In most states, there are two teachers' unions. The AFT unions are located in urban areas; the NEA unions represent teachers in other parts of the state. Many Southern states, such as Georgia and Texas, aren't allowed to have teachers' unions, so they have multiple teachers associations, which are much less powerful.
Patrick McGuinn writes about Governor Christie's battle with the NJEA.
This has been an entertaining—but ultimately depressing—month for those
interested in serious education reform in New Jersey. The state's
Republican governor, Chris Christie, has engaged in a rancorous war of words
with the state's largest teachers' union, the New Jersey Education
Association (NJEA). Christie has made no secret of his dislike for the
union and has publicly blamed them for most of what is wrong with the
state's schools and with state finances more generally. He has called them
the "bullies of State Street (Trenton)" and criticized their "19th
century" views on policy and spending. The NJEA has fired back by
spending millions running ads against Christie and organizing protests
at the state capitol. Richard Bozza, the head of the NJ Association of
School Administrators, has observed that "Governor Christie is the
irresistible force, and the union is the immovable object." Similarly,
NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said, "We are his great white whale, and
he is our Ahab."
But the teachers' unions haven't just been fighting with Republicans with eyes on the White House. They also haven't been that happy with Democrats. At the last NEA conference, Obama's aides were shunned. Union members aren't happy about his support for charter schools and for the dismissal of ineffective teachers.
The Obama administration's focus on teacher accountability (through
evaluation and tenure reform, merit pay, and restructuring plans that
call for the firing of teachers in underperforming schools), in
particular, has caused great consternation among the teachers unions
who have long been one of the Democratic Party's staunchest allies.
If you look at education reform over time, there haven't been big changes when a new party takes over the White House and Congress. Whatever the trend, accountability or standards or testing, continues regardless of who's in the White House. Clinton carrying on much of the policies from Bush I. Partially, there is the continuity of policy, because the federal government doesn't have much control over education policy. But I am not really sure why there aren't bigger swings of policy. Anyway, this is why people are ticked off that Obama's education program isn't much different from Bush's.