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Every Student Succeeds Act

After ESSA’s Passage, Republicans in Congress Get Better Grades from NEA

By Alyson Klein — January 25, 2016 1 min read
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Last year, lawmakers completed the ultimate assignment, as far as the National Education Association is concerned: a long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The new law—the Every Student Succeeds Act—paves the way for states to de-emphasize test scores in accountability and focus more attention on factors like school climate and teacher engagement. And it gets rid of evaluations that take student outcomes into account, both big NEA priorities.

Maybe that’s why some in Congress—particularly Republicans—seem to have done a little better on the NEA’s report card from the union this year.

Overall, 50 senators and 200 representatives earned A’s, while 39 senators and 201 representatives got a D or an F. But 59 Republicans got grades of A, B, or C in 2015, compared to 46 in 2013, 41 in 2011-12, and 18 in 2009-10.

And three out of ESSA’s four sponsors—Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., got A’s. (The other major architect, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota got a C.)

But ESSA seems to have helped GOP education leaders in Congress rise in the union’s estimation. Alexander’s grade jumped from a C in 2013-14 to a A this year. And Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who worked with Murray to create an early-education program for the first time in this version of ESEA, also saw his score go up, from an F to a B.

The NEA gave good grades to Dems who bumped heads with the union on accountability provisions as Congress was working on the ESEA rewrite—Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Corey Booker of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

How did the presidential candidates in Congress fare? The NEA flunked both Republican contenders in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. And Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent who is running for the Democratic nod, got an A, even though NEA has endorsed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.