National Education Association leaders have decided to ask their legislative body in July to formally endorse President Obama for reelection in 2012. The decision was not unanimous because of policy differences between the administration and the NEA, the largest labor union and professional organization in the United States.

The recommendation makes the NEA the first union to signal that it will formally support Obama’s reelection and comes at a time when labor unions feel increasingly besieged by some Republican governors who have taken aim at the collective bargaining rights of their members.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the decision was also prompted in part because the union is opposed to the agenda of the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives. Though the NEA disagrees with important aspects of the Obama administration’s education policy, he said that the union and the president both have the same vision for a robust and healthy public education system but disagree how to get there.

The Republican Party, he said, does not share the same end goal for public education or for protecting the rights of children, the elderly, the poor and the middle class.

“I took into consideration where that party is in leadership now, and of course any Republican candidate for president will stay on that line, which is very much anti-collective bargaining and anti-public education,” he said.

This is a rather different view than Van Roekel had less than a year ago at the NEA’s annual convention last July. There, while speaking about the Obama administration policies, he said, according to The New York Times: “This is not the change I hoped for. ”

He also was quoted by the paper as saying, “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced.”

The midterm elections last November which swept Republicans into power in the House, and brought some new conservative governors into a number of states changed the political dynamic, Van Roekel said.

The new decision to recommend an Obama endorsement was made, he said, by the union’s Political Action Committee of nearly 70 people, which includes every NEA state association president and representatives from NEA’s constituent caucuses. The NEA Board of Directors approved it as well. Final approval will be determined by the 9,000-member Representative Assembly, the union’s primary legislative and policymaking body, at its annual gathering in early July. The NEA endorsed Obama in the 2008 election.

The vote for the recommendation in the committee was 79 percent, he said.

As soon as the decision was publicly announced, some members expressed anger in emails and on social media that the NEA was moving ahead with an endorsement -- earlier than it ever has -- while there are important disagreements with the administration on policy.

Those include the NEA’s opposition to Race to the Top, the administration’s chief education initiative, which was a competition for federal grants given to states who agreed to specific reforms.

The NEA had also, until now, opposed linking teacher pay with test scores, though the union just opened the door to it in a new policy statement that was just issued and that will also be put up for a vote at the July assembly convention.

It says that one of the factors that can be taken into account while evaluating a teacher could be “high quality standardized tests that provide meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.”

Assessment experts say that today’s standardized tests are not sophisticated enough to provide information on a teacher’s performance.

The NEA’s announcement about the Obama endorsement recommendation did not indicate any disagreement with the administration in any specific area, and some critics, including some NEA members who asked not to be identified, noted that the formal endorsement will be made in July, just a few weeks before the Save Our Schools March in Washington by teachers and others against the administration’s policies. The NEA has supported the march, although they did not organize it.

Van Roekel said that it made no sense to wait until the union’s July 2012 annual convention because it is clear now who the Democratic nominee will be and what the Republican agenda will say. He also said he does not believe the union has lost any leverage with the administration in declaring support for Obama so early.

After the decision was made to make the recommendation, he said, “One of my state presidents got off and said ‘I’ve been living my whole life trying to find the perfect Democrat and I haven’t found one.’ ”

What do you think about the NEA’s move?


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