Being Too Innovative Might Get You Fired

by Rocco Tarasi

Being Too Innovative Might Get You FiredA North Carolina principal was terminated for approving an “innovative” fundraising idea proposed to her by the parent advisory council. Their idea was to allow students to make a $20 donation to the school’s new technology fund in return for 20 “points” that could be added to two of their exams (10 points per exam). For example, if a student scored a 68 on an exam they could add 10 points to make it a 78. After enough parents complained the school district stepped in, stopped the program, and terminated the principal (though they characterize it as “voluntary”).

Maybe you like this particular idea, or maybe you don’t. Either way, what I took away from this story is how difficult it can be for people to accept new ideas and thinking outside the box – especially when it comes to education, which seems to defy all natural laws of disruption and innovation. As different writes and readers have pointed out about this story, 20 points isn’t going to make any significant difference in a person’s overall grade. And does anyone really think this will encourage a student to slack in their studies simply because they can add 10 points to an exam?

But the quote from the article that shocked me the most was the following:

Teachers giving extra test credit to students who bring in classroom supplies is a longstanding practice at some schools.

The article didn’t clarify that this particular school had this “extra credits for supplies” program, or which schools did. But there is ZERO difference between a $20 donation for extra credit and bringing in school supplies for extra credit, and if this is a “longstanding practice” then maybe it shouldn’t cost someone their job.

The state’s department of education officer said that “paying for grades teaches children the wrong lesson.” I think that is a convenient excuse, and in fact you can choose to look at it the opposite way: if a student was given the choice of spending $20 of their own money on extra credits or on a new Transformers DVD movie, which would they choose? Perhaps that decision could itself be a valuable lesson.

The state also said that it would be unfair to students whose parents couldn’t pay. This may be a more valid argument, but this could be easily solved by offering alternatives to the $20 donation, such as volunteer work that would require some effort or work from the students instead.

It’s sad to see someone lose their job when they’re taking the initiative to innovate, but mix an uber-sensitive society with an uber-political organization like a school board and the result shouldn’t surprise anyone.


Rocco TarasiRocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur.

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