Vice President Joe Biden thinks that teachers face a "fullblown assault" thanks to people like Mitt Romney.
"I can't think of a candidate for president who's ever made such a direct assault on such an honorable profession," Biden said at the National Education Association's annual convention, in front of thousands of teachers in Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning.
Romney and Republicans, Biden asserted, want to increase the influence of private schools "and strip you of your voice because he doesn't think you know much about education, and he characterizes you as not caring about the students but caring about yourselves."
Biden made these points in a speech he called an "honest-to-God" conversation about the differences between Romney and President Barack Obama on education, but some teachers say those differences are less pronounced than Biden's rhetoric would make it seem.
"He talked the talk but they don't walk the walk," Laura González, a teacher in Windsor, Calif., told The Huffington Post. "He says all these nice things about how Democrats support teachers and Republicans don't, but in the end, I don't feel a lot of support from the president or Democrats." She referred to an emphasis on high-stakes tests and Obama's support of an underperforming Rhode Island high school firing all of its teachers.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, a Minnesota teacher, said she was touched by Biden's speech, but also had mixed feelings. "His sincerity came across to me," she said. "But he didn't talk about what that sincerity would look like in policy going forward." Ricker said she thinks the administration should do a better job including teachers in policy planning. For example, the administration is now pushing a plan to pay teachers more to stay in hard-to-staff schools. "It's insulting having to think that I have to be bribed to teach," she said.
The convention felt a bit like an Obama rally, with NEA president Dennis Van Roekel constantly firing up the crowd about the election and a "NEA Educators for Obama" banner hanging in the hallway. In fact, the NEA invited Obama, but Biden and his wife, Jill, a community college English teacher, came instead. "I took it as a slight, and a lot of teachers did as well," González said.
Despite the overall showing of support, the NEA, the nation's largest teachers union, has had a rocky relationship with the Obama administration and the Democratic party in general these last few years. Many Democrats have departed from a pro-union stance and share views with some Republicans on education, favoring a standards-based approach that measures teachers' performance in accordance with students' test scores.
But last summer, the NEA became the first large union to endorse Obama for reelection. And over the same period of time, a wave of teacher layoffs decimated the NEA's ranks. When faced with the choice between Obama and Romney, who advocates for using No Child Left Behind money for private-school vouchers and is against spending money to put fired teachers back in schools, the union backed Obama enthusiastically.
"There's a pretty uniform view held by Mr. Romney and the Republicans," Biden said. "They criticize you and they blame you, they make you the fall guy, they should be thinking of ways to make your jobs easier not more difficult. Instead they hector and they lecture and they blame you and they call you selfish."
Biden said his father used to tell him, "don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value." He chided Romney for his support of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget, which cuts funding for preschools, funding for about 30,000 education jobs and Pell Grants. Biden described Romney's "magical mystical tour" in Philadelphia, where he said class size doesn't matter, and quoted Romney's website, where Romney asserts that teachers are against parental choice. "Your cause in life is preventing children from having a real chance? Is he serious?" Biden told the teachers. "He is though. I believe he believes what he says."
"Light a fire under these guys and tell them we will not settle on education," Biden said at the end of his speech. The crowd chanted "four more years," and an elderly teacher gave Biden a hug.