Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from Marie B., Pittsburgh, PA

I have heard that deaf kids in the mainstream perform better academically than kids in deaf schools. Why is that?

Question from Marie B., Pittsburgh, PA. Posted May 12, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark

To the extent that it is true, any advantage for deaf children in general education classrooms over separate classrooms is likely due to the children themselves, not the schools. That is, deaf children enrolled in mainstream programs often have more hearing and speech, are less likely to have other challenges or disabilities, and come from families with higher socioeconomic status. For these reasons, they may enter school with fewer developmental lags and have fewer hurdles in school.

The kind of school program in which a deaf child is enrolled actually has very little relationship to their academic achievement (explaining only about 1-5% of differences). Unfortunately, we have not yet identified very many predictors of academic performance beyond noting that better language skills (speech and/or sign), more parent involvement, and early intervention programming all lead to better outcomes. Degree of hearing loss per se is not to be a very good or very consistent predictor, so the fact that children in schools for the deaf tend to have greater hearing losses than those in mainstream programs is likely irrelevant. More importantly, teachers and such programs have a better understanding of deaf children’s strengths and needs, and thus might be better able to provide them with appropriate instruction.

In the United States, however, there is a “Catch-22″ in that most mainstream teachers know little if anything about educating deaf children, while teachers in schools for the deaf frequently are not trained in the content areas they teach. This situation is changing, and itinerant teachers of the deaf in several countries appear to be helpful in supporting deaf children’s learning (although research evidence does not seem to be available), and more school systems are requiring teachers and special settings as well as regular school settings to be appropriately certified.

For details, see Stinson, M.S. & Kluwin, T.N. (2003).  Educational consequences of alternative school placements. In M. Marschark & P.E. Spencer (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of deaf studies, language, and education (pp. 52-64). New York: Oxford University Press.