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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Partners in Education: Issues and Trends from the 21st International Congress on the Education of the Deaf
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In the 1960s and 1970s, the first linguistic analyses of American Sign Language and the signed languages of other countries were published. This research, coupled with the growing recognition of cultural and linguistic minority groups in the United States during the 1960s, brought on the Total Communication movement of the 1970s and the bilingual education (ASL and English) movement of the 1990s. Most center schools today emphasize early language acquisition through their infant and toddler programs, and this remains the single most critical factor for predicting student achievement. Students who use digital hearing aids or cochlear implants have now become commonplace at center schools.

Beginning in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement in the United States, educational opportunities and, consequently, professional opportunities opened up for deaf professionals. It is a little-known fact that, even at Gallaudet University, deaf students were not allowed into its graduate school, and there were few opportunities elsewhere. Federal legislation such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 began to level the playing field, and it was not long before Deaf professionals began to move into positions of authority in center schools and elsewhere. The Deaf President Now (DPN) movement in 1988 resulted in the first deaf president at Gallaudet University. Today, the three past presidents of Gallaudet University have been deaf, and deaf educators play leading roles in other leading postsecondary institutions such as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and California State University at Northridge. The DPN movement also paved the way for a growing number of deaf and hard of hearing superintendents of center schools.

With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, student achievement data of all deaf and hard of hearing students in all educational settings have slowly begun to emerge as the leading indicator of their “student success.” As of 1960 deaf education was essentially a separate entity. The curriculum (especially through the elementary school years) primarily addressed the development of speech and English skills, and relatively little attention was paid to content areas such as math, science, and social studies. This began to change with the passage of PL 94-142 and the reauthorization of IDEA in 1997, when access to the general curriculum was mandated for all children with disabilities. Today, many deaf and hard of hearing students are outperforming their hearing counterparts in statewide assessment tests. Furthermore, graduates of center schools successfully move on to colleges and universities, technical schools, or the world of work.

Today, center schools provide a language-rich environment where deaf students are sociocommunal members of their language community and learn directly from their teachers and their peers. Students are also afforded opportunities for full participation in student government, journalism, athletics, theater, and other artistic or recreational pursuits.

More and more schools now provide outreach services, as well as technical assistance to outside organizations and agencies. They are an integral part of the state delivery system from birth through adulthood. This includes state and local agencies and relationships with public schools. As a statewide resource, schools contribute to the well-being of deaf individuals not only at their campus but also statewide. Some schools provide speech and hearing testing and academic, psychological, and neuropsychological evaluations.

Center schools have utilized cutting-edge visual technologies such as closed captioning, videophones, pagers (cell phones), interactive white boards, and visual paging systems that are not often found in neighborhood schools. These visual technologies greatly enhance learning for deaf and hard of hearing students, as well as for hearing students everywhere.

In spite of the current, oppressive special education laws, many American center schools by and large continue to thrive. Perhaps American novelist and educator George Dennison said it best: “We might stop thinking of school as a place and begin to believe it is basically relationships.” Center schools continue to be places where students learn to forge relationships with their teachers and peers. They then utilize their skills to develop new relationships in different communities: their neighborhood, workplace, marketplace, and cyberspace.

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