Build it right at home: Congress should encourage public schools to teach American children how to code just after they learn to multiply.
During the past month, a handful of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate reached across the partisan divide to introduce the Startup Act 2.0, a bill to promote entrepreneurship and create jobs in the United States by easing restrictions on immigration. It's a great bill, but it could be better. In addition to its immigration measures, it should also advance a plan to boost entrepreneurship and technical skills at home. Here's one important way to do that: Encourage public schools to teach American children how to code just after they learn to multiply.
Despite the nation's unemployment rate, the Startup Act rests on the assumption that the United States lacks the talent to fill today's demand for high-skilled engineers and entrepreneurs. That assumption is probably right: A report released by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Partnership for New York City predicts that by 2018, there will be 800,000 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs in the United States that require a master's degree or higher -- and only around 550,000 American-graduates with this training.
This scarcity of talent has received a lot of attention in connection with high-flying Silicon Valley companies: Google threw around $100 and $50 million offers to keep their top talent from fleeing to Twitter, and some companies pay tens of thousands to recruiters for even junior talent. Startups feel the same pressure: TechCrunch describes a "war for talent" among young firms, and anyone who has chatted with the CEO of a fast-growing tech company knows how much time they devote to identifying and wooing top technical talent.
The Startup Act addresses this shortage of qualified workers through immigration reform: The bill creates an entrepreneurship visa for certain immigrants starting a company, and also provides a five year visa for immigrants who receive advanced degrees in the U.S. for science, technology, engineering, and math and then work in those fields.
But the Startup Act should give all Americans, not just immigrants, a better shot at being tomorrow's engineers and entrepreneurs. And that opportunity could begin at a young age with education in computer programming.
Students and parents expect a tax-supported education to provide. In a 2010 poll, almost 80 percent of Americans said our public schools are not preparing children for high-skilled jobs of the future. American schools have been criticized for teaching kids how to follow orders and to be good employees, rather than to think independently, creatively, and with an entrepreneurial mindset. But, even if our schools were merely aiming low and training "employees" and not "leaders," they'd be failing at that task, too. In international rankings of the OECD countries, American public schools rank 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.