21 February 2012

Deaf School vs. Mainstreaming: Pros and Cons

Update: Redeafined recently released a two-part series featuring a more in-depth look at both mainstream and Deaf education. Follow the respective links to read about the benefits of Deaf schools, and the benefits of mainstream education.

The differences between education at a school for the Deaf or in a mainstream school can seem vast, and indeed, there are a lot of factors to consider. Below is a chart highlighting the basics about a mainstreamed education vs. a Deaf school education. Keep in mind that different schools for the Deaf offer different communication tracks; additionally some mainstream schools are more or less equipped to serve Deaf students than others. You can also check out this site, sponsored by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for more information about the physical and psychological challenges Deaf students may need to deal with when switching to mainstream schools.

*Note that while challengers of ASL-centric Deaf schools tout a statistic declaring average reading skill at a 4th grade level in Deaf schools, consider that the accuracy of this statistic is under scrutiny. In the original study from whence the statistic came, data included the reading level of students oral deaf schools as well as mainstreamed deaf students, thereby voiding the theory that ASL causes a diminished reading level. Educational experts suggest one reason that Deaf schools present lower reading levels overall is that students who start out at mainstream schools and do not receive proper early intervention language access are almost always sent to Deaf schools after their "failure" in the mainstream, thus skewing the statistics.  Read more about the reading level statistics for deaf students on our blog here.


  1. How about the fact that even the "great" Deaf schools (for example, CSD) are graduating students that cannot read, year after year? CSD STAR testing shows that of all of their 11th graders, 0 read advanced, and 0 read even "proficiently". If you review that data, it is the same, year after year.


    But, I doubt you will bother to respond, or even publish my comment, because it goes against your agenda.

    1. Dear Miss Kat's Parents: Your comments,like all comments on the site, are published immediately, as they are not censored. You'll notice that your previous comments on previous posts remain (and were responded to)as well.

      In the future we would appreciate if you (and everyone) could come to the dialogue without employing attacking or demeaning language. We are people (with differing opinions, yes) but people first. We are not intending to offend you, and try to keep all our content free from any bickering or ugliness. While this is an emotional topic for many of us, we'd appreciate if you could discuss the issues on an intellectual level only, without any "cheap shots" about the nature of our project. If you cannot agree to these terms of use, we will delete future comments as a violation of our terms of use.
      That said, we do have an "agenda"--bilingual education-- and we are allowed to create a blog to support our opinions just as you are allowed to advocate for oral/aural education.
      Finally, with regard to the content of your comment, it's true that reading has been a consistent and obvious problem in various systems of deaf education for a long time now. Please be patient while we review the data and do our best to respond in a timely manner.
      As always, thanks for reading Redeafined.

    2. I didn't demean at all. I pointed out something that most people refuse to talk about.

    3. (1 of 2)We were referring not to the content of your posting, but to the manner in which you infer that we are close-minded and would not publish a comment with an opinion different from our own. If confusion on the matter persists, please visit the "About" section of our site to view our comment code of conduct policy.

      But, onward and upward. As to the content of link, there are a lot of reasons of reasons why Deaf children (particularly Deaf high school students) perform poorly on standardized reading tests. We'll try to cover a few here.
      With respect to your specific link, we can see that the data represents a test group of 17 children, a small sample both within the context of the school itself (less than half the 11th graders), and of the larger population of deaf children. Being unfamiliar with the California state education system, we don't know why only 28% of students' scores are utilized here. Relatedly, there seems to be no breakdown of scores for students with other learning disabilities and those without; Deaf schools across the board tend to have a larger population of students with multiple disabilities, cognitive delays, etc, and the breakdown here is unclear. However, these are smaller arguments that still don't resolve the whole issue.

      One of the main reasons high schoolers tend to score poorly on their reading exams is because they are not native to their Deaf schools-- they fail out of mainstream or oral programs and are sent to finish their final years in schools with ASL access, though having little language, it is often too late to gain years and years of linguistic proficiency in either ASL or English by that point. Take, for example, The Learning Center for the Deaf in MA; the school has an unprecedented reputation with a large percentage of students in the primary school performing proficiently (I've contacted the authorities for the location of the precise statistics), but a dramatic drop in performance in the upper schools. Why? Because TLC high school has come to be known by MA educators by the literal nickname of "the dumping grounds" the place where "oral failures" go to finish school. This unfortunate but relatively common occurrence, I think, can be attributed mainly to lack of parent involvement in the child's education. How could an involved parent let their child flounder for more than a decade without stepping in? This lack of involvement is dangerous for any child, deaf or not. (1 of 2)

    4. (2 of 2)
      In another anecdote, a very close friend of mine attended MA's Clarke School (oral) growing up. He excelled there, learned to speak and lipread with his profound hearing loss, but at some point in middle school realized his education was being compromised. "I remember sitting in science class, and we were learning about photosynthesis, but we were spending an inordinate amount of time learning how to pronounce the word 'photosynthesis' and no one actually understood what it was," he said. My friend went home and told his parents that he wanted to change schools, and ended up completing his education in mainstream high school with an interpreter, and going on to college to become a civil engineer. The caveat here is that this man came from a Deaf family and was always bilingual; had he not been, he wouldn't have had the wherewithal or understanding to realize that speech itself is not language and that his education was being compromised.

      So it seems, that in the current system many Deaf children from Deaf schools performing at above-average levels transfer out of those schools when they get to the secondary level. Thus, the students that remain in Deaf schools to take the reading tests, many of whom are not actually bilingually educated, under-perform, and we use that data to analyze the bilingual education system.
      That's not to say that deaf schools, particularly at the elementary level, aren't invaluable resources to provide students with bilingual language foundations and important social skills and self-confidence. And, of course, ideally, if all those students who "failed" outside of Deaf school had been in Deaf school in the first place, we might have a different story on our hands.

      They key here--and I think you'll agree with me at least on this-- is parental involvement in a child's education. Miss Kat undoubtedly does well because you make sure she works hard, and you look out for her and put an emphasis on the importance of her education. All children, deaf and hearing, need that, and few get it.

  2. But if you search through the scores, year after year, the results remain the same. Are you actually suggesting that none of the students graduating have been with them since preschool. California School for the Deaf has a very large population that are NOT transfers, students who have been educated by them, from the beginning.

    Unfortunately, the longer people persist with the myth that it is "oral failures" that are skewing the statistics, the longer we are not dealing with the ACTUAL problem, which is that skills in ASL do not automatically transfer to skills in English.

    "There is no evidence that fluency in a signed language is sufficient to provide a deaf child with the underpinnings necessary for English literacy. – Marc Marschark – NTID"

    "…..deaf children require access to some form of face-to-face English (e.g., contact signing, Cued Speech, signed form of English, speechreading, etc.) in sufficient quantity and quality so that they can acquire the language that they are going to need to make sense of text. - Beverly Trezek – DePaul University and Connie Mayer – York University

    This is the true problem, and absolutely no one who advocates for bi-bi education is dealing with it.

    1. I'm not denying there's a problem with these scores, and I'm sorry you've found bi-bi education advocates who disagree with you, but everyone I've spoken with recognizes that this is an issue (including TLC-- check out their new strategic initiative) and is working to solve it. To say that "absolutely no one" cares about is reductive and rather insulting to those of us that do.

      I think we actually agree more than you're willing to admit, at least I agree with the quotes you provided. Of course ASL fluency doesn't translate into English fluency (any more than Spanish, or any other language does), and obviously d/Deaf children require contact with English to learn English. These quotes are in no way exclusive of a bilingual approach. And since we agree on Marschark as a valid source, I'll leave you with a quote: "The brain has the capacity to acquire both a visual and a spoken language without detriment to the development of either(Kovelman 2009, et al.), and there is no documented evidence demonstrating that ASL inhibits the development of spoken English (Marschark & Hauser, 2012). An ASL/English bimodal approach has the characteristics to be advantageous to language acquisition and learning. The child acquires language through his or her intact visual modality while developing spoken English to the maximum extent possible. This approach is 'additive'; it builds upon a child's strength in one language while adding a second language (Baker, 2006)" (Nussbaum 2012).

  3. And here are two studies, one in deaf animals, deafened in adulthood, that shows that the auditory cortex converts to process visual information http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/03/20/0809483106.abstract

    As well as one that uses deaf adults vs hearing http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11704763

    There are more. That is why AV therapy is meant to build the auditory cortex of the brain.

    1. Please contend with the fact that you are allowed to quote a source, but can ignore us when we quote that same source. Either you must retract the validity of your Marschark quote or admit to the validity of mine: "there is no documented evidence demonstrating that ASL inhibits the development of spoken English (Marschark and Hauser, 2012)(qtd in Nussbaum 2012).

      As for your sources (and your argument in general) just because some pathways that are used for conveying auditory information in hearing adults are transformed to convey visual information in deaf adults (or rats, though last time I checked rats didn't have language...) does not mean that a person cannot learn, understand and benefit from using two languages. Are you really denying the existence of a d/Deaf person who is bi or multilingual? What about CODAs or ASL interpreters who are obviously fluent in both languages? I understand that in America one might easily get the impression that being multilingual is a rare feat; you do realize that more than half the world's population is bilingual, right? (Psychology Today, 2010). You willfully misinterpret the plasticity of the brain for the purposes of your own argument, where such flexibility can be just as easily applied to examine the benefits of bilingualism and the ease with which children can acquire multiple languages. Neither of your studies refute our comment, with which you refuse to deal.
      Not to mention the fact that our original post with which you initially took issue is about literacy, not about speech and sound. A pile of lumber is not a house; speech is not language.
      How is it, do you think, you and I are arguing? Or am I not literate enough for your taste?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. How unfortunate that the blog administrator censored your comments. I sincerely appreciated the information and studies you provided.

    2. As you can see, we've left the comments in which studies and links are provided. Comments are only removed for unfounded, uncited claims and/or attacking language. (Please see our comment policy on the "About" page for further information, or let us know if you have any questions.) Thanks for reading!

  5. In response to your question: "The "How" and "Why" of an ASL/English Bimodal Bilingual Program" by Debra Nussbaum is widely available online.
    Your latest comments have been removed, due to the uncited, unfounded nature of claims made, (a violation of the code of conduct about which you were previously warned). Being as we try our best to back up our own claims with sources, we feel it necessary to delete sourceless material that may be confusing for other readers.
    Further, your decision to continually ignore the fact that a source you quote yourself contradicts your claims--language, visual or otherwise, doesn't delay language, spoken or otherwise--points to the fact that you are unwilling to engage in a dialogue. We're unsure as to why you feel entitled to unlimited space on our website to post monologues. We've kept your posts containing sources up (and will continue to do so) in the name of fostering dialogue about divergent opinions. We've given you time owed (being a private organization, we don't even owe you that, and highly doubt you'd allow a similar campaign to exist on your own website). But we have day jobs. Unfounded vies for the last word will be deleted in accordance with our policy on user-generated content. Your repeated refusal to engage with our requests to deal with cited factual information illustrates a resistance to discussion beyond gamesaying. Thus, kindly post your diatribes elsewhere in cyberspace. Best regards.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Oops, we meant to reply to your comment but accidentally hit "delete." However, we've managed to find the original text, so, for interested readers, here's Elizabeth's comment:
      "I do have a horse in this race in that my child is growing up bimodally bilingual (deaf, with CIs) and despite that early influence, is considered a gifted student.

      My child transferred from TLC to our local school this past year, and I don't teach in deaf ed, but I'm very familiar with and am watching what schools are providing and how they are serving deaf kids, obviously with TLC in particular. I'm also a Massachusetts educator in a state that far surpasses the nation in academic achievement, and I can assure you we raise the bar high when assessing results. Your contention that TLC is considered by educators here to be a dumping grounds for oral ed is far from accurate. I'm not certain where you got that idea. The school is a private institution known across the country for academics. The majority of kids in TLC's HS have for the most part been there or at other bi-bi schools throughout their lives, they are predominantly ASL-using kids, and they have many opportunities to broaden their studies by taking specialty classes as the local HS or at nearby colleges. One of the graduating seniors is the only deaf student ever to receive the Presidential Scholar -- a great honor for any student (and school). 1 male and 1 female are selected for each state each year. He's off to Princeton, one of several ivy leaguers from the school."

    2. And now, here's the reply we meant to make! :)
      As an organization we champion bimodal ASL/English education, and our example involving TLC was in no way an indictment of their program or any individual students, but rather an anecdote told to me by TLC workers meant to explain how, even at renowned programs like TLC, reading test scores (for many reasons) can sometimes look low. This was several years ago, when I was working in Boston as part of a government-funded deaf early literacy program (that has since been defunded due to federal budget cuts.)
      With that being said, Redeafined remains strong in our conviction that ASL and CIs don't have to be mutually exclusive, and that bilingual education is an effective mode of education for deaf children. We've contacted TLC to request any data that might be of use in illustrating the literacy levels of their students (MCAS stats, perhaps) and could serve as further evidence of the success of bi-bi programs for those who disagree. In the meantime, our congratulations to Princeton-bound TLC senior, and thanks very much for reading Redeafined!

  7. :) Thanks for resurrecting my comment :) I'm a proponent of bilingual ASL/English education, too! I think TLC's program, including the influence / mentoring of those bright, strong young teenagers who attend, has provided my daughter with such an amazing foundation for academic success. I do wish so much they had a bimodally bilingual program beyond the early ed years in addition to the ASL track. Try to visit if you can, it's an inspiring school with accomplished students who have proudly used ASL all their lives and I just hate to see such a fine school's good reputation tarnished.

    I really hate the cruel and inaccurate phrase "oral failure dumping grounds" in general, but even squinting hard and taking it as having some basis in fact at some schools out there, the concept doesn't apply at all to this school. Think of the TLC high school student who comes across this assessment of his school as a dumping ground for failures, or how those around him would react. It often requires a hard fight, frequently legal action, to make it possible for our deaf kids to attend such a school. Think of the new parent of a deaf child facing a legal battle to provide an academic environment including ASL, after seeing "TLC high school has come to be known by MA educators by the literal nickname of "the dumping grounds" the place where "oral failures" go to finish school", turning away from one of the finest ASL + English early ed environments I've come across in the US.

    That said, looking at some of Miss Kat's Mom's comments, acquiring ASL at an early age does not take over the auditory cortex and block the ability to learn English :) . That's not how our amazing brains work. And while I think Marschark's quote MKM posted above to be valid in that ASL fluency alone is not sufficient to provide the underpinnings for English literacy, I think it's important to note that this great researcher and expert in the field of educating deaf children -- in an interview with Hands & Voices (http://www.handsandvoices.org/articles/research/v9-2_marschark.htm) -- said this (if he had a deaf child), "So, now that I've seen the evidence, I would seriously consider a cochlear implant for my child, even if, at the same time, I would push for the acquisition of ASL as a first language and use some English-based signing as a bridge to English print." ASL as a first language.