Deaf Education Has a Long Way to Go

The U.S. Department of Education spends quite a lot of money every year for a variety of reasons. One good reason is to determine whether the money being spent on educational programs is money well-spent.

Is it helpful? Is it effective? Getting answers to these questions isn’t cheap either, but it’s better than throwing program money down an abyss.

Nine years ago, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education began to track what happens to graduates of certain student groups four years after they graduate from high school. One of the groups included in the study were deaf students.

The point of the study was to measure the impact of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The information for this part of the study was collected in 2005, then studied and sorted and presented in late summer 2006.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 looks at employment, wages, post-secondary education and the achievement of independent living. Large quality studies like this one are expensive, so these answers are both uncommon and valuable.

They also serve as a useful baseline for future studies that can evaluate the impact of new communication technologies like pagers and videophones on employment.

Keep in mind that no study is perfect. But the people who conduct studies understand this and take that fact into account by including a margin of error in their numbers. This provides a rough guide to how confident the study authors are about the results.

So – how many deaf high school students go on to get more education? The survey says slightly under 51%, with a 5.8% margin of error (MOE). Of that half, 21% will attend a 4-year college, 26% will go to a 2-year college, and 13% will attend vocational-technical training.

Among all the students surveyed – those who earn a degree and those who don’t – 56% found jobs. Their average hourly wage was $7.70.

Four years after (high school) graduation, just 29% are living independently.

It’s not clear from the publicly available study data whether the deaf students surveyed attended mainstream high schools, state deaf schools, or both.

What is clear is that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

There are many factors that affect deaf student’s academic development – the communication environment at home, the quality of school they attend, the level of services available – such as interpreters – at mainstream programs, the abilities and motivation of the student, the abilities and motivation of the teachers, coordination between teachers and parents, the disciplinary environment, simple physical safety and much more.

We can boil down outcomes to a few numbers, but it’s a lot tougher to sort out which variables influence that outcome most. That’s why studies like this are needed – we at least get a feel for what’s happening, and then we can take a harder look at why.

An average wage of $7.70 an hour makes the other low number – 29% living independently – easier to understand. This is a reasonable wage for a teenager living at home, but it’s not a living wage for adults with student loans and other obligations.

By any measure, an educational system where 71% of the graduates cannot live on their own is not working. This study clarifies just how much more work there is to do. It’s a steep, tough climb ahead, and it will require a mix of incremental improvements on current practices and innovative approaches.

There’s no question that parents have a huge influence. Whether they are apathetic or activist, parental involvement affects a child’s educational and personal development as much or more than anything schools can do.

We all have to work together to improve these numbers. Buried in the statistics are lives that never reach their full potential – and it’s up to us to change that.


Summary table of employment status, wages earned, and living arrangements of special education students

National Longitudinal Transition Study II

National Center for Special Education Research

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