By KENDRA MARR, Politico
In the past few weeks, President Barack Obama delivered two major speeches touting education reforms. He invited teachers to the Rose Garden and pushed the House to pass an emergency spending bill saving thousands of school jobs. This week, his education chief is traveling on a cross-country bus tour to highlight school success stories.
â€œTeachers,â€ Obama said in Ohio Wednesday, â€œare the single most important ingredient in the education system.â€
The White House says itâ€™s a back-to-school message that fits squarely into the presidentâ€™s plan for economic recovery, stressing the role of educators in shaping a competitive American work force.
But all this apple-polishing hasnâ€™t gone unnoticed by teachers unions, which have had a rocky relationship with the White House from the start over Obamaâ€™s unflinching support for reforms that unions view as an affront. After 18 months of frosty relations that at times bordered on outright hostility, it seems that Obama has called a truceÂ â€” one that several education experts noted comes just in time for the midterm elections, when teachers unions can be a powerful Democratic ally.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan disputed that thereâ€™s any political motivation. â€œThis is part of that continued outreach,â€ he told POLITICO. â€œThatâ€™s the furthest thing from our mind.â€
Yet, as Obamaâ€™s outreach has continued, tensions have simmered down.
â€œIn the last month, thereâ€™s been a shift in tone,â€ said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Obamaâ€™s recent speeches, she said, have â€œmade it clear that his strategies were not about firing teachers.â€
National Education Association President Dennis Van RoekelÂ â€” whose groupâ€™s recent convention included several speakers calling for Duncan to resign â€” downplays the notion of a major mood swing, but said that Obamaâ€™s recent pro-teacher language has been appreciated.
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