Hemmer, Lynn (2009-08). Critical Analysis of "At-Risk" Policy Discourse: Implications for Administrators and Teachers. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • 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.

ETD Chair

publication date

  • August 2009