(Re)framing the politics of educational discourse : an investigation of the Title I School Improvement Grant program of 2009
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Of the numerous public policy debates currently taking place throughout the United States, perhaps no issue receives more attention than the persistence of “chronically” low-performing public schools. As of 2009, approximately 5,000 schools—5% of the nation’s total—qualified as chronically low performing (Duncan, 2009d). Certainly, these statistics merit the attention of policy scholars, yet the political contestation of interests attempting to influence how the federal government should address such issues has reached a new fevered crescendo. Given the increased politicization of the federal government’s role in education and the growing number of interests attempting to influence the debates concerning school reform, education policy scholars have recognized the need to extend the field of policy studies by using analytical frameworks that consider both the discourse and performative dimensions of deliberative policy making. Therefore, this study addresses this particular need by employing a critical interpretive policy analysis that illustrates how both dominant discourses and the deliberative performances of the federal government shaped the policy vocabularies embedded within the Title I School Improvement Grant program of 2009 as the commonsense solutions for the nation’s chronically low-performing schools. In addition, this study provides a historical analysis, illustrating how the omnipresent threat of an economic crisis has been a primary influence in the politics of federal governance since the global economic collapse of the 1970s. This study demonstrates how over the course of the last four decades the United States has consistently reduced its commitment to the public sector, choosing instead to promote economic policies informed by the ideals of market-based liberalism. Subsequently, this study presents the argument that education, specifically the “chronic failure” of public schools, has emerged as a “primary emblematic issue” (Hajer, 1995) and now serves as an “effective metaphor for the nation’s economic crisis.” Thus, with such issues presented as a contextual backdrop, this study examines how the Obama/Duncan Administration operationalized dominant discourses and performative practices to establish consensual support for a turnaround reform agenda, effectively defining the policy solutions made available to those who participated in the revision of the Title I SIG program of 2009.