I saw this piece on Hacker News this morning. It struck a chord, but something wasn't right about it.
If academia is contributing to the lack of innovation in this country, then maybe it's because we expect the wrong things from academia? I don't mean to say this as another pompous American, but when I used to chat with friends from abroad back in school, I was struck by how many of them had a uniform educational experience. This wasn't a blanket effect and there were more than enough exceptions to produce many of the most awesome researchers I've met. Back at home though, even the countries that had effective programs to retain their top talent suffered from a lack of innovation.
By contrast, there is no standard curriculum at the top 5 US universities for CS. But most of the kids coming out there are shills anyway. I went to one of the good schools, and many kids (and their parents) were concerned about whether what they were learning would "prepare them for the real world". That basically meant: did it teach you Java or consulting? You see what's happening? What our education system didn't do to them, their own expectations of college did, and sadly, they seem to have done it to themselves just as badly as the education system of those foreign countries did.
But education isn't about churning out stamped spoons, and that's why crap like that No Child Left Behind Act bothered me so much. Where we went wrong is that we began viewing education as something everyone is entitled to, for all the wrong reasons. Education is not factory farming. Steve Jobs took calligraphy because he thought it was interesting, and no one thought what the Google guys were doing was "practical". I'll wager that the Google guys did it because it seemed like nerdy awesomeness to transform web search into a giant linear algebra problem. Just as Academia is about exploring the boundaries of what we know, Education is about enriching one's thought process, and that's the leading source of innovation in our modern economy: good ideas from the fringe, implemented intelligently and autonomously.
The entitlement of success that seems to follow from attending college is what's broken. The expectation that you will get a cushy 9-5 job in return for that diploma is what's broken. It in essence is a laziness of the mind, an unwillingness to chart out one's own path, the very idea of which is quite unacademic.