The Misuse of the Word “Innovation” – It’s Really About the People

“If you are looking at the state to be innovative, you’re looking in the wrong place,” state senator Craig Horn, R-Union, told a group of educators gathered at a NCICU Digital Learning and Research Symposium. Horn then pointed at Moody. “That person,” he said, “is innovative.” (

He is exactly right.

It’s about the people.

In fact, what makes education and even “innovation” work is people.

The delineation that Horn seems to make between the “state” and the “people” is that in public education, we should invest in people and make their environments such that they can be innovative within those realms.

That is not happening on the state level. Budget cuts, lofty rhetoric, and privatization efforts are not allowing the very people whom Horn claims are innovative to help our students in innovative ways.

One of the problems we have is that the word “innovation” has been literally hijacked as a buzzword. It’s kind of like presenting the idea of a voucher as a “scholarship.” It adds a sugary exterior to something that is really sour.

Mark Johnson loves the word “innovation.” When he assumed office he embarked on a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft “innovations” in classroom teaching. He said at one time that he would present those findings when that tour was over in the first summer of his term.

What really happened was a rubber-stamping of the status-quo, a complicit stance on testing, and a swirl of cursory activity to claim a false narrative.

Remember that this state renamed a failed reform effort called the “Achievement School District” with the moniker “Innovative School District.” It’s not innovative. It’s privatizing. Even the current school system targeted for the second year of this non-innovative ploy knows that it is not “innovative.”

ISD is without a proven school turnaround record, without a strategic plan to assist our children, and without any accountability to the taxpayers, parents or children of Wayne County.”

Johnson even created a high ranking post in DPI for “Innovation.” Remember that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation.




“Innovation?” One can see the concreteness of operations, support, and focus on early education, but “Innovation” sounds rather nebulous.

Or maybe not if you have followed Johnson’s track record these past twenty-plus months in office.

If you look under the Dept. Supt. of Innovation’s duties you will see the following:

  • Innovative School District
  • Charter Schools
  • Federal Programs
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Accountability
  • Curriculum and Instruction

What is innovative about how North Carolina has used charter schools, the ISD, and a testing culture that stigmatizes traditional public schools who combat social forces that impede student learning?

That job of Dept. Supt. of Innovation is being filled by Dr. Eric Hall who until recently was only the superintendent of the Innovative School District. So now the super of an ISD that has only one school in its district which is many miles away from DPI and has yet to prove its effectiveness but also has almost unlimited funds to ensure success will take over five other branches of DPI functionality?

If giving that many hats to one person who has yet to show results in the state as far as his previous post begs is innovative, then it is appropriately named.

But that’s not really innovation.

So, would Craig Horn be willing to tell the state his previous statement out loud? In session? In the face of a Mark Johnson or those who enable him like Berger and Moore? To teachers and public school advocates who are trying to secure the resources so that innovation could actually be used in the classroom?

Because if he is not, then his words are empty.

And empty words from a lawmaker in North Carolina concerning public education is not innovative at all.