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Special Education in the 21st Century: Chapter Eleven

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The spirit of optimism was short-lived. In 1965, the Report to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, of the Advisory Committee on Education of the Deaf asserted, “The American people have no reason to be satisfied with their limited success in educating deaf children and preparing them for full participation in our society” and characterized the state of education of the Deaf as unsatisfactory (Advisory Committee, 1965, xv).

At the same time, data began to be reported on the relative ineffectiveness of oral preschool programs. In six schools, Phillips (1963) found no differences in English, math, and socialization measures between Deaf children up to age nine who had preschool training and Deaf children of the same age who did not have preschool training. Similarly, drawing from subjects in two schools, Craig (1964) found no differences in speechreading or reading skills between children with preschool experiences and those with no preschool experiences. McCroskey (1967) compared children who had gone through a home-centered preschool program to children with no preschool experience and reported that the few differences found tended to favor the children with no preschool experience. Vernon and Koh (1970) matched students at a residential school for the deaf who had attended the three-year John Tracy Clinic (a preschool program) to students at the school who did not have preschool experiences. They found no differences in speech, speechreading, academic achievement, or reading. A third group, consisting of Deaf children of Deaf parents, was found to be superior to the other two groups in academic achievement and reading, with no differences in speech and speechreading.

The findings reported by Vernon and Koh on the relatively superiority of Deaf children of Deaf parents was similar to previous reports by Meadow (1967) and by Stuckless and Birch (1966) indicating that Deaf children of Deaf parents, who were introduced to sign communication at birth, scored higher than Deaf children of hearing parents in English skills, academic achievement, reading, writing, and social maturity. Educators of Deaf children, then, were confronted with two unexpected findings. First, the effects of oral-only preschool programs appeared, at best, to be negligible. Second, children who signed at home had superior English and academic skills to matched groups of children who did not sign at home, and those who signed at home showed no negative effects on speech or speech reading. These findings came as a shock to those educators who believed that signs were detrimental to the acquisition of speech, English, and academic content.

Concurrent with the findings on oral-only education and the achievements of Deaf children of Deaf parents, several educators were developing sign systems representing English to be used in the classroom. Unlike ASL, which is a separate language, these systems were designed as codes on English. Drawing heavily on ASL vocabulary, the systems use English word order and add invented signs for bound morphemes (such as -s, -ed, -ly, -ment), some function words, pronouns, and forms of the verb to be. Currently, the most commonly used codes on English are Signing Exact English (Gustason, Pfesting, and Zalokow 1972) and Signed English (Bornstein 1972, 1982).

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