Archive for October, 2011

Are State Schools for the Deaf Necessary?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Amy: A recent Washington Post article (link here: reminded us of a topic frequently in news today– residential and other state schools for the deaf.  Are these schools still necessary or appropriate, or are children born deaf in this generation better served living at home and attending schools close to home?  While many students on campus are fluent in sign language, more are coming from public schools and spoken language backgrounds.  My first question is “Why would they go there?”  But beyond that, the larger question exists:  why is a “Deaf School” (which focuses on a signing environment) ever an appropriate placement for any student going to college?

North Dakota School for the Deaf, 1800s

Why do people go to college?  Although many would say it is to further their education, the reality is that college is usually 4 short years and should result in an adult who is ready to go for continued education or professional life.  Nowhere in the world does a completely signing environment, such as a “Martha’s Vineyard,” exist.  Students need to be prepared to communicate with the hearing world.  If their parents chose sign language as their primary language, they still need to know how to utilize assistance and technology to do that in a hearing world.  Any state university, community college or private college in the United States would have to help a student coordinate resources in order to attend.

Furthermore, we believe that this also applies to younger children.  Any small child needs to live in the culture around them.  They are not simply going live forever within the conclave of their family or small social group.  They will need to be able to figure out how to communicate their needs to the doctor, dentist, grocer, teacher, neighbor, coworkers and others.  We believe this is why cochlear implantation and learning to listen and speak via Auditory-Verbal Therapy is so important.  For the sake of this argument, we will allow for the concept that there are a certain select number of children that must use sign language as their primary language for various reasons, such as the inability to be physically implanted, delayed diagnosis, deaf family of origin, developmental disabilities, or late adoption.  We must meet those children as they are.  Within regular schools across our country, we have at the ready Teachers of the Deaf, interpreters and a huge list of technological marvels to accommodate for the IEP and allow those children to flourish with their same-aged peers.  They will benefit from the higher standards of their local public schools.  They will be held to the same benchmarks in reading, math and science… which is far from reality in schools for the deaf across the country.

Melissa: In 2008, in a post that has since been removed, Jamie Berke explored in her blog Berke Outspoken how schools for the deaf are faring when measured by state standardized testing.  Much of this data is readily available at  She found that, at that time, at only two state schools for the deaf did students test well compared to the rest of the state, the Kansas School for the Deaf and the Maryland School for the Deaf. Only in Kansas did the students at the school actually exceed the averages for students in the rest of the state in some categories.  In Maryland, they still performed below average, although not as behind as in schools in the other states.

I decided to update this research and found that more and more schools are not reporting, which I can only surmise is not because they want to crow about their results.  At the Kansas School for Deaf High, in 2007, the last year reported for grade 7, 52% met or exceeded state standards for reading.  The state average was 86% in 2008.  In 2007, 43% met or exceeded state standards for math in grade 7, but the state average was 78%.  Similarly, for grade 8 reading in 2008, school scored 67% and state average was 82%.  Math was 38% in 2008, state average was 74%.  Only in History-Government did the schools’ 8th graders fare well at 86% vs. the state average of 81%.  The data Jamie Berke pulled appears to be from grade 11:

2007: Reading – School 77%, state 81%

            Writing – School 88%, state 76%

            Math – School 100%, state 75%

Delving further into the Kansas State School for the Deaf at shows that the picture isn’t completely as rosy as these numbers portray.  For example, results of the Star Reading Assessment test show that about 50% of the students at the school are behind their hearing peers at all grade levels in reading vocabulary.

The Maryland School for the Deaf is no longer included on the Great Schools website.  I did, however, peruse the results for other states.  Looking at my own state, Massachusetts, at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf – In grade 10 for English Language Arts, 0% tested proficient.  The state average was 78%.  In math, 8% tested proficient, and the state average was 75%.  Similarly, at the Minnesota Academy for the Deaf, we have Reading 14% grade 10 in 2008, 2010 state average 75%, math 8% grade 11 in 2009, state average in 2010 is 43%.  In Florida, grade 6 in 2011, Reading 3%, stage average 67%. Math 6% in 2011, state average 57%.  In New Mexico, grade 8, Reading 18% in 2009, state average 53%.  Science 0% in 2009, state average 29%.  Math 0% in 2009, stage average 41%.

I could go on in a similar manner for all the states reporting.  While I am the first one to say that all of this testing and teaching to the test that is a product of No Child Left Behind is not necessarily in the best interests of our students or the right way to educate our children, nonetheless, these test results indicate a real problem in the state of public education today in our country and, in particular, at the schools for the deaf.

It is unfortunate that there is no aggregate testing for children born deaf but hearing and speaking thanks to CIs and Auditory-Verbal therapy who have been and continue to be fully mainstreamed.  I can speak anecdotally of my own children and the children of my friends, all of whom are succeeding well in mainstream schools, performing at levels equal to or above many of their peers with normal hearing and scoring “post high school” in reading comprehension and math on standardized testing in middle school.  Many have already gone on to and graduated from competitive four year colleges and universities.

Even without comprehensive studies, though, clearly those in state government are catching on as schools for the deaf have been closing or are threatened with closure, and it’s not simply a matter of decreasing state dollars for education.  Schools for the deaf have already been closed or face substantial budget cuts in several states.  State schools in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming have already closed.  According to, schools facing closure or funding cuts include:

  • Cleary School for the Deaf (NY)
  • Kansas School for the Deaf
  • Lexington School for the Deaf (NY)
  • Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf (NY)
  • New York School for the Deaf – Fanwood (NY)
  • Oklahoma School for the Deaf
  • Rochester School for the Deaf (NY)
  • St. Francis De Sales School for the Deaf (NY)
  • St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf (NY)
  • St. Mary’s School for the Deaf (NY)
  • Texas School for the Deaf

In addition, in Texas the Jean Massieu Academy has been threatened with closure due to poor academic performance. Utah’s state schools are facing severe budget cuts and possibly closure, and in North Carolina, two schools for the deaf are facing closure:  The North Dakota state legislature just passed a bill mandating a transition team to “Review current research and national trends in the provision of services to students who are deaf or hearing-impaired,” begin finding other sources of revenue, and explore partnering with other states because there are no longer enough students to make the school feasible.

At a time when more and more children are receiving cochlear implants as babies, are learning to hear and speak, and subsequently attend mainstream schools, learning alongside and on par with their peers with normal hearing, enrollment at traditional schools for the deaf is declining.

Can you pick out the deaf preschooler?

Also consider Gallaudet University, which has declined from 1825 undergraduate students in 1990 to 1080 in 2007.  Yet, according to, Gallaudet still received $122,754,000 in federal funding for FY 2011.  Furthermore, a look at page 1 of shows that the vast majority of students at the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School scored in reading, math and science at “well below” or “below.”

Amy: Last, but certainly not least, we give a serious and troubling reason to avoid sequestering deaf students in deaf schools, particularly if that school is residential.  Over HALF of the deaf schools in the United States have been involved in sexual abuse scandals, as reported in 2001 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (  In addition, a 2006 study found that a whopping 50% of deaf girls have been abused (compared to approximately 25% of hearing girls) and 54% of deaf boys have been sexually abused compared to 10% of hearing boys.  Why would this be the case?  For one thing, in deaf residential schools, as we have pointed out, the educational level can be very low for students.  Students who are not educated may not have the resources at hand to speak, write or otherwise communicate what has happened to them or identify what was wrong until very much later in life.  In addition, there is the obvious issue– they cannot hear intruders approaching.  They are vulnerable simply by virtue of the lack of the hearing sense.

This hits close to home in our family.  My husband’s mother was raped by an intruder in her home… one that the police believed may have been watching and aware that she was deaf and home alone on that particular day.  Years later, when I first met her, I noticed how fearful she was of strangers, and particularly afraid of the susceptibility of door locks.  She had multiple locks installed on her home and even her bedroom door (which could have been a safety concern, and also caused some trouble at times when family members were unable to get her attention if she was in the private bathroom off of that bedroom).  She never felt quite safe in her home again.

This is not something that happened years ago and is unlikely to happen any more in our modern society.  Recent episodes have cropped up again and again:

This is not only K-12th grade, either.  Sadly, we include Gallaudet University in this list, both for poor educational scores and problems with sexual assault:,,20108367,00.html

It’s time we bring our children home from residential schools in K-12 and allow them to attend any college which meets their educational ambitions.  No longer are residential schools a workable idea for the education of children… children who happen to be deaf.  They deserve to be present and accounted for in all of the ordinary schools across our nation… public, parochial or charter, but certainly not specifically for deaf students primarily.  Even the best “oral school” cannot duplicate the benefits of mainstreaming.  Deaf kids should be held to the same academic standards, and their teachers and administrators should be held to the same high ethical standards that all schools must meet.  Accountability, safeguards and background checks should be the norm, and parents can and should keep close tabs on the education of all of their children, hearing and deaf alike.