#Redfored Leadership Qualifications In Question

On Saturday, a writer for the Phoenix New Times took exception with Governor Doug Ducey’s characterization of #Redfored leaders as “political operatives.” Conservative talker Mike Broomhead and others who dared question #Redfored leaders Noah Karvelis and Derek Harris were accused of running a smear campaign by New Times writer Joseph Flaherty.

Ducey rejected a demand by Karvelis to meet. He said he would not participate in “political theater.”

In his piece, The Smear Campaign Is Underway Against Arizona Teachers Before Strike, Flaherty complained that the “Broomhead Show (550-KFYI), followed by the conservative blog Washington Free Beacon, seized on the fact that Harris had written or shared Facebook posts skewering President Trump, the NRA, and Ducey.”

Flaherty and his editors may have had a problem with the characterization, but Harris did not. In fact, Flaherty reports Harris “wasn’t fazed.”

“I feel they certainly represented my views very well,” Harris told Flaherty referring to the KFYI and Beacon stories. “Harris argued that none of his Facebook posts had anything to do with the current fight over education in Arizona,” reported Flaherty.

Flaherty quoted Harris as saying, “All they did was find things that would’ve been distractions. They didn’t address any issues. I wouldn’t say it was an intelligent counterpoint to anything the movement’s been doing.”

Harris’ lack of self-awareness; the understanding that his political perspective does drive his, and many activists’ actions is a discussion for another day.

In 2017, progressive activist and Tucson Unified School District Governing Board candidate, Betts Putnam Hidalgo described Harris as part of Congressman Raul Grijalva’s machine. In a discussion about a school board meeting, Putnam Hidalgo wrote:

Of course, “Who showed up”, the whole thing is a dog and pony show that forefronts politics while putting kids, achievement and learning on the back burner! …. The majority of the speakers… Becerra is also an aide to Congressman Grijalva, the illustrious father of the previous Board president. Also not noted is the number of people who throw accusations at Stegeman and Sedgwick and heckle throughout the meetings that have deep connections to the local Democratic power structure: think Adam Ragan and Derek Harris, an OMA (Opening Minds through the Arts) teacher.

Arizona Teachers United Twitter page gained followers quickly. | Derek Harris Facebook page clearly shows political leanings.

It should be noted that OMA, has for years, served as a vehicle for Tucson Unified School District leadership to grant Grijalva’s political operatives low impact jobs that allow time for electioneering and other political activity.

Karvelis, according to his curriculum vitae, focuses on “Critical Pedagogy, Critical Social Theory, and Hip-Hop Studies.” Karvelis is currently a music teacher at Tres Rio Elementary in the Littleton Elementary School District. According to Wikiversity, “Critical pedagogy is a teaching approach inspired by critical theory and other radical philosophies, which attempts to help students question and challenge posited “domination,” and to undermine the beliefs and practices that are alleged to dominate.”

Because proponents of Critical Pedagogy believe the classroom is little more than a activist incubator, it is hard to imagine that Karvelis would shy away from being described as a political operative.

It is not what they do as much as what they aren’t doing

Despite conservatives’ belief that every public school classroom is an incubator for radicals, a good number of teachers value our current system of government and keep their politics to themselves while in school. It would be naive to think that one’s political point of view does not influence a teacher’s classroom behavior. However, most experienced and highly effective teachers allow students to freely express their opinions while keeping their own where it belongs; outside the classroom.

Whether Harris and Karvelis are highly effective teachers is for their students to demonstrate, but as another KFYI talk show host, and former classroom teacher, James T. Harris tweeted, it is very clear that both lack experience in Arizona classrooms, and are therefore less-than-ideal-representatives of Arizona’s teachers. Lacking institutional knowledge, the two could have hardly taken a seat at Ducey’s negotiating table in any credible way had they been invited.

Karvelis has, according to his curriculum vitae, taught for approximately 4 years. He took the position at Tres Rios in 2016, after leaving a job Urbana, Illinois. Arizona Department of Education records show that Karvleis only holds a provisional teaching license:

NOAH J KARVELISProvisional Arts Education, PreK-12 MusicStart Date: 2016 – July Expire Date: 2019 – JulyValid – 4915302
Deficiencies – A Certification requirement which must be completed within a specified timeframe.
Selected CertificateDeficiency CodeDeficiency DescriptionCertification Notes*
Provisional Arts Education, PreK-12 MusicAZCONArizona ConstitutionCompletion of a course or passing the appropriate examination on the provisions and principles of the Arizona Constitution is required.
Provisional Arts Education, PreK-12 MusicUSCONUnited States ConstitutionCompletion of a course or passing the appropriate examination on the provisions and principles of the United States Constitution is required.

Derek Harris only became a certified teacher in January 2018 in Arizona.

DEREK R HARRISStandard Professional Arts Education, PreK-12 MusicStart Date: 2018 – January
Expire Date: 2030 – July
Valid – 4766636

Previously, Harris was a band director at Caprock High School in Amarillo, Texas. It appears that he may have voluntarily taken a job in a state that pays considerably less on average. From Teachingdegree.org:

OccupationAnnual mean wage in ArizonaAnnual mean wage in U.S.
Arizona – Elementary School Teachers Except Special Education$42,560$56,320
Texas – Elementary School Teachers Except Special Education$50,290$56,320

Karvelis and Harris have a lack of experience in common with too many Arizona teachers. As Valerie Strauss reported in 2015:

Over the last five years, thousands of teachers have left the state, according to a 2015 report by the Arizona Department of Education, with this past school year being possibly the worst. The report warns if teachers keep leaving, “students will not meet their full potential” and “Arizona will not be able to ensure economic prosperity for its citizens and create the workforce of tomorrow.” It calls for increased pay for teachers and more overall education funding in the state.

Why are so many teachers leaving? Educators say reasons include low pay, insufficient classroom resources, and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that they feel they have no flexibility and too little authentic instructional time.

Unfortunately, Arizona taxpayers and politicians struggle with at least three issues. Do inexperienced teachers really deserve raises that will bust the State’s budget? How much of an increase in taxes can residents bear? How can you attract experienced teachers without increasing salaries?

From the AZ Capitol Times:

The Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest union representing about 20,000 public school employees, has taken a backseat, a supportive role, offering infrastructure and advice while Arizona Educators United leads the way forward.

“There are no political parties pulling the strings. There are no candidates pulling the strings or unions behind the scenes pushing agendas,” Karvelis said. “It’s just educators advocating on behalf of other educators and families and their students.”

And that’s where they found the “magic.”

“Something has changed here,” Karvelis said. “Some sort of dynamic has brought people back in to reengage.”

AEA President Joe Thomas called it a reawakening of public education employees and advocates, who have realized that “if we’re going to fix this, we have to fix it ourselves.”

The movement is bigger than AEA, he said, and the union has stepped aside in recent weeks to give Arizona Educators United the space to lead the way.

In a flash

Karvelis and Harris lead-up Arizona Teachers United. The group bought their website’s URL on March 14, 2018.

Arizona Teachers United has been responsible for pushing the well-established Arizona Education Association (AEA) to call for a strike. Last week, they were successful, and a walkout is planned for this coming Thursday.

Apolitical, non-union, and conservative teachers have expressed concern about the decision, but according to sources, they had little say in the matter. But because not all teachers are on board with the walkout, some districts will keep their doors open.

In an appearance on the James T. Harris show, Jennifer Hill, a veteran teacher and expert in education finance and law, discussed what she described as a propaganda campaign being waged in classrooms. Hill, who served as a substitute teacher last week said the teachers are “shoving it” in kids’ faces, so she asked them what they thought of the #Redfored movement. “This girl said, ‘oh you know, Arizona only pays $2000 in the classroom per child,” and that’s ridiculous. I told her that her numbers were wrong, and she replied ‘oh no, my mother told me so.’ The students were shocked when I told them all these truths.”

The truth is that Arizona spends approximately $9000 per pupil. In small districts and those under civil rights orders pay considerably more per pupil.

Hill said she agreed with the governor that the #Redfored movement was “political theater. “I really feel strongly that they want our governor out of office, and they want to make him look bad no matter what he does, and what he says. I do believe this is a political stunt.”

[Listen to James T. Harris interview with teacher Jill Hill and Superintendent Douglas here]

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, who has consistently called for an increase in teacher pay, asked teachers to think hard before deciding to walkout. Douglas has implored teachers not to walk out of their classrooms if their salary demands are not met by that time.

“I have long been a vocal proponent of providing teachers with significant pay raises,” Douglas said in a press release. “No one has more respect for the jobs that teachers do, which is why I proposed a viable, meaningful increase in their salaries last year, as well as sustainable funding specifically for them and school facilities.

“But if the teachers do not give the leadership at the Capitol the time to implement their salary increase, I’m afraid that striking will only hurt students and parents, while simultaneously setting back their own cause,” continued Douglas. “I know that if we put the students first, we will be able to resolve all of our issues, and that is the role the Arizona Department of Education and I plan on playing until this issue is resolved.”

“Since my first priority is the children, in the unfortunate event that the teachers proceed to strike on Thursday, I’m calling on the communities, businesses and faith-based organizations near the schools that decide to close to please make contingencies on behalf the students that do not have anywhere else to go, especially the children of single parents” Douglas concluded, “It’s an absolute shame that it has come to this, but now that we are all in this situation, I hope that the teachers and Capitol leadership can rebuild trust and come together to resolve this matter as quickly as possible for the sake of our students.”

Everyone is to blame

Hill told Harris that she left the AEA after her first year of teaching. She is not alone.

Because AEA has failed miserably to represent teachers in the state for years, fewer and fewer teachers belong to the organization. This is not strictly an Arizona phenomena. In fact, across the country, as teachers’ associations took on political fights that had nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with progressive issues like climate change, membership has fallen off.

Many things have contributed to that fact that Arizona teachers’ pay is one of the lowest in the country. Three factors have most impacted teacher pay: 1) Arizona’s cost of living is low; 2) AEA and various local unions have been occupied with partisan political battles rather than the needs of teachers; and 3) the state has little taxable property with which schools are funded.  It is because of those three factors, that educational leaders must force a genuine conversation about teacher pay and not a knee jerk reaction like the governor’s budget-busting proposal.

Ducey vetoed ten bills last week and demanded that the Legislature give his budget-busting proposal a nod. In response, Rep. Kelly Townsend issued her own demands. “On Thursday, I called for transparency and accountability in local school district’s budget process,” said Townsend in a press release. “I have a two-part caveat to my support for any changes to education funding.”

“First, I am calling for transparency in how they disseminate information regarding how they appropriate their budget,” stated Townsend referring to school districts. “I have asked for a conspicuous link to the Auditor General’s website with detailed information on the district appropriation of funds. It is important for parents and teachers to easily find and see the breakup of the budget and where it is going, as well as who is responsible for appropriating the money (the School Board).”

“Secondly, I am calling for accountability for the funds that are appropriated,” continued Townsend. “I would like some type of control stop being placed on the funds so that when school districts are in violation of using the education system to send emails to parents in order to effect the outcome of an election or to lobby their interests, or if teachers are using their position to impose personal ideological ideas onto children when they should be focused on learning about Math, Science, History, English, Etc, when students come home with a paper colored red with #RedForEd written on it in order to influence children politically, when schools are engaging in social engineering rather than educating basic academic principles, there will be a financial consequence.”

“I want schools held accountable and money appropriated for them to actually teach rather than to indoctrinate or engage in politic.” Townsend concluded, “Additionally, I would like to see schools rewarded for putting money into the classroom rather than into the pockets of the administrators. These are my requirements and this is the only way I will support any further money going to education.”

Townsend’s demands are clear and reasonable to say the least. Should educators and the governor reject them, their motives are too clear and their positions are unreasonable.