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NJEA Official Sees No Rift Between Teachers Unions, Obama

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 06, 2012 1 min read
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Charlotte, N.C.

Stopping for a few minutes in the steamy convention-city weather, Wendell Steinhauer,the vice president of the New Jersey Education Association, dismissed the idea of a split between the nation’s teachers unions and President Barack Obama due to the administration’s stance on issues such as teacher evaluations. (See another post on this issue by my colleague Alyson Klein, and this one by my colleague Sean Cavanagh.)

Steinhauer, a high school math teacher and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, noted in a brief sidewalk interview Tuesday that the National Education Association, of which the NJEA is a state affiliate, endorsed Obama for president much earlier than usual in its normal endorsement process.

He offered only one criticism of Obama’s education policy. He said he was not a big fan of the Race to the Top education redesign program because, in his words, “It’s created more of a competition rather than opportunity for all.”

But he said Obama administration initiatives like the Education Jobs Fund, designed specifically to preserve teacher positions, have made him a big fan of the president. Sounding a common theme here at the Democratic convention, he also said that Obama made the right move by expanding Pell grants to provide more students college access.

“I don’t know where they think the split is,” Steinhauer said of those who talk about a rift between the president and unions.

Remember, teachers’ unions were (with a few exceptions) a target for derision at the Republican convention in Tampa last week. Some of the spiciest words came from Steinhauer’s own governor, Chris Christie, in his GOP convention keynote speech. There’s a big gulf between what Steinhauer wants and the policy objectives of Christie, who signed a bill last month making it harder for teachers to get tenure.

Steinhauer is a good example of what my colleague Stephen Sawchuk also has previously discussed: Teachers’ unions are determined to re-elect the president, regardless of any policy differences.