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More Evidence that Immigration is Good for Innovation

In the United States the national debate on immigration often overlooks one of its most important effects: its impact on our innovation economy. A new NBER paper by William Kerr highlights the crucial role that immigration plays in national economic growth.

High-skilled immigrant workers, that the United States allows in through the H-1B visa program, make significant contributions to economic growth in a number of ways. First of all, there is a disproportionate amount of “superstar” scientists such as Nobel Prize winners that come from immigrant backgrounds. These scientists make breakthrough contributions that often have enormous impacts on our science and technology and thus ultimately our economic growth. Second, immigration provides a large number of other STEM workers, workers that form the backbone of our productive capacity. Since 1995 immigrants have provided the majority of the increase in stem workers in the United States.

These inflows of workers clearly benefit the economy. The paper finds that “immigration is associated with higher levels of innovation for the United States and that the short-run consequences for natives are minimal.” Long-run consequences are less well understood—high-still immigrants do still compete with U.S. natives

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Stem Education

The STEM Crisis is Real

Recently Robert Charette penned a blog post on IEEE Spectrum titled “The STEM Crisis is a Myth,” which makes the case that rather than having a shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workers, the United States has a surplus. Unfortunately his analysis is flawed. Indeed, the post is strikingly similar to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) (which Charette cites) in April, and about which the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation published a comprehensive rebuttal.

First, like EPI, Charette argues that STEM graduates are not obtaining STEM jobs:

In the United States, you don’t need a STEM degree to get a STEM job, and if you do get a degree, you won’t necessarily work in that field after you graduate. If there is in fact a STEM worker shortage, wouldn’t you expect more people with STEM degrees to be filling those jobs?

Yes, it’s true: some STEM graduates don’t obtain STEM jobs. But Charette is missing a baseline for comparison of this figure. Sure, some STEM graduates work in fields outside their major, but is this more or less than graduates in

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Climate Hawks Should Aggressively Support the America COMPETES Act

Making Innovation Part of Climate Hawks Policy Pitch

In a previous article I argued that climate policy advocates should make energy innovation part of their policy elevator pitch. A good opportunity to start is now available through the debate on reforming and re-authorizing the America COMPETES Act.

Within the climate advocacy community there are those that argue for aggressive clean energy innovation policy (such as myself) and those that argue for aggressive deployment of existing clean energy technologies (such as Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm and’s Bill McKibben). Each provides different policy emphasis and nuance. Today, deployment policies receive higher priority, reflected in it dominating the narrative among advocates as well as dominating the portfolio of U.S. public investments in clean energy. As a result, conflict occurs over what policy changes should be made.

As Grist’s Dave Roberts argues (correctly to a degree), both “camps” agree on a lot and everyone should aggressively work for clean energy to be a national priority to “lift all boats,”—both innovation and deployment of today’s technologies alike. How then should this consensus be reflected in our pitches to policymakers?

In my

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Student Measuring in Class

Yes Virginia, We Do Have a Need for More STEM Workers

It appears that Congress may actually take up the issue of immigration reform and with it the issue of high-skill immigration. And toward that end Senators Hatch (R-UT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rubio (R-FL) and Coons (D-DE) have taken the lead on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (known as I-squared) which would make it easier for foreign science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and workers to come and stay in America, while at the same time raising increased funds from the U.S. high-tech industry to support programs to help train Americans in STEM skills.

And not surprisingly this common sense and needed legislative proposal has provoked the usual opposition from the some on the left. Take Ross Eisenbrey’s recent New York Times op-ed, “America’s Genius Glut.”  Eisenbrey, of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, argues that I-squared is not needed, because, he claims: 1) America’s technology leadership is not endangered; 2) We aren’t turning away foreign students, or forcing them to leave once they’ve graduated.; and most importantly 3) there is no labor shortage in high-tech occupations.  Let me address these fallacies of each of these arguments.

America’s technology leadership

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Regional High School Science Bowl team from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Punishing Hard Work: Entrance to Specialty STEM High Schools Should be Based on Merit

One of the best Kurt Vonnegut short stories is “Harrison Bergeron,” which pictured a dystopian future in which social equality was achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic, beautiful, or capable members of society. Ballerinas had to wear lead weights, and the most intellectually gifted had to wear headphones that played distracting noises every thirty seconds, carry three hundred pounds of weight strapped to their bodies, and wear distorting eyeglasses designed to give them headaches. It was only then that true equality could be achieved. Just like the Handicapper General in Vonnegut’s story, whose duty it was to impose handicaps so that no one would feel inferior to anyone else. Is America going down this same road? As my colleague Stephen Ezell and I argued in our new book Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, America has “developed a perverse egalitarianism and anti-elitism that bodes ill, for it means that efforts to enable excellence—whether it’s private toll lanes or high schools for those gifted in math and science—are branded as antidemocratic and elitist.”

Math and science education is critical for our nation’s future. As we noted in our

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A New Approach for STEM Education

Most Americans appreciate the fact that the world is a very competitive place.  Policy makers and parents have long known that our kids, from grade school through college, need to step up their skills and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math – know in education circles as STEM studies – if they are going to compete successfully with their counterparts in China, India, Korea, and many European countries.  For this reason, for nearly 40 years there has been a lot of interest in improving STEM education.  While it is laudable that we are focusing on STEM education, we are running the risk of tethering ourselves to assumptions that might be a little faulty and outdated.  We can’t be truly innovative as a nation if we are not innovative in our thinking about STEM education.

The current assumption driving STEM education is that all students should get at least some STEM education at every step of their educational journey.  Supply students with high standards, great teachers and get as many kids excited about STEM as possible.  Call this the “some STEM for all” approach.  It sounds appealing, right?  Universal tech

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Getting Serious About Education: Why Can We Grade Students but Not Teachers?

Last week, Michelle Rhee, chancellor of D.C. public schools, made national news by firing 241 — six percent — of the District’s teachers deemed underperformers. Rhee’s move came after negotiations in June with the Washington Teachers’ Union that created a merit-based bonus system that permits well-performing teachers to earn up to a 21 percent pay increase. The agreement also allows the District to fire those who did not meet minimum benchmarks. Teacher assessment scores will be based half on student improvement and half on in-class teacher evaluations.

While performance-related pay has been around since the 1700s and affects the pay scale of over 85 percent of private sector employees, the debate over merit pay for teachers is still highly contentious. On one hand, proponents argue merit pay will help cash-strapped schools retain good teachers and shed bad ones. They also argue that this will create a salary scale that is fairer than the system of seniority pay that currently exists in most school systems. On the other hand, opponents contend that merit pay may work for seamstresses, but teaching is too complicated to base quality on student performance on a

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The Failure of American Higher Education

Attend any policy discussion in Washington that deals with education and the standard line you will hear is “the American K-12 system is a failure, but thank God we still have the world’s greatest higher ed system.” Let me suggest that this is fundamentally wrong. Higher ed is failing almost as much as K-12.

Let me offer two pieces of evidence of this. One is purely personal. As president of a DC-based think tank, I have over the years hired many recent college graduates and interviewed many more. Because the quality of so many of the graduates was so poor, ITIF has taken to giving the small share of the most promising applicants (based on their resumes and cover letters) a short test that we email them to complete at home in one hour. The questions are pretty simple: “Go to this person’s bio online and write a three or four -sentence version of their bio for us to include in a conference packet,” or, “Enter these eight items in a spreadsheet and tell us the average for the ones that end in an odd number.”

What is amazing, at

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