Critical Analysis of “At-Risk” Policy Discourse: Implications for Administrators and Teachers
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While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provides a mechanism for holding states, local education agencies (LEA), and schools accountable to improve academic achievement for all students, policy itself has done little to include students from dropping out of school. Rather, dropout prevention/recovery schools/programs such as alternative schools of choice are recognized and relied upon as a means to reduce the number of students dropping out of school. These schools seek to re-engage the student who is at-risk to dropping out of school through nontraditional means and strategies. As more and more students become disenfranchised and drop out of school, these schools grow in importance. To ensure that all students have equity in education, regardless of educational setting, these schools warrant further attention and consideration. Therefore, two questions become evident: (a) How do educators in alternative schools interpret and implement policy such as NCLB? and (b) How do they define their role and responsibility? This case study examined the socio-legal discourse applied when seven administrators and 15 teachers administered policy as a response to an at-risk student population in five demographically diverse alternative education settings in California and Texas. A critical discourse analysis of text, interviews, and observations was used to reveal administrator and teacher assumptions and motivations of policy and risk. The data analysis revealed three dominant discourses of risk compliance and policy knowledge that were notable forces in the policy implementation of NCLB at these schools. Themes that emerged from the data included responsibility, dissociation, success, and equity. The findings from this study have demonstrated that a moment-by-moment process shapes the construction of role, responsibility, success, and equity as defined by the teachers and administrators. Furthermore, the discourse of risk and policy converged as ideological and political conceptions that perpetuate the notion that educating disadvantaged children as a process of demonstrating a particular level of knowledge and/or acquitting what it means to be considered at-risk. The implication for these educators is that the risk discourse that was engaged influenced their sense of responsibility, practice, and thus may counter policy intent.
Hemmer, Lynn (2009). Critical Analysis of “At-Risk” Policy Discourse: Implications for Administrators and Teachers. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from