Want to know what the National Education Association thinks of your congressman or senator? The NEA is happy to tell you—every year the nation's largest teachers' union gives an A-through-F grade to every member of Congress, taking into account how they vote on key issues. In 2013, that included immigration overhaul, higher education policy, state taxation of online sales, and workforce issues. Candidates who earn high marks from the union sometimes brag about it on their websites, and in campaign speeches.
So what's the trend lately? In the U.S. House of Representatives, at least, there are a lot of highs and lows (A's and F's) and very few middling grades (B's and C's). In fact, I counted only about half a dozen B's on the list, and only about twice as many C's. The grades seem to be a bit more spread out in the U.S. Senate, where there were a lot more C's, particularly among Republicans. In fact, 16 Senate Republicans earned a grade of C or higher, up from five in 2011-12. But just 25 GOP House members got a C or above, compared with 52 in 2005-06, according to the NEA.
That's not to say all Republicans got dissed by the union. For instance, Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., the first Republican to sign onto sweeping early-childhood education legislation introduced by Democratic leaders in Congress, earned an A. And Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., who worked on an amendment to the House ESEA bill to put in place staggered testing, also snagged an A, as did Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., who pushed for language clarifying that nothing in the House ESEA renewal bill would hinder collective bargaining rights.
"We're encouraged by the uptick in bipartisan support on certain issues in the Senate," said NEA director of government relations Mary Kusler in a statement. "To promote the success of all students and public education, in meaningful ways, we need to see more cooperation in areas where we've been continually deadlocked."
How did education leaders do this year? Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, earned an A, as did the top Democrat in the House on education, Rep. George Miller of California. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, got a C. And Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee got an F.