President Obama's truce with teachers

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.

“Teachers,” Obama said in Ohio Wednesday, “are the single most important ingredient in the education system.”

The White House says it’s a back-to-school message that fits squarely into the president’s plan for economic recovery, stressing the role of educators in shaping a competitive American work force.

But all this apple-polishing hasn’t gone unnoticed by teachers unions, which have had a rocky relationship with the White House from the start over Obama’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 truce — 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 there’s any political motivation. “This is part of that continued outreach,” he told POLITICO. “That’s the furthest thing from our mind.”

Yet, as Obama’s outreach has continued, tensions have simmered down.

“In the last month, there’s been a shift in tone,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Obama’s recent speeches, she said, have “made it clear that his strategies were not about firing teachers.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel — whose group’s recent convention included several speakers calling for Duncan to resign — downplays the notion of a major mood swing, but said that Obama’s recent pro-teacher language has been appreciated.

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