Amplifying Faculty Voices on the Field of Developmental Education: A Critical Examination of Practitioner Discourse




McGee, Barrie E.

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Terminology and language use related to the field of developmental education (DE) has long been discussed by scholars and practitioners to determine the most appropriate forms to use (i.e., developmental vs remedial) to reflect our purposes, our work, and our students (Arendale, 2005; Arendale, et al., 2007; Paulson & Armstrong, 2010; Nist, 1984; Rubin, 1991). Some within the field of DE and related fields, particularly those who identify with DE, seek to articulate our mission in terms that underscore our efforts towards holistic student success in postsecondary settings, especially for those who arrive under- or mis-prepared for college study (Boylan & Bonham, 2014; Boylan & White, 2014; Casazza, 1999). However, the dominant discourse surrounding DE originates from research and policy groups such as the Community College Research Center (CCRC), MDRC, and Jobs for the Future (JFF) which promote a narrative of failure based upon studies that highlight statistics of low graduation rates and high withdrawal rates (Mangan, 2015). The power of this narrative has had material affect as seen in education policies across the U.S. which have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated DE courses. More significantly, however, is that the voices of faculty who teach developmental literacy courses—those tasked with adhering to the roll-out and implementing the prescribed changes—and are the experts on topics of reading curriculum and instruction—are difficult to hear in national- and state-level conversations. Indeed, it is challenging to locate authorial voices from experts whose work is or is related to practice within the studies and reports that policy groups and research entities draw on to craft the dominant narrative of the field. This study, therefore, sought to amplify the voices of instructors of developmental literacy in order that they, too, can be heard in conversations about the essential work these educators perform. Additionally, the purpose of this study was to critically examine instructors’ language choices to articulate their conceptualize of the field of DE, descriptions of their work, and their self-constructed professional identity to make sense of their professional work and world through an analytic framework based on Fairclough’s (2015) approach to CDA an Freire’s (1973) call for laborers to exercise their power and agency to describe their work and world. The major findings from the study showed that the participants did not professionally identify with their field of practice, the field of DE, or any other professional field or discipline, but rather connected to their community of practice as instructors. Also, the findings showed that the participants represented themselves with authority but had limited evidence of agency. Finally, the participants were shown to have a strong sense of professionalism as seen in their engagement with professional organizations at the local, state, and national level, but with no connection to their field or the field of DE. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.



field of developmental education, critical discourse, narrative, self-representation, faculty


McGee, B. E. (2023). Amplifying faculty voices on the field of developmental education: A critical examination of practitioner discourse (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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