Issues in Education of Blind and Low-Vision Students: An Update

by Bashir Masoodi

There has been a great response to my article "Issues in Education of Blind and Low-Vision Students" (September 2011). We have answered most of the individual comments and communications directly. However, there were many questions and comments that need a longer response.
Even though 10 to 20 percent of all school-age visually impaired pupils are educated in residential settings, this option is vital. Historically, almost all blind students were educated in this setting. Placement in a residential school for the blind has a highly beneficial effect on many students' growth and achievement. We should not lose this educational option for blind and low-vision students who need it because of family situation, lack of local resources or because of individual academic, intellectual, vocational, or career needs. Yes, it is true that the cost of educating students in a residential setting is 5 to 7 times higher than if the same student attends a neighborhood public or charter school. Some states, especially in New England and the Rocky Mountain region, have arrangements with nearby states that operate residential schools on a tuition basis.
As for low student scores on statewide or federal achievement or assessment tests, most special-education students do not do well on them. Blind and visually impaired students' scores on such tests are usually higher than those of students in other disability categories. Residential schools are in the best position to adopt creative curricula, including many of the ideas from the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and other high-achieving charter school programs, a longer instructional day and year, and take other steps that will enhance student performance.
The very recent steps by Congress and the President to amend "No Child Left Behind" will eliminate the requirement of adequate yearly progress (AYP), federal requirements for teachers and principal assessments and highly qualified teacher categories and other cumbersome rules and regulations. There will be more concentration the on 5 to 10 percent of schools that are the lowest achieving, and more charter schools and tracking systems. This should take some of the pressure off the traditional schools.
In traditional public schools, the itinerant/consultant model is the only service delivery method in most cases. Today 80 to 90 percent of all school-age blind and visually impaired students attend traditional public or other day schools. This model is promoted by the public school authorities, university programs preparing teachers, and some professional organizations, including the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI), which even has a division for itinerant services. This model discriminates against blind and visually impaired individuals who wish to enter the teaching field. Many teachers spend more time on the road traveling from school to school than providing direct instruction to the learners. Often they are not in the building when they are needed.
Some public schools do provide paraprofessional or personal aides for students with very low or no vision. Often these personal aides become the sole experts on educating blind children, even though most of them are very limited in knowledge or training in the field, when a trained teacher or professional is not available on the spot most of the time.
As in the case of states participating to provide education in residential settings in the traditional public and day schools, various districts and entities could have agreements with each other to provide educational and related special-education services under more than just the itinerant delivery model. They could have resource, part-time, full-time, and several other delivery models to address the individual needs of each student and their families.