Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Janet Johnson


The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the discourse of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) working in Rhode Island public schools under restrictive policy. The research questions were partly informed from a 2015 pilot study surrounding comments about a state education rule that SLPs named the nine-year rule.

In that 2015 survey, many SLPs working in RI public schools had negatively charged comments about that rule because it required SLPs to terminate speech services for students with only speech sound disorders at the age of nine. Because of the risks associated for these students, this study was value mediated. Using a critical stance, I discovered three broad themes: systems, complications and dilemmas, that shaped their identity and agency.

The systems were rooted in politics, economics, and culture stimulated by a neoliberal agenda of accountability, cost reduction, and productivity in school reform (Lipman, 2005). In the findings, the systems inadvertently deepened the complications that created ethical and professional dilemmas. An examination of SLPs’ social and linguistic practices show how they positioned themselves in navigating the dilemmas. SLPs were found to navigate dilemmas three ways with: 1) what they knew; 2) what was expected; and finally, 3) what was permitted and sanctioned. At the center of their decision-making was an emotional needle that guided them. Emotions are catalytic to agency and identity (Boler, 1999), and in this study, that agency resulted in various outcomes.



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