Teaching Profession

GOP Notebook: Republican Convention

September 08, 2008 4 min read
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NEA Reaches Out to Gop Members

Every four years, it is a surprise to some people that the National Education Association has a presence at the Republican National Convention.

After all, the nation’s largest teachers’ union has never endorsed a Republican candidate for president. This year, the union is again backing the Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

What’s more, the union is a regular punching bag for many Republicans and conservatives.

But the NEA always has members who are delegates at the Republican convention, though far fewer of them than at the Democratic convention.

This year, there are 40 NEA members among the almost 2,400 delegates at the GOP convention. At the Democratic convention, 200 NEA members were among the more than 4,000 delegates.

“We want to encourage our Republican members to be active in their party,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in an interview on Sept. 1, his first day as the top officer of the 3.2 million-member union.

At a downtown jazz club, the NEA and other unions threw a party for their members who are GOP delegates and other Republicans who support unions.

Days before the start of the convention last week, the NEA invited about 200 of its Republican members—four from every state—to a conference in Minneapolis to train them in political activism.

One of the participants in the leadership conference was Jerome Hoynes, a social studies teacher at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill. At the labor luncheon, he was wearing an “I am the NEA” button.

“I am proud to be an NEA member, proud to be a teacher, and proud to be a Republican,” said Mr. Hoynes, who is not a convention delegate but said he would be an elector for Sen. John McCain should the Republican win Illinois in November.

Mr. Hoynes said he will vote for Mr. McCain because of the Arizona senator’s “lifelong track record” and his status as a war hero. The teacher was less enthusiastic about the nominee’s support for private school vouchers.

“I’m sure that when he’s elected, John McCain will be the type of president who listens to us,” Mr. Hoynes said, meaning NEA members.—Mark Walsh

Gingrich, Sharpton Share Agenda

President Bush isn’t the only Republican who believes in high academic standards and aggressive school accountability. That’s the message that came across at a Sept. 2 event here put on by American Solutions for Winning the Future, a nonprofit organization founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich’s group used the issue of global competitiveness to seek support for such policies as alternative systems of teacher pay and rigorous curricula benchmarked against international standards. For education redesign efforts to succeed, they will have to be championed by Republicans, Democrats, and independents, Mr. Gingrich said.

“If you’re going to get this to scale, it’s going to have to be a tripartisan effort,” the former U.S. representative from Georgia said. “What we’re going to have here today is some people you’ve probably traditionally thought of as Democrats and some you’ve probably thought of as Republicans.”

Mr. Gingrich seemed especially pleased to share a stage with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the longtime civil rights activist who co-chairs the Education Equality Project and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Mr. Gingrich made sure that the two posed for a photo with the other panelists: U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; top McCain education adviser Lisa Graham Keegan; and Democrat Roy Romer, the chairman of Strong American Schools, a Washington-based effort to raise the profile of education in the 2008 race through its campaign known as ED in ’08.

“Most of you didn’t come here so that you could go home and tell your friends how much Al Sharpton impressed you,” Mr. Gingrich joked.

Mr. Sharpton’s speech garnered loud applause from the largely Republican crowd, particularly when he emphasized parental responsibility and took teachers’ unions to task for what he perceives as their failure to embrace accountability. He and other members of the Education Equality Project voiced similar complaints about the unions at an Aug. 24 event before the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“You cannot say schools must be improved, but that we cannot judge the performance of teachers,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We cannot have any sacred cows in the room when our children are behind in math and science.”

In his speech, Mr. Romer subtly urged the conservatives in the Republican Party to embrace the idea that, early in the next administration, state schools chiefs, governors, and members of the administration should sit down together to craft high standards. The former Colorado governor said that presidential candidates are often afraid of talking about education policy because they’re worried about offending proponents of local control.—Alyson Klein

Republicans Say English Should Be ‘Official Language’

While the Republican platform didn’t offer specifics on several education policy issues, it made an unequivocal statement that English should be the “official language” of the United States.

The platform also stressed the need for schools to focus on English for children from immigrant families.

“To ensure that all students will have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ future potential,” it says.

But the teaching of English should go beyond what happens in language arts classrooms, it says.

“It is also important, as part of cultural integration, that our schools provide better education in U.S. history and civics for all children,” the platform says. —Mary Ann Zehr From Bethesda, Md.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 2008 edition of Education Week as NEA Reaches Out To GOP Members


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