Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2017


The purpose of this study is to examine the dominant ideology/discourse of educational reform through a critical discourse analysis of federal education reform documents with the goal of defining the discourse that naturalizes the exclusion of students of color and working class students from educational opportunity. The focus of the research is modern educational reform (1983 – present), which began with A Nation at Risk, the Reagan-era report within which the fear and blame aspects of modern reform discourse are created. Also within A Nation at Risk can be seen the advent of standardized testing discourse as we know it today.

First, I clarify the political and discursive context of A Nation at Risk by examining four major Ronald Reagan speeches, and I identify the IDFs common to all four speeches to define the discourse of Reaganism as a whole. Then, I perform a CDA of the Nation at Risk report to determine how the report functions within the larger political agenda and discursive style of the Reagan administration. I thus define the IDFs of reform discourse as created by A Nation at Risk. I then trace the discourse created by A Nation at Risk through all federal educational reform legislation from 1983 to present. Most federal educational reform legislation takes the form of reauthorizations of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the most recent of which is the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2016. Each reauthorization increasingly illustrates the tenacity of the discourse created by A Nation at Risk and demonstrates that the 1983 report shifted the focus of ESEA from the creation of equity in public schooling to an openly oppressive political agenda aimed at othering and excluding the very demographics that ESEA was designed to protect.

Finally, I explore the implications of the study. I comment on how knowledge of the IDFs of reform discourse can inform the creation of a critical counter-discourse that can explicitly challenge the oppressive function of schooling. I also place reform discourse in the context of the modern crisis of mass incarceration, which began in the Reagan era, and comment on the connection between those two phenomena.

Document Type




Degree Name

Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Ricky Lee Allen

Second Committee Member

Dr. Ruth Trinidad Galvan

Third Committee Member

Dr. David Weiss

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Tyson Marsh