 2.6 hours per week on science.

Pre-K Education

Recently, several studies have been released that detail the importance of educational engagement with chil- dren before they begin Kindergar- ten. A study conducted by Voices for Utah Children, found that 238 pre- schoolers test scores indicated that they would need special education starting in Kindergarten. Yet only 7 were referred to special education after completing preschool.

Additionally, the widely cited High- Scope Perry Preschool Study put participants that were considered
at risk of failing high school into a high-quality preschool program. Over the course of the participants’ lifetime, the study found that they were 20% more likely to have in- comes above $20,000 than their non-preschool peers.

Additionally, they were more likely to graduate high school, and less likely to be arrested. Countless other studies have confirmed the results of these two, making a strong case for the effects of pre-elementary education on long-term success.

STEM and Early Education

One state is truly on the cutting edge of early-education STEM inte- gration. In an effort to combine the lasting effects of preschool and the national need for STEM workers, Minnesota has commissioned state- wide programs aimed at enhancing STEM learning among student pre- k-12: the “Preschool Stem” program was created in 2012 for three to five-year-olds to get a head start in STEM education.

The Boston Children’s museum also

put out a guide for teaching STEM concepts to preschoolers, which fo- cuses on creating the right environ- ment, indicating a growing emphasis on the need for STEM education prior to the kindergarten years.

STEM and Block Play

One study, published in Child Devel- opment, indicated that higher spatial assembly skills in three-year-olds correlated with higher mathematical skills. As spatial skills are improved

with block play, the study advances that: “Block building, in particular, offers a potential route to study and improve these skills in children prior to formal mathematics instruction” (Verdine et al, 2013). There is also

in laying the foundation for STEM education.

Return on Investment

In the aforementioned Voices for Utah Children study, it was estimat- ed that the cost savings in special education alone, over three years for the three cohorts of preschool- ers, was $963,938. Additionally, the HighScope Perry study estimated $195,621 in public savings (welfare, etc.), and a $12.90 return per dollar invested.

Additionally, impressive results were produced by a cost-benefit analy-
sis of three states that provide state funded prekindergarten programs. In Massachusetts, the estimated re- turn on investment was 1.18, and totaled $105.28 million in 2005. In Wisconsin, the return on invest- ment was 1.16 and total benefit was $131.68 million. Lastly, Ohio’s pre- kindergarten program yielded a net benefit of $299.19 million, and a return on investment of 1.62.

The research overwhelmingly sug- gests that investing in a child’s pre- kindergarten education benefits not only the future success of the child, but also society overall. Additionally, the importance of STEM education

evidence that higher levels of repre- sentative block construction correlates with higher reading abili- ties. It appears that the relationship between block play and early devel- opment of spatial skills implies that integration of block play into pre- school curriculum is a necessary step

has become a national discussion about efforts to get children better educated in science, technology, engineering and math. Engaging preschool students in activities that increase spatial assembly abilities has been proven to increase math skills and potentially reduce the gap in students’ engagement with STEM subjects and future careers.

STEM and Preschool Funding

According to the President’s FY 2014 Budget Request for the U.S. Depart- ment of Education, a proposed program titled “Preschool for All” would invest $750 billion over the next 10 years in states for the fund- ing of high-quality preschool educa- tion programs. Funding for this program has been maintained in the FY 2015 budget proposal. Addition- ally, funding for Preschool Develop- ment Grants, Early Intervention Programs for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities, and Preschool Grants for Children with disabilities totals $1.2 billion.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 1.3 million children attended state-fund- ed preschool, representing 4% of three year olds and 28% of four year olds after a decrease of over 9,000

students in 2013. When private in- stitutions are included, this number increases to a total of 54.9% of three and four year olds enrolled part- time or full-time in 2013 (Census). Efforts such as Preschool For All are aimed at increasing the percentage of students enrolled in preschool education, especially low-income participation, as students who begin Kindergarten without any preschool education are often already disad- vantaged academically when com- pared with their peers.

The President’s budget request out- lines the budget proposal for in- vestments in STEM education: six initiatives totaling $450 million in investment have been proposed to consolidate current programs and target four areas including K-12 in- struction, undergraduate education, graduate fellowships and extra-cur- ricular education activities. There

is no mention in either document, however, of federal funding of STEM education for preschoolers.

In 2013, the average state spending per pre-kindergarten student was $4,026. Given a return of 8.2 in cost savings according to the Voices for Utah Children report, a more con- servative estimate than the High- Scope Perry Preschool study, were


just $10 spent on the 4.4 million enrolled preschoolers, equal to approximately 10% of the proposed federal spending on STEM initia- tives, a $366.6 million in cost savings for society would result. Additional- ly, given Ohio’s 1.62 return on invest- ment, the same amount spend per student would result in $72 million return on investment.

While it appears that upfront costs of implementing STEM activities for such young children may not seem well-suited, it is in fact probably the most effective use of education investment.



Undoubtedly, the U.S. is in desperate need of quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education,
so that it may fill the need for pro- fessionals in these fields. A viable solution to this gap seems to lie in preschool block play, as it develops early spatial skills that are necessary for STEM occupations. Investment in preschoolers, specifically, appears to have the greatest return on invest- ment both societally and individually. Therefore, not only does society benefit from engaging young, pre-kindergarten children in STEM based activities as a means of equipping with the necessary skills to be successful future engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, but the potential return on investment for parents and institutions seems to hold obvious opportunity. 

Link to article:



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Scientists., Tural, and • Preschool Is The Perfect Time To D. Welcome! Are You Ready for Some Fun? (n.d.): n. pag. Boston Children’s Museum. Web.

Verdine, B. N., Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Newcombe, N. S., Filipowicz, A. T. and Chang, A. (2014), Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschool- ers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Development, 85: 1062– 1076. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165

Wascalus, Jacob. “From Preschool To High School, Programs Aim To Close Minnesota’s STEM Achievement Gap. (Cover Story).” Fedgazette (2015): 1-5. Business Source Complete. Web. 

Tags: early childhood, stem education


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