A NY city high school teacher testifies before the Senate HELP committee.This morning, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held its first hearing on the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB). You can view the entire hearing, about 2 hours and 30 minutes, here in C-SPAN’s video library.

I don’t have time to really digest all of this testimony and write my thoughts tonight. I’ve got, you know, work to do… although that didn’t stop me from spending two hours watching the hearing. I hope to write something more substantive this weekend, but here are a few quick thoughts and first impressions.

The take away is simple: Listen to the teachers. The two teachers testifying before the committee, Ms. Lee and Mr. Lazar, had by far the most authentic and insightful testimony of the group.

You can watch Ms. Lee’s testimony in this 5 minute clip. She spoke about the need to educate the whole child and focus on long term outcomes, as well as the way that a focus on tests forced schools to make poor choices about curricula in favor of short term test preparation. A few wonderful quotes:

I’ve worked in different schools. Some of them, through no fault of their own, have become increasingly data driven instead of student driven.

Until we have teachers and policy makers sitting alongside and getting to know our students and classrooms in deep and meaningful ways, we cannot fully understand the state of public education. And I sit here as a sole female and this is a field dominated by women.

No corporate made multiple choice test will give you that data.

Let that sink in for a minute. Then, hop over to the next clip and listen to Mr. Lazar, who described the juxtaposition between his “real” teaching methods and the last month of school each year in which he had to become a bad teacher and simply prep students for the Regents exams.

I’m also embarrassed to say I was a teacher who every May until last would get up to apologize to my students. I would tell them I have done my best job to be an excellent teacher for you up until now. But for the last month of school, I’m going to turn into a bad teacher to properly prepare you for state Regents exams.

At the same time, I worked with the lowest performing students who had yet to pass the state tests. With them, we did mindless test prep. And even though I was really good at it, getting 100% of them to pass the exams in my final year doing it, I was doing the students no favors. […] When we focus our efforts only on helping struggling students jump over the hurdle of mandated exams, the learning and opportunity gap widens.

We can do this without testing every student, every year. […] We could even go a step further and use the representational sampling technique of the NAEP.

Federal and state governments need to recognize that the best educational decisions for students are made by those who posses the fullest and deepest understanding of their needs. Educators’ voices need to be the loudest in making the decisions of what is tested, how students are tested, and when students are tested.

It is time to fix our broken system of testing and accountability.

Bam. Think on that for a bit.