Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Deron R. Boyles, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Philo A. Hutcheson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Michael L. Bruner, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Tomasz M. Tabako, Ph.D.


Contemporary federal education policy discourse from A Nation at Risk to the Race to the Top program has promoted and extended neoliberal discourse from the national level to the level of the school and its personnel. This study highlights the persistence of neoliberal discourse within federal education policy and the consequences this persistence holds for critiques of current policies and practices. Analyzing reports published by the United States Department of Education and contemporary United States education policy starting from A Nation at Risk, moving through America 2000, Goals 2000, and No Child Left Behind, and ending with the Race to the Top program, I use rhetorical tropes to provide a method of analysis for education policy. Due to the novelty of this project for the field of education policy studies, I bring in concepts from rhetorical studies and discourse analysis to produce an interdisciplinary approach to policy analysis that fills a particular gap in existing analyses. At present, there exists no framework within the traditional analyses of education policy that offers a theoretical account of how a discourse maintains and propagates itself through policy. This dissertation offers a new method of policy analysis that examines how a discourse stabilizes and perpetuates itself through education policy. Specifically, an analysis of these policies and reports demonstrates how neoliberal discourse uses the tropes of metaphor, where two objects are identified with one another, and synecdoche, where the part is made to represent the whole and vice-versa, to ground and naturalize its growing presence in education policy and practice.

Through the tropological analysis of the above cited texts, the co-operation of metaphor and synecdoche, what I term “organic identification,” accounts for the persistence of neoliberal discourse through its identification and integration with federal education policy discourse specifically through the constitution of places, e.g., the nation and the school. The conclusion suggests the critical potential for considering the role of tropes in the discursive constitution of place by mapping the persistence of a discourse and providing a critical distance from which contradictions and alternative trajectories can be forwarded.