English-Learners as Subgroup: A Genealogical-Raciolinguistic Analysis of English Learners in the School District of Philadelphia
This paper is an analysis of the subject positions at play in School District of Philadelphia (SDP) discussions and policies around English learners (ELs) evident in a meeting of the Board of Education focusing on ELs in 2019, and in official district policy. The discourse of subgroups emerges as a primary theme, with ELs positioned by teachers, board members, and district employees as having lower achievement, and thus more needs, than other groups. Within this discourse, the EL population is further divided into sub-subgroups (such as long term ELs and newcomers), which are positioned as needing even more than other ELs. This positioning of ELs as a needy subgroup sits in tension with district-stated educational principles of avoiding deficit framing of any student. In this paper, I use genealogical raciolinguistic methods within a discursive approach to language policy to delineate the subject positions created in this subgroup discourse. Subject positions are considered from a raciolinguistic perspective, drawing on theories about biopolitics, diversity talk, and audit culture to argue that even when race is not explicitly discussed, EL subgroup discourse is still a continuation of a long history of positioning certain racialized groups of students as being unusually needy and in need of intervention within a broader educational hierarchy. The tensions inherent in the educational discourse of diversity-as-asset are also discussed in the context of ELs.