Federal Legislation and Teacher Behavior

American Annals of the Deaf, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Federal Legislation and Teacher Behavior


We are all aware of the growing impact of federal legislation on education in general and the education of deaf children and adults in particular. In fact, in our field, the first congressional action related to education was an 1817 land grant of what is now Mobile, Alabama, to the American Asylum (now the American School) for the Deaf at Hartford, Connecticut. The sale of the land provided financial stability for the school. During the Civil War, in 1864, Congress established a college for deaf students (now Gallaudet University) in Washington, DC. In the past 40 years, Congress has established the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology and has supported the establishment of programs for deaf students within existing institutions of higher learning such as the California State University, Northridge, the University of Tennessee, and St. Paul Vocational Technical Institute. Much of this support has been incorporated into the Education of the Deaf Act.

Special education legislation also has influenced the education of deaf children since the passage of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Act of 1975, which has evolved into the present Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Mandates for provision of services in the least restrictive environment, for a free appropriate public education, for individual and family plans, and for systematic testing have challenged educators of deaf children to develop reasonable definitions of such ambiguous terms as "least restrictive environment" and "appropriate public education." Even after intense efforts to resolve honest differences of opinion, accompanied by substantial litigation, the issues have not been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Looking past the legislation dealing with special education and education of deaf children and adults, I want to address the impact of federal attention to general education on the ways in which we are and will be teaching deaf children. With the impetus to incorporate our field into general education, along with IDEA mandates for all children to have access to the general curriculum, we are at a unique juncture in which the federal government is taking over responsibilities traditionally left to the states. Chief among the federal requirements will be more rigorous academic content, parent choice, systematic testing, and better-qualified teachers and other staff. There already has been extensive discussion of High Stakes Testing and the potential impact on high school graduation rates, and subsequent acceptance into college, of deaf students. The most important and most ambitious legislation to date is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. To me the Act, and related earlier legislation, represents some very basic realities. First, NCLB and other general education legislation essentially ignore special education and education of deaf children, an ironic situation in view of the goal of no child left behind. Second, the legislation has an enormous effect on education of deaf children, even if they are not mentioned. Third, from my observations, classroom teachers of deaf children already have adjusted their instruction to meet the new demands.

The first reality is that the legislation essentially ignores special education and deaf children, a startling fact since five to six million school age children are identified as disabled. According to a September 2002 NCLB Desktop Reference, the law has ten titles:

1. Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged

2. Preparing, Training and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals

3. Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students

4. 21st Century Schools

5. Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs

6. Flexibility and Accountability

7. Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education

8. …

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