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Mr. Jewett said Republicans usually make the distinction the unions themselves — not their members — are to blame.

“They’ll say that teachers unions are standing in the way of reform but that average teachers we love and respect and that it’s a bad system that’s holding them back,” he said.

Case in point, Mr. Christie in his speech accused Democrats of propping up teachers unions ahead of the interest of children, saying that Democrats “believe in teacher’s unions. We [Republicans] believe in teachers.”

But it’s nonsensical to separate union from their members, said Karen White, national political director for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.

“The unions exist to give educators a voice to advocate on behalf of their students so that we can have things like small class size and health care in schools for kids,” she said.

Ms. White added that teachers unions are unfairly targeted, as Republicans often are reluctant to publicly attack police and firefighters public-sector unions.

“We’ve got to stop the name calling, we’ve got to stop the finger-pointing and we’ve got to get on to the business of educating students in this country,” she said.