Barack Obama Announces Innovation Agenda at Google

At a Googler-only event today in Mountain View, California, Presidential candidate Barack Obama formally announced his "Innovation Agenda." Prior to the event, some insight into Obama's platform could be found on his official campaign site:

Technology and Innovation for a New Generation

"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

The message delivered by Obama today largely resonated with this statement, adding that America needs to "recommit itself to science and technology" in order to ensure that we can compete in the future. In his opinion, this would include:

* Maintaining an open internet through a full commitment to network neutrality
* Building infrastructure, providing every American broadband access
* Making government data accessible online to all citizens
* Empowering citizens with technology, allowing them to provide active input into decisions and legislation
* Committing ourselves to electronic medical records to reduce wasted healthcare expense
* Investing in technology for clean energy sources
* Making the R&D tax credit permanent
* Encouraging start-ups by enforcing intellectual property law
* Enacting comprehensive immigration reform, including stronger H1-B visas to keep talented foreigners working in the U.S.

The message that education is at the heart of the problem resonated with me, as I find the state of math and sciences education, particularly in primary schools, appalling. Thus far, America has been able to keep pace in technology by attracting top talent from other nations through our strong university system. While this will remain a competitive advantage for us in the near-term, I have serious concerns about how long we can ride this strategy. As other nations develop more vibrant tech communities (as India, China, Israel, Ireland, Brazil and others are doing at an alarming rate), the incentives for foreign nationals to remain home will grow, meaning less talent drain in favor of the US.

That said, I have serious questions about the validity of Obama's (or any candidate's) claim that he will hold teachers accountable for performance, due to both technical hurdles and political will. The technical hurdles include technological barriers driven by underinvestment in schools' IT systems, as well as the difficulty of identifying effective, appropriate performance metrics. Politically, many leaders in the education community fail to realize that being held accountable is in everyone's interest, including teachers. I'd love to hear how Obama will overcome these specific challenges through future campaign messages.

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