Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gently down the mainstream?

While surfing on the Net that has ushered me to this website when seeking for information about children who have gone to both mainstreaming program and deaf schools, the comments caught my eyes. These were made by deaf individuals who themselves and/or their deaf children had experienced both type of schools. Their comments were filled with frequent frustrations with a very few positive statements about mainstreaming programs. I am going to share you some stories you may be interested to hear.

Commenter #1 from Wisconsin about not getting an interpreter: My fiancee went to a mainstream school that refused to provide interpreters because they thought she wasn't "deaf enough". Then it was because they thought she couldn't sign well enough. Pure BS if you ask me. How about that! For a mainstreaming school to use this absurd reason not providing terps is lame! What is the world coming to? Commenter #2 from Ohio battling on getting an interpreter for his son in elementary program: From the very beginning, it was a constant fight to get them to keep an interpreter in class for him. The school system used the same old excuse of lack of funding, which is just a bunch of BS! The money for interpreters does not come directly from the local school system. Because it is based on federal law, the local system is reimbursed by the State Dept. of Ed. and they are reimbursed by the federal government. That is the excuse they use to try to get parents to sign off on an IEP that only provides services that are convenient for the school system.The school my son was mainstreamed and did not have a separate program for deaf. This commenter has to battle to get his son in a school for the deaf and to use LRE as an argument: He was the only deaf student in the elementary school, and it just wasn't a good situation. I finally ended up relocating so he could go to St. Rita School for the Deaf in Cincinnati as a day student. But I had to take the home school district to due process before an administrative law judge before they would agree to send him.They kept arguing that the Least Restrictive Environment was a mainstream school. I argued that it was most restrictive, because he could not communicate effectively with his teachers or the other students. If his interpreter was sick and didn't show up, he lost a day of classroom instruction. Fortunately, the law judge saw it my way, and ordered the school system to pay his tuition to the deaf school. Quality of education in mainstreaming vs. deaf schools: I have heard all of the old arguments that students in deaf schools do not receive as good an education as students in mainstream schools for years. I personally don't buy it. I sat in on classes before my son was enrolled, and the material was equal to the material being taught in hearing schools. Identity issues: School is about more than just sitting in a classroom and studying from a book. It is about interacting with peers, and learning to form relationships. It's about socialization. It's about discovering your identity. In a mainstream school, that was impossible for my son. He couldn't interact because he couldn't communicate in a natural way with the hearing students. His identity would have always been "That deaf kid." At St. Rita, he wasn't "that deaf kid". He was just P.J. He wasn't defined by his deafness. Differences between mainstream teachers and deaf school teachers: My son originally thought that the teachers in deaf school were meaner, too. But that wasn't it. The mainstream teachers just didn't expect much from him because he was deaf. At the deaf school, teachers said, "You can too do it. Don't try that, "I'm deaf" stuff here! We're deaf, too. Might work on your hearing teachers, but not here!" They expected his best, and he had to give his best. And that's a good thing. Commenter #2 fought her reason to have her son placed in a school for the deaf using this excellent point when combating the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) issue. This parent learned how wrong she was to send her son to mainstreaming program then fought to transfer him to the school for the deaf. Commenter #3 (unknown location): According to my hearing school experience,it was not that great but I had a good time learning from my neighbor friends more than from hearing school itself ! I had no real identity there. People usually asked me how did I have no fear at the front audience. They were very surprised that I had all the confidence without any fear at the front audience learning from my former Deaf school !! Many thanks to my Deaf school where they encouraged me to join and travel with them going to civic clubs and spoke with these people in a private roomfull of philanthropists & donors smoking cigars.I mean my Deaf school already knew my strengthness and weaknesses so I was able to contribute one of my best strengths. So this deaf school experience allowed her self-esteem to boost. Deaf students gain more confidence in enriched ASL environment where they are able to get feedback on their public speaking skills. Here is my outline of myths and misconceptions of mainstreaming programs and deaf schools but there is a lot more to it. Perhaps you can help fill in the blanks based on your experience by commenting below and I can re-post this outline that we may use this information to share with lawmakers in our states. This is a framework in progress :-) I. Interpreters A. Qualifications 1. Most terps are not certified; reception skills tend not to be sufficient ( oftenly asking to repeat fingerspelling ) 2. Oftenly students' messages are not relayed accurately B. Not-so-perfect attendance; short-term subs are usually unavailable 1. Missing out invaluable instructional time C. Lack of funding by the district (may defend for not funding due to labeling students "not deaf enough") 1. An example of cuts made from Elgin School District U46's decision to end its contract for hearing-impaired services through Northwestern Illinois Association II. Solitaire Experience A. Isolation 1. Feeling inferior and alone 2. No opportunity for authentic social growth B. No sense of identity/belonging with similar peers 1. May be a part of a small group or hook up with several hearing friends but thorough, meaningful conversation is least likely C. No dialogue in sign language with peers III. Myths and Stigma of Deaf Schools A. Myth: The academic quality at a school for the deaf is perceived as unequal to hearing schools FACTS: 1. Most schools for the deaf have teachers who specialize in deaf education have the background to teach with more impact. 2. Most schools for the deaf are obliged to follow the state standards and to prep the students for assessments. 3. Most mainstreamed teachers have lower expectations for deaf students especially to those who are not capable of hearing or not fluent in English. B. Myth: ASL will throw off a balance when learning English and speech FACTS: 1. Research has shown the greater benefits using ASL as an instructional tool to bridge English 2. Students graduating from mainstreaming schools not receiving bi-bi instruction still have an average of 4th grade reading level 3. The more a deaf student comprehend ASL/English languages, the more likely that speech will be intelligible. This outline is based on samples of experiences from deaf individuals who have gone to both types of educational programs. While researching, I have found a relatively few number of deaf students advocating for mainstreaming programs but overwhelming opponents of mainstreaming programs. Why is it that the numbers continue to rise in "alone-in-the-mainstreaming" programs? Why is it that they are not exposed to sign language and culture at an earlier age? Is it because of parents' ignorance that they are misled by so-called medical experts chuting deaf children to pathological path? Have we, the deaf, done enough to reach out and touch parents the first in line when they discovered that their child is deaf? Based on my observation, if there were a class of deaf students at the same age functioning at a similar level in a mainstreaming program with qualified educational interpreters and deaf role models, they would have better support to succeed academically and socially. Alone in the mainstream remains a big question whether or not LRE is best suited a deaf child. Research shows that students learn better when they have full of communication access in the classroom where information is shared, discussions take place and opportunities to debate the topics are available. When reading the article, " Living successful lives" written by Amy Rigard from The Beaufort Gazette, Beaufort, South Carolina, on Sunday, January 14, 2007, several parents made comments on how they have seen their deaf children blossomed when placing them in a school for the deaf. No deaf child should be left behind! Note: Most of the research information came from Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.


Carl Schroeder said...

Having worked with both the Fairfax County Public Schools and the Hawaii Department of Education in the past, I discovered that there is no one with proper credentials to supervise educational interpreters. No evaluation, too. Being certified is sufficient.

Rachel in NM said...

Hi, Barb! This is a fascinating subject, and one that continues to boggle my mind. I think you hit the nail on the head -- hearing parents aren't getting enough information from people who know what it's like to grow up deaf.

It's interesting that here in NM, our enrollment is skyrocketing, partly due to a number of mainstreaming programs shutting down.

And the "academic standards" excuse for supporting mainstreaming is nonsense. I'm teaching Pre-Calculus this year, and in two years may very well be teaching Calculus! And many of my most struggling students were mainstreamed until at least middle school, sometimes early high school.

Most of the kids who aren't held to grade-level standards (in everything except English, at least) generally have "something else" going on besides being deaf. And even those students, we challenge and push to improve and make progress.

My pet peeve right now: so often hearing people say, "So-and-so is doing so well, s/he is on grade level in everything. Maybe this (school for the deaf) isn't the right placement for him/her." *sigh*

Anonymous said...


Speaking of Fairfax County Public School. You may want to check the one: Mantua Elementary School http://www.fcps.edu/MantuaES/aboutus.html


Barb DiGi said...


Thanks for sharing about what is happening in NM..I wonder what is causing the cut in mainstreaming programs other than funding? Are there any results shown to prove that mainstreaming programs are not that effective?

I share the same observation like you about the trend when mainstreamed students transfer to the school for the deaf where I teach, they are found to be severely behind that we have to fill in the gaps. It is so frustrating and that has to be stopped. Students who grow up in a school for the deaf are better off in my opinion since they have better disciplined study habits and content knowledge. I am ready to challenge this issue but cannot do it alone. It is really awesome to have this dialogue among teachers working with deaf students and that is something we are lacking.


As for some districts requiring certified educational interpreters, it is still considered far off more advanced than most of the states not requiring one. Like you said, just because they are certified should not be sufficient as there should be an ongoing evaluation.

Jamie said...

Good article. Here is a link to that article from the Beaufort Gazette that you mentioned: http://www.beaufortgazette.com/features/lifetimes/story/6323328p-5512371c.html

Barb DiGi said...

Thanks Jamie! I was looking for that link when checking on Deaftimes.com and it did not offer a link on their webpage. You are awesome!

Jules said...

I guess I am an exception. I attended mainstreamed programs as long as I could remember. I couldn't describe how it was difficult for me especially with deaf fellow students. I was way ahead in learning and that put me in trouble with deaf students. Gum in hair, two broken toes, black eyes, even my hamster killed by the deaf students when I bought her to school. When I moved to NJ, I attended Lake Drive school for deaf. The teachers found that I was too advanced for even the highest grade. I ended up attending the hearing middle school nearby with an interpreter. I skipped a grade to go to high school. I observed that the deaf students would stay in one classroom with the teacher while I went to various classrooms with my interpreters. I was involved in three clubs; Debate club, Future Teachers and Drama Club. I wasn't isolated, I had many hearing and deaf friends. Now before anyone think "oh she is an oralist then!" I assure you, I am not an oralist, I cannot even speak very well. I rely on ASL and PSE for communication.

I think people need to think about whether there is a passion for learing on the student's side, family's determination to see the child succeed and the teachers working with the student and the family. Do not blame it on education alone. Only when the family, student and teachers work together could there be success.
I know many friends who graduated from mainstreamed schools and are certainly not at the 4th grade reading level. On the other hand, there were many deaf students that should be put in the schools for deaf. They would have been more successful there in education.
I am surprised that there aren't much people speaking up about pros of mainstreaming programs for SOME deaf students.

Barb DiGi said...

Hi Jules,

I am glad that you found a positive experience in the mainstream. I do believe the best of the both worlds. It all depends on time, place and quality of education and individual's needs. I have seen deaf students taking AP English in schools for the deaf (like mine where I work in Rochester)whereas other schools for the deaf don't offer such programs. It goes the same for mainstreaming programs.

Yes, I cannot not disagree with you more that it is not entirely based on education to make it successful for deaf students to achieve at an academic level. As long as there is a strong support system and communication base, one will thrive like you had.

I grew up being a solitaire but I had the support of my family and friends outside the school. I socialized and participated in Jr. Nad at a deaf school nearby my home for four years. But in the school where I went, I had a few friends since the environment was rather not-so-friendly. During my teen years, I developed a better relationship with other hearing peers that I had met when moving to a temporary place and going on a trip on a Close-Up program. If I went to school with them, maybe my experience will be much more positive.

As for the fourth grade reading level that you claimed the most had, this is the reason why mainstreaming schools need to be reassessed and look at the possibility to shift instructional method using bilingual-bicultural program. It will allow infants and preschoolers develop a strong language base, ASL, that is, and learn English as a second language. There are some research showing the effectivness of this method and Gallaudet provided such workshop on this practice.

But again there is no size for all as every deaf child should be perceived individually.

Jules said...

:) Re-read my sentence. "I know many friends who graduated from mainstreamed schools and certainly not at the 4th grade reading level." I think you didn't see the word "not". But that's all right. :)

Barb DiGi said...

Jules, my gosh, yes, I was reading quickly overlooking the "not". The reason I concluded about mainstreamed students having low achievement level was when you mentioned that "there were many deaf students that should be put in the schools for deaf. They would have been more successful there in education." So this statement led me to think that there were more deaf mainstreamed students struggling than "your friends".

However, I am trying to find the statistic of the average reading level of deaf mainstreamed students. If you or anybody happen to know about this information, please do share. Thanks.

Angie said...

Hi Barb,

Thank you so much for the comments you have posted to my blog and in return inviting me into the discussions here at your blog. I find what you are doing to be incredibly important and helpful. To bring deaf and hearing together for a better understanding is so important, and as I've said before there is no better teacher about the deaf than someone who is deaf.

Regarding this discussion, the education of my 5th grade deaf son being on the forefront of my mind, it is incredibly useful for me to have the perspective of deaf adults and what their educational experience has been. Bridging this gap between hearing parents with deaf children and the deaf community is a wonderful idea and something that I feel would help parents make more educated decisions about their children.

For the time being I am leaving my son in a mainstream/no deaf children public school. I agree, this is not the LRE, I told the team that. LRE would include both ASL students and oral students - it's so frustrating they don't see it this way. That said, I can say the group of people I have to consult with during IEP meetings care deeply about my son and understand my feelings. It's just for us at the moment he's getting the best "book" education where he is. I'm going to tackle the social element on my own after school, on weekends, however I can bring him together with other deaf peers I'm going to do so. Then when the subject of a school change comes up again (middle school) we (my son and I) can together make a decision that he wants.

Anonymous said...

At a year old, I had my 17 year old son in the Deaf school near my home. He received an excellent education, learned of his identity, built a strong self-esteem, and we all became immersed in the Deaf community through Bi-Bi. Everyone projected he would be a leader in his community.

At the middle school level, he became bored and unchallenged. We all agreed that mainstreaming would be the next step. The Deaf school in my area worked with an adjacent school district providing him with mainstream classes and a variety of interpreters and counselors, plus the added bonus of allowing him to have his deaf peers to interact with during the school day.

He is currently a junior and attending AP and college credit courses with the sole intent of going to Rochester. Why? Even though he seemed to have the best of both worlds, the community is so limited to the amount and age of deaf friends to choose, he cannot wait to be part of a larger community like his hearing peers. He is popular and socially active with his deaf friends, but has no hearing friends. I sometimes wonder if putting him in such a safe, secure environment hindered his ability to comfortably interact with his hearing peers. His confidence and self-esteem has now seemed to be eroded since attending mainstream that, like him, I cannot wait till he starts his next level of education so he can be with his community.

I worry that once that is over and enters "the real world" (I know this will insult some) whether his real Deaf self will take over (strong self-esteem and confidence) and he can handle it and be able to compete with hearing peers in obtaining jobs, etc.

Any feedback would help!