Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Urban Education

Advisor

David Connor

Committee Members

Wendy Luttrell

Michelle Fine

Subject Categories

Disability and Equity in Education | Special Education and Teaching

Keywords

Students with disabilities, Teach For America, corporate education reform, discourse, dispositive analysis

Abstract

Today’s education reform movement is funded heavily by a network of wealthy elite that often prize neoliberal and free-market interests. Within this network, Teach for America (TFA) is at the nexus of overlapping interests in an educational marketplace where corporate values become the norm for defining both progress and success. Students labeled as disabled and placed in special education have generally not been well-served by neoliberal, free-market reforms yet TFA overwhelmingly places corps members in urban special education classrooms. Because TFA has a large network of alumni that go on to lead schools, educational organizations and influence policy, this study is interested in the flow of knowledge between macro-level neoliberal education organizations and the micro-level discursive strategies of special education corps.

In order to track the flow and change of knowledge through institutions (like TFA) and actors (like Special Education Corps Members) into new spaces (like special education classrooms and education policies, this study used Dispositive Analysis (a strand of Critical Discourse Analysis), to ask the following:

1) What corporate discourses and discourses of disability do Teach for America Special Education Corps Members draw on to talk about their experience as corps members, their students and classroom practice?

2) What corporate discourses and discourses of disability do Teach for America Special Education Corps Members draw on in their classroom practices?

3) How do these discursive strategies materialize and enable circuits that dispossess, cultivate or preserve equitable educational resources for students labeled as disabled?

After identifying the structures of corporate discourses and discourses of disability common to special education corps members’ discursive strategies, a detailed analysis examines how these discursive strategies materialize in ways that enable circuits that dispossess, cultivate or preserve equitable educational resources for students labeled as disabled. In addition to identifying these circuits, the findings of this study suggest a relationship between membership and agency, distance and adoption, and a protection of elite exceptionalism that inform the recommendations for future research, policy and practice.

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