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Are State Schools for the Deaf Necessary?

Amy: A recent Washington Post article (link here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/gallaudet-university-adjusts-to-a-culture-that-includes-more-hearing-students/2011/09/23/gIQAC3W9tK_story.html) 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 www.greatschools.net.  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 http://www.ksdeaf.org/About/School%20Profile%202007-08.pdf 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 http://nad.org/news/2011/2/nad-action-alert-preserve-state-schools-deaf, 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. http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/03/10/2031026/jean-massieu-academy-in-arlington.html Utah’s state schools are facing severe budget cuts and possibly closure http://www.abc4.com/content/news/state/story/Utah-Schools-for-the-Deaf-and-Blind-fight-to-keep/onCyBPtcTEGlLz6NBY9piA.cspx, and in North Carolina, two schools for the deaf are facing closure: http://www2.nbc17.com/news/2011/sep/22/hundred-turn-out-ask-enc-school-deaf-wilson-not-be-ar-1421788/.  The North Dakota state legislature just passed a bill mandating a transition team http://www.nd.gov/ndsd/docs/hb-1013-section-19.pdf 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 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp112&sid=cp112s5nKF&refer=&r_n=sr084.112&item=&&&sel=TOC_640928&, Gallaudet still received $122,754,000 in federal funding for FY 2011.  Furthermore, a look at page 1 of http://www.gallaudet.edu/Documents/Clerc/2011%20KDES%20AYP.pdf 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 (http://o.seattlepi.com/national/48233_deaf27.shtml).  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:

http://www.helpstartshere.org/health-and-wellness/disabilities-real-life-story-deaf-school-abuse.html

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:

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,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.

Filed under: Amy,Melissa,Uncategorized — Melissa Chaikof @ 11:52 am

11 Comments

  1. Studies continue to show, year after year, the “average” deaf or hard of hearing high school graduate leaves school with a fourth grade reading level. When considering the word “average” please keep in mind this does mean that many deaf and hard of hearing students do graduate at par or higher than their hearing peers.

    There is growing research examining how deaf and hard of hearing children learn in mainstreamed classrooms. Students with cochlear implants who use speech are at the same risk as their peers who sign to have reading skills below their hearing peers. The one exception was students who had access to both speech and signed language. A study of these students showed they made the same achievements as their hearing peers.

    Additional research examines how learning takes place. With so much emphasis on passing standardized exams due to No Child Left Behind some teachers may forego guiding students to develop critical thinking skills. Curriculums that use basal readers without encouraging access to a variety of literature are further impeding student learning.

    Students need to know they are worthy and important. They need to be engaged in learning with projects that encourage higher-order thinking.

    Every child learns differently. Our brains are wired to learn a certain way. When we force a visual learner to learn auditory classroom without any visual support we are limiting the learner’s full potential. Likewise, an auditory or kinesthetic learner who is placed in a visual classroom will also suffer.

    We must consider the individual learning needs and styles of students and making learning accessible and engaging to all students.

    Comment by Nadene Eisner — October 26, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  2. Children who are born deaf are not by default visual learners. I have two daughters who were born deaf. One is a naturally visual learner, but the other is an auditory learner. As soon as she received her cochlear implant, she started to soak up language auditorally. To this day, at age 16, she studies by talking out loud to herself. That said, my older daughter, who is a visual learner as I am, never learned sign and succeeded in school. Children need access to language to learn. There are two problems with sign language. First, hearing parents must somehow attain fluency in another language and convey it to their children. This rarely happens with hearing parents. The Auditory-Verbal approach allows us to impart language to our children in the language in which we are fluent. We can convey complex language much more readily than parents learning the language alongside their child. Second, asking a child to learn to read in a language that is not their primary language is also more difficult. We’ve all read posts on deaf blogs by those raised with sign whose grammar and syntax are clearly that of sign and not of English.

    I would suggest you research children raised with the Auditory-Verbal approach. They are succeeding in school at levels equal to and above their peers with normal hearing, and they have never been exposed to sign language.

    Comment by Melissa Chaikof — October 26, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  3. Melissa, kindly reread my above post in which I state, “Likewise, an auditory or kinesthetic learner who is placed in a visual classroom will also suffer.”

    My comments, which are based on my own experience as a deaf person who was born (and remains) an auditory learner, as a school library media specialist in a hearing school, and on research for my post-graduate thesis, are meant to convey the importance of differentiation, which should be found in all classrooms in all schools.

    Comment by Nadene Eisner — October 26, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  4. The problem is the insinuation that somehow deaf children are different from ANY child in how they learn. If indeed there are visual and auditory learning styles (and that educational theory is in question because it may simply be about learned preference rather than innate difference: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091216162356.htm) then all potential methods can and should be available to all kids in mainstreamed classrooms. I certainly know about individualized learning… I homeschooled ALL of my children in the early elementary years. And that includes my 2 implanted children, though not because they were deaf– just because I am available to do it, and enjoy the one on one time to really enrich their early educational years. So, I am currently teaching my kindergarten aged son to read, and he is not exactly the same as my 10 year old in what works and helps him to “get” things. But, it has nothing to do with his deafness, because he was implanted at 6 months of age and has been on par with hearing peers since 18 months of age or so. He doesn’t even remember his Auditory Verbal Therapist, anymore! He and his brother both attended a mainstreamed preschool, though, and it was completely normal and uneventful (in a good way).

    Students who have speech and sign usage and instruction do not have better educational outcomes. The bulk of literature shows that educational success is linked to spoken language. Granted, not all children use spoken language, and school districts can and do meet their needs. I would like to see research showing that students with access to speech and signed language were equally successful to hearing peers, because time and time again the research Ive read has shown that this is not the case.

    We are not speaking about “forcing” a child who is visual to learn in an auditory classroom. We are talking about the best way to educate all deaf children, and usually it’s with their peers! Audition is a normal part of that– the neural pathways must be encouraged if at all possible by appropriate amplification– but there is no deaf child who is purely “visual,” just as there is no deaf child who is purely “auditory,” unless the child has damage to one of those pathways. Audition is a crucial part of learning spoken and written language, without which one cannot succeed in most of the world. And yes, the average for deaf reading levels are averages, but they are lower than the averages for hearing students. There are always outlying people when looking at statistics, but certainly the average is lower because it is more difficult to learn to read English when one’s primary language is not English or any other language with a written form. My 10 year old, who is mainstreamed in a regular 5th grade classroom with no modifications other than his cochlear implants, is a voracious reader and probably teaches himself oodles of facts just doing that, alone. Our focus on audition in his infancy and toddler years has paid off. And, I should add, both he and his teacher are confident that he is completely aware of not only what is being discussed in class, but that he does not need additional modifications at this time. This was a choice that HE was allowed to make, and he has realized that he does not presently need an FM system. His teacher reports that he advocates for himself by moving to the front of the class if he is concerned that he might miss something she says.

    Comment by Amy Kwilinski — October 26, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  5. The recent research and education approach states “learning styles” are bunk. Of course every child learns differently, but we shouldn’t assume that just because a child is born with missing hair cells in their cochlea that they are incapable of learning through listening.

    http://workplacepsychology.net/2010/04/10/evidence-based-training-debunking-the-myth-of-learning-styles/

    Comment by MJB — October 27, 2011 @ 7:32 am

  6. Thank you, Monica… that is correct– the hair cells don’t affect their learning ability! :-) What I have noticed, based on research with deaf children and education, is that it becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy” when people assume that a deaf child must have visual-style learning, ought to have ASL used in the school, etc, etc. Even with my well-equipped, bilaterally implanted boys, I notice the stereotypes of “professionals.” What we’ve had to do is believe that we know our child’s abilities best, and we go with a new paradigm… one that has been creating itself since my sons were implanted in infancy.

    Comment by Amy Kwilinski — October 27, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  7. My answer to your question on why “deaf school” is an appropriate choice is simply because it works for some deaf students. Not all deaf students are homogenous. No one size fits all. It could be that some of them would fare very well in a signing environment that exists only in a deaf school in some places.

    In this present time, parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are greatly blessed with so many choices to choose from. The choices can range from a complete signing school to a complete oral school in different formats (from a whole school to several classrooms within a school to individuals within classes) plus homeschooling. I would hate to see any reduction in choices, shortening the continuum of choices. You know very well that there are few Deaf people who want to see pure oral schools wiped out. Then, there are some people who want to outlaw homeschooling and charter schools. I don’t agree with them. But, I really hope that your post does not imply that the deaf schools should be eliminated.

    I won’t argue against the shortcomings that you pointed out. They are real but the solution to these shortcomings is not to eliminate the deaf schools but to fix them. This will keep the continuum of choices as broad as possible.

    Can you provide the citation for the 2006 study that you mentioned about sexual abuse? While it is horrible that the sexual assaults occurred in the deaf residential schools, it is important to recognize that the problem also occurs in private and public residential and boarding schools. It seems that the structure of residential setting, rather than the disabilities or lack of disabilities themselves, is largely responsible for the higher rate of sexual assaults.

    A minor clarification: The federal money that Gallaudet University receives covers both school and university and all different services that they provide for themselves and the public. Reading through their recent annual report will give you idea of how many different services that are made possible with the federal money.

    The bottom line that I hope to convey is that there is a reason for having deaf schools and it is paramount that we keep the continuum of choices as broad as possible.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo
    josephpietrojeungriolo@gmail.com

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

    Comment by Joseph Pietro Riolo — October 29, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  8. The question we posed in this blog is particularly about STATE deaf schools, including the residential schools for the deaf (and, as far as we know, there are no residential private K-12 deaf schools). If there are private, deaf schools which want to operate in particular ways, they are welcomed to “sell” their product to parents and educate their children with any style that they choose. We are not opposed to school choice; rather, we are opposed to the great waste of money and poor performance which has been rampant in state schools for the deaf. As an alternative, we suggested in the blog that local, neighborhood public schools are more well-equipped to educate deaf students appropriately, even if the student is utilizing ASL or needs various modifications (IDEA has allowed for great changes in this regard). The per-student cost is less and there will naturally be more mainstreaming when the local, public school provides services rather than the segregated deaf school. Any private school can legally provide services that they choose, whether that is parochial, oral deaf, ASL, Bi-Bi, or any number of educational philosophies such as Montessori, Waldorf, Classical, etc., and our aim was not to suggest that people do not have the right to these choices. I homeschool my children (hearing AND deaf) until they reach about 5th or 6th grade. I have used public and parochial schools for older grades. I am a big believer in the greatness of a country which allows parents that choice. But taxpayers ought not be subjected to paying for failing schools, and that is what has happened for many years at state schools for the deaf. We DO propose that all of those schools be eliminated and replace with better models for children, regardless of their method of communication. We would feel the same way if an oral school had abysmal test scores! Unfortunately, I believe that some parents are being hoodwinked in to thinking that their child has a fair shot at a good education in public, state deaf schools which are routinely unable to educate, to provide an academic environment which would challenge the child, or to graduate the child with knowledge necessary to succeed in life or post-secondary education. And worse, the likelihood of abuse at a residential school is higher, too, so that adds insult to injury.

    The a statistic come from a White Paper report by the National Traumatic Child Stress Network.
    http://www.nctsnet.org/…/Trauma_Deaf_Hard-of-Hearing_Children.pdf

    Comment by Amy Kwilinski — October 29, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  9. Key to any choices for the deaf child is parent involvement. The parent who teaches the child to communicate in ALL possible pathways from infancy and keeps it up through the reading-to-the child stages will see the child take off no matter what program they attend. Intensive language exposure is essential, but tops is exposure to reading.

    As a deaf child, reading was included by my mom from infancy despite advice to focus entirely on oral training. This is what saved me from the inherent shortcomings of auditory-oral training. I began reading once it was discovered that printed matter contained far more information than other avenues of communication, and this has carried me through all levels of schooling, including a four year hearing university. I’ve been in an oral program, mainstream school, residential state school, Gallaudet, University, and RIT-NTID, and have three degrees.

    Read to your deaf child. Read three times a day, using any material that happens to be interesting at the time. Read meaningfully, using the methods that are most meaningful to your child, even if it is gesture and ASL. Do not be fooled by apparent progress, but elect questions and comments from the child. Stop when attention wanders. Give the child books appropriate for his level and plenty of them. Read the captions off the TV childrens’ programs. Avoid any form of force-feeding. And watch the child take off.

    Comment by Dianrez — March 10, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

  10. I sign and speak both languages. I attribute it to the fact that the very early childhood program that I went to (Callier Center in the Dallas, TX area) promoted early exposure and early education for deaf children. I was going to school by age 1. Not preschool. School in the earliest sense of the word. Every deaf child that I went to that school with…all have come out with excellent English reading and writing skills. It’s because they went to that school before age 2 to 3 which are now the optimal exposure period for children to acquire language. Being entirely oral or entirely a signer really does not have anything to do with acquisition of language. It’s how early you learn the language and how much your parents interacted with you and showed you how to read which matters. Simple as that. Oh, I’ve been in mainstreamed programs and a state school. I did very well in the state school because I loved the social aspect of it. I did moderately well in the mainstreamed school programs but due to the nature of my bus schedule (having to get up at 4 am to get on the bus and be at school by 8 am from Irving to Dallas) I was unable to have any after school activities plus my parents were extremely religious so I was not allowed to do any of the standard after school activities. Once I went to the state school, I was able to participate in sports and so forth.

    Comment by Ted — November 23, 2015 @ 12:22 am

  11. Sending a one-year-old to school would not be the first choice of most parents, and I believe that those early formative language-learning years should be spent being nurtured by the parents. A child who receives CIs early and has involved parents following the Auditory-Verbal approach is immersed in language and the love of parents and so develops age appropriate language alongside his/her peers and is able to attend a neighborhood school alongside his/her peers, participating fully in activities with them as well. I loved spending every minute with my children when they were young and would not have wanted to send them off to a school all day either as a toddler or to a residential school when they were older.

    Comment by Melissa Chaikof — November 23, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

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