—Photo: Foundation for California Community Colleges
Lance Izumi is a Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank. He is a regular opinion contributor to edweek.org where he trades views with Bruce Fuller, on the other side of the political aisle. Read Bruce Fuller’s take on teacher strikes.
Teachers have been striking and walking out in a number of states this spring, including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, and now North Carolina. But Arizona—the third state to protest teacher pay and conditions—is remarkable for what it reveals about the internal workings of the organizers.
Although the pay and funding issues that prompted teachers to walk out in Arizona elicited sympathy from much of the public, the reaction to the walkouts themselves, especially among teachers and parents, has been more complicated.
Young, dynamic teachers have been the public face of the Arizona walkout movement. Yet, disquieting details about the organizers have started to bubble up.
Take Noah Karvelis, the young music teacher, who is one of the key leaders of the Arizona walkout.
Last year, he published a revealing essay called “From Marx to Trump: Labor’s Role in Revolution” in the online magazine The Progressive Times (which describes itself as “progressive, independent journalism for the political revolution” written by “citizen journalists”).
Karvelis wrote, “leftist revolutionary ideology has consistently placed a particular emphasis on the importance of an empowered working class.” Thus, he concludes, “We must continue our fight and bolster the working class as we strive towards a progressive political revolution.”
Based on this essay, Karvelis’ ultimate goal, then, is not merely to squeeze out more government funding for higher teacher salaries, such as the 20 percent increase proposed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, but to increase the power of organized labor as a means to a leftist political revolution.
Karvelis, however, may run into several roadblocks on his way to his revolutionary utopia.
First, Karvelis’ left-wing views, along with those of fellow walkout leaders like Derek Harris—whose social media posts are replete with venomous anti-Republican comments, according to Phoenix-based KFYI talk radio—have galvanized conservative opposition.
Republican lawmakers in Arizona have hammered Karvelis and other walkout leaders. In a recent op-ed, Republican State Rep. Maria Symes labeled the #RedForEd walkout movement as “#TooRedForEd.”
And teachers have also noticed. High school teacher Tom Buchan criticized #RedforEd, saying the leadership is not bipartisan: “Both Karvelis and Harris are about as ultraleft as you get.”
Second, on a more national scale, the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely, based on questioning by justices during oral arguments, to rule against public employee unions in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 case. Plaintiff Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, argued that forcing him to pay fees to a union as a condition of his employment violated his First Amendment free-speech rights.
The walkout in Arizona may end up being a Pyrrhic victory for #RedforEd."
While the Janus case would have the most immediate impact on the 22 states that allow public-sector unions to demand fees from non-members, the free-speech issues in Janus will resonate across the country—even in those states, like Arizona, that do allow such “fair share” union fees.
According to the Arizona Daily Independent (a publicly supported online publication written by citizen journalists), the media largely ignored teachers who opposed the walkout, and, worse, those teachers “were forced into silence due to the tactics of their fellow educators in some instances.”
I talked to Jennifer Hill, a former teacher who still serves as a substitute teacher in the Phoenix area. She believes in higher wages for teachers, but has gone public with her opposition to the walkouts. In response to her opposition, #RedforEd teachers have bombarded her with hundreds of vitriolic messages, she said. Still, Hill told me that there are many teachers who feel as she does.
Emails to Republican State Rep. Kelly Townsend obtained by the Arizona Daily Independent reveal that some teachers feel frustrated and alienated by the protest. In one instance, an educator wrote: “My school, which was once a safe and nurturing place, has become a political minefield. Teachers are wearing [#RedforEd] shirts in front of students, being aggressive with all employees about their beliefs, but not listening to those who may not agree.”
In a recent interview with PBS in Arizona, Forest Moriarty—who describes himself as a father of two public-school-age children in the Phoenix-area and the husband of a teacher—said: “If you went to talk to the #RedforEd people on their boards or on their chat areas, if you disagreed with them, even the most minor amount, you would be shouted out.” And this, he explained was why he created the online group Purple for Parents to offer an anti-walkout perspective.
So the walkout in Arizona may end up being a Pyrrhic victory for #RedforEd. The politics of its leaders have elicited negative views of the movement’s motives there, and the organizers’ tactics have alienated many who were initially supportive.
Worse for the movement, Jennifer Hill told me that the walkout “has caused many families to abandon the public schools in favor of charter schools, private schools, and even home schooling.” Already strong in Arizona, support for school choice could end up even stronger.
“I will never return my children to the classroom again,” posted one internet commenter on an Arizona Daily Independent article earlier this month. “I have had issues with poor quality education in two different schools in my area. This [#RedforEd movement] was the last straw.”
The walkout in Arizona may have ended on May 3rd, but the fallout is just beginning. It may be more than what #RedforEd bargained for.
Lance Izumi is a Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank. He is the author of the book The Corrupt Classroom (Pacific Research Institute, 2017).