Value-Added?

The National Education Association released its annual Congressional report card, where we learn “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.”

The union’s grades used to be based solely on a lawmaker’s votes on what NEA considered to be key issues. But this approach tended to undermine its claim of bipartisanship. So in 2005 NEA decided to grade Republicans on a curve. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Last May, NEA hired Valis Associates, a DC government relations firm, for the specific task of lobbying key Republicans in support of the union’s agenda. The first signs of Valis’ work appeared last week, when the union’s PAC, the NEA Fund for Children & Public Education, held a lunch briefing for GOP House members and their key staffers. The purpose of the briefing was to announce “significant changes in the way in which congressional education records will be rated in NEA’s Legislative Report Card.”

As is the practice with many other advocacy groups, NEA rates lawmakers on their votes on key legislation. And as you might expect, Democrats tend to get very high ratings while Republicans get very low ratings. This makes the union’s much-touted bipartisanship a little difficult to defend. But NEA has a solution!

Noting that it is “increasingly problematic to construct voting records that reveal accurately an elected official’s views and record on public education and employee issues of importance to NEA,” the union has decided to grade on a curve.

The NEA Legislative Report Card will now rate lawmakers not only on votes, but on co-sponsorhip of key bills, committee work, “behind the scenes/caucus work,” and “accessibility to NEA staff.”

Members’ scores in these areas will be added together to produce a composite score, which will then be converted to a letter grade and posted on the NEA website.

Political observers will have their own angles on this, but what strikes EIA as funny is the idea that NEA believes that it is possible – and desirable – to rate lawmakers by subjective standards, to assign a numerical value to their observed accomplishments, and then judge whether these men and women should be rewarded with financial contributions and other tangible benefits on an individual basis. And don’t forget the high-stakes standardized test; you can fail the NEA candidate questionnaire with one or more “wrong” answers.

Won’t this NEA “merit pay” destroy the collegiality of the House and Senate? Won’t lawmakers refuse to share their “staff accessibility” tips with each other? Is NEA prepared to “fully fund” its PAC commitments as Republicans fall over themselves to get a higher rating? Don’t all of our lawmakers deserve a high NEA PAC rating?

You’re right. Those are lousy arguments.

The good news is, just as in real life, the grades assigned by these teachers don’t predict future success or failure.

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