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Making Justice Peripheral by Constructing Practice as Core : How the Increasing Prominence of Core Practices Challenges Teacher Education.

High-leverage or "core" practices emerged during a confluence of dissatisfactions with teacher education, both within and outside of the field. A key concern, leveled by critics, was that programs of teacher education focused excessively on teachers' knowledge, commitments, dispositions, and beliefs without adequate attention to the practicalities of teaching (Ball & Forzani, 2009; Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009). Such programs, it was argued, taught about teaching rather than preparing candidates to actually teach. Focusing specifically on high-leverage or core practices'--"tasks and activities that are essential for skillful beginning teachers to understand, take responsibility for, and be prepared to carry out to enact their core instructional responsibilities" (Ball & Forzani, 2009, p. 504)--was proposed as an antidote to what has been viewed as an overly theoretical approach to teacher education.

The rise of core practices must also be understood within a political context that has increasingly constructed public schools, teachers, and university-based teacher education as failing. From reports such as A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) and the Carnegie Corporation's (1986) Report of the Taskforce on Teaching as a Profession to more recent sharp public reprimands made by U.S. Department of Education Secretaries Rod Paige (2003; Pear, 2004) and Arne Duncan (2009, 2011), critics have increasingly pointed fingers at teacher education, particularly university-based teacher education programs. Reform efforts in large part have leveraged "crises" to undercut public support for public education and accelerate the application of market-based, neoliberal "solutions" to the "problem" of public schooling--and, increasingly, the "problem" of teacher education too (Baltodano, 2012; Ellis & McNicholl, 2015; Lipman, 2011). Plucked from the neoliberal playbook, these reform moves are part and parcel of the larger enterprise of "accumulation by dispossession" (Harvey, 2004), which strips public assets of their resources and consolidates wealth and power in the hands of the elite. The construction of "crises" in public education and university-based teacher education continues to rely heavily on images of "bad" teachers (e.g., Chilcott & Guggenheim, 2011; see also Kumashiro, 2012) and "failing" teacher preparation programs (e.g., Levine, 2006; see also Ellis & McNicholl, 2015).

The manufacturing of this teaching calamity, as we explain below, helps invisibilize the systemic failures of schooling and encourages uniformity in defining teacher effectiveness, most often through a narrow set of quantifiable skills (Apple, 2001; Ellis & McNicholl, 2015; Ellis & Orchard, 2014). Against this backdrop, calls for reductive notions of practice-based teacher education defined by routines and positioned in contrast to theory have grown in popularity (e.g., National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2011; see also Ellis & Orchard, 2014; Lampert, 2010). These packaged, ready-to-use models of teacher training have ignored, for the most part, the array of possibilities and complexities of practice-based approaches to learning to teach (Ellis & Orchard, 2014) and have reified what Britzman (1986) called the "cultural myth" of teacher education which assumes that preservice teacher education should result in fully developed teachers rather than regarding teachers as "long-life" professionals (Teacher Education Exchange, 2017). In effect, they have fashioned teacher education into "a form of emergency training for deliverers of human capital in advanced and aspiring knowledge economies" (Ellis & McNicholl, 2015, p. 6).

As a result of these converging forces and critiques, teacher education is experiencing significant pressure--from within and beyond the profession--to change in particular ways; practice "has come to be highly prized within the value-system of teacher education reform" and is often positioned "in distinction to (or even in opposition to) theory, reflection or deliberative discourse of any kind" (Ellis & Orchard, 2014, p. 2). In the most extreme cases (e.g., Alderman, 2014; Lemov, 2010), practice has become a celebrated "proxy for going through the motions" of teaching (Ellis & Orchard, 2014, p. 2; see also Gatti, 2015). With these conflicting definitions and conceptualizations of practice in mind, we examine the social and historical context of what we are calling the core practices movement.

To do this, we begin by examining the links between the core practices movement and organizations that advocate market-based solutions to education; we situate our analysis in relation to larger trends that are impacting higher education in the United States, as well as similar reforms that are impacting public education and teacher education internationally. We elucidate how the core practices movement has coincided with, benefited from, and contributed to market-based reform efforts and entities that undermine public education, and we ask why there has not been acknowledgment, critique, disavowal, or active resistance to these converging interests by teacher education scholars, including those who are advancing core practices. Second, we appraise how the constructs of practice and improvisation, and the relationship between the two, have been used in the literature on core practices. In turn, we make the case that--to the extent that core practices reforms collude (knowingly or otherwise) with market-based, neoliberal reforms--they contribute to the obscuring of deeper, systemic, structural injustices in education and in society. Third, after contextualizing the core practices movement, we draw on the Core Practices Consortium (CPC) website as a consensus document and on a lynchpin manuscript (Ball & Forzani, 2009) to address what we see as reductive definitions of practice and improvisation and their potentially dehumanizing implications. In doing so, we show that organizing teacher education around core practices brings risks, namely, peripheralizing equity and justice in the struggle for democratic public schooling. In conclusion, we consider how the core practices movement might contribute to, rather than detract from, a collective struggle for greater equity and justice in schools and in society.

Core Practices, CPC, and TeachingWorks: Intersections and Distinctions

The CPC represents the most unified, research-based articulation of core practices in teacher education. To be sure, although those in the CPC gather under a shared general articulation of "practice" (CPC, 2018), there is a fair amount of diversity in these researchers' approaches to core practices (e.g., Dutro & Cartun, 2016; Forzani, 2014; Franke & Kazemi, 2001; Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009; Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012). Scholars affiliated with the CPC, such as Kazemi, Ghousseini, Cunard, and Turrou (2016), have centered students' participation as means to address ambitious teaching, whereas Dutro and Cartun (2016) already have taken up some of the tensions between core practices and systemic oppressions that are at the heart of this manuscript. Others, such as Lampert et al. (2013), have emphasized the complexity of teaching in their articulation and examination of core practices. Our concerns are not focused on the larger body of research and teaching conducted by the scholars in the CPC. This article, however, lays out a 2-fold critique of the core practices movement, which we define as the collective momentum generated by the CPC and those taking up their work (e.g., Match Charter Schools and their affiliated Sposato Graduate School of Education [Sposato GSE]; Relay Graduate School of Education [RGSE]). Our critique hinges on the political alliances in which the Consortium's efforts are enmeshed and the corresponding consequences of an approach that does not foundationally center equity and justice.

As a loosely knit coalition of researchers, members of the CPC have responded in varied ways to the reductive notions of practice and market-oriented reforms identified above (Forzani, 2014). Notable among these, TeachingWorks--the political and financial center of the CPC--has been closely aligned with some of the aforementioned problematic shifts in teacher education practice and policy (also discussed by Richmond, Bartell, Floden, & Petchauer, 2017). For instance, the Director of TeachingWorks framed teacher education as a "problem of crisis proportions" during expert testimony in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor (Ball, 2010). She also served on the advisory panel of the Council of Chief State School Officers's (CCSSO's) educator-preparation report that called for novice teachers who were "ready on day one" (CCSSO, 2012)--a policy document that oversimplifies teacher readiness and supports "market-based 'reforms' that may sound commonsensical but, on the whole, lack a sound research base" (Kumashiro, 2015, p. 1). Given the imprimatur of scholarliness afforded by its university affiliation, TeachingWorks's articulation of core practices promised a nuanced alternative to reductive compilations of best practices while simultaneously benefiting from and furthering the discourse of crisis. Although the core practices movement, the CPC, and TeachingWorks should not be conflated, their mutually beneficial relationships make it difficult to disentangle them entirely.

In what follows, we further explore the entanglements between TeachingWorks and broader market-based, neoliberal reform efforts that continue to undermine public education, equity, and justice through charter school proliferation; voucher and school choice programs; school reconstitutions and closures; pay for performance; competitive school funding schemes; and other linked initiatives (Apple, 2001; Baltodano, 2012; Buras, 2015; Cottom, 2017; Lipman, 2011; Mathis & Trujillo, 2016). Our analysis centers key organizational and individual actors referenced in relevant literature (e.g., Green, 2010; Otterman, 2011; Zeichner & Pena-Sandoval, 2015). Among other available sources, we used organizational websites and professional profiles to map ties among organizations and actors through an examination of boards of directors and movement of personnel across organizations (Kretchmar, Sondel, & Ferrare, 2014).

But What About the Crisis in Teacher Education?

We agree with advocates of core practices and proponents of reform efforts when it comes to the need for change and transformation in public education and teacher education. Nevertheless, our analysis of the nature of the so-called crisis and the means for addressing it leave us concerned about the approaches emphasized by those who are promoting core practices and by those who are following their lead, often reductively, without adequate attention to equity, justice, and relational aspects of teaching (Milner, 2008; Zeichner, 2012). Our analysis diverges from the core practices camp in our foregrounded recognition that schooling in the United States has engaged two contradictory purposes: as an engine of democracy that emphasizes civic participation and equity in access and opportunity (Hytten, 2017) and as an engine of social reproduction that reinscribes inequitable and unjust hierarchies (Apple, 2017). By romanticizing the democratic potential of schooling and reducing the role of teachers to performing core practices to raise student achievement on standardized measures, reform efforts that center core practices in the name of equity obscure the historical legacies and contemporary processes of social reproduction. Education reforms across the political spectrum increasingly embrace the language of equity, often without deep engagement with the construct (e.g., CPC, 2018). Appropriations at the level of language alone are insufficient--even counterproductive--in working toward justice. Deep engagement, we argue, demands a commitment to addressing the "education debt" that has accumulated throughout our nation's history (Ladson-Billings, 2006) by working to counter the material injustices that define U.S. schooling (Rose, 2014) and by embodying pedagogies that value the knowledge, experiences, and epistemologies of communities of color (Delpit, 2012; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Lee, 2007; Siddle Walker, 1996).

Given our own positionality as teacher education researchers and practitioners situated in the United States, we deliberately focus on our national context. This emphasis is also shaped by the fact that CPC members are all currently U.S.-based researchers. That said, core practices are increasingly influencing the discourse on teacher education elsewhere (e.g., Anthony & Hunter, 2012; Ellis & Orchard, 2014; Ingvarson, Reid, Buckley, Kleinhenz, Masters, & Rowley, 2014; Reid, 2011). Indeed, core practices as a market-based, neoliberal teacher education reform may come to represent another globally traveling teacher education reform, such as Teach For All, which fails to account for the particularities of local context, let alone national and regional contexts, and their unique histories of oppression (Ellis et al., 2016). In light of this proliferation, we hope that this analysis might prompt discussion about underaddressed issues in the field writ large, as well as parallel inquiries that are responsive to contextual specificities of education reform elsewhere.

The Economic and Political Forces Propping Up and Propelling Core Practices

As others have long argued, public education is an essential--but certainly flawed--democratic institution; working toward an equitable and just democracy is inextricably linked to equitable and just public education (Cooper, 2016; Du Bois, 1949; Siddle Walker, 1996). We all bear responsibility for helping to ensure that public education endures and moves closer to addressing the "education debt" in the United States (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Thus, it is concerning that, among those advancing core practices in teacher education, there is often no strong stance taken on the economic and political interests and implications of market-oriented reforms. In fact, there is notable silence on how work like that of

the CPC has been taken up by organizations that subvert racial and economic justice through a neoliberal agenda that promotes deregulation and market-based policies, thereby amplifying oppressions. There is likewise notable silence about how the organizations funding the production of core practices scholarship (e.g., NewSchools Venture Fund [NSVF]; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) have been instrumental in undermining public education (Buras, 2015; Zeichner & Pena-Sandoval, 2015). As we outline below, networks, chains of benefit, and lines of explicit and tacit endorsement connect the core practices movement to concerted efforts to compromise the democratic purpose of public schooling.

The Market Imperative as a Force That Invisibilizes Injustice

The aforementioned silences arise in part from the discursive naturalization of market imperatives in education. The rhetorical shift toward capitalistic metaphors for what used to be considered a public good is a hallmark of neoliberalism. Specifically, market imperative discourses normalize competition instead of foregrounding the right that all children have to a high-quality education. In competition, there will be winners and losers, and the market imperative forgives this fallout based on the idea that the "best" practices (or schools or teachers or children) will rise to the top when market forces are allowed to operate freely. This discourse rings clearly in arguments for school vouchers or school choice, where the assumption is that the "best" schools will succeed under "free market" conditions.

The common-sense appeal of the market imperative, however, obscures other possible analyses to endemic educational problems. With the construction in educational discourse of "hard-to-staff schools" (Achinstein, Ogawa, Sexton, & Freitas, 2010) or "achievement gaps" (Ladson-Billings, 2006), for example, schools and children are positioned as the source of the problem and thus situated as educational problems to be fixed. In reality, as critics of these deficit discourses have noted, "hard-to-staffness" reflects poor labor conditions, whereas gaps in "achievement" are a consequence of a long history of educational disenfranchisement and an "education debt" owed to communities of color. By decontextualizing those teachers and students who have struggled and succeeded in the current system, the market imperative does not bring justice to historically marginalized communities or their children; instead, it ushers in policies and programs that fuel short-term teaching--whether as missionary-style "tourism" for elites en route to higher status careers or as fast-tracking into positions that are continuously contingent and situated in the growing nonunionized charter school sector (Hartmann, 2011).

In this way, the market imperative feeds alternative credential expansion by leveraging skepticism about university-based teacher education without addressing status quo inequalities in schools and society. The market imperative can also be seen in the policy press toward easing teacher credentialing requirements (or requiring no credentials at the time of hiring) in lieu of improving teachers' working conditions, which research identifies as a primary driver of teacher turnover (Loeb, Darling-Hammond, & Luczak, 2005), or raising teachers' salaries, up from where they sit at severe disadvantage when compared with those workers with comparable education (Allegretto & Tojerow, 2014; Ingersoll & Merrill, 2011). In brief, the market imperative functions to obscure the social, historical, and institutional conditions that create inequality and to rationalize capitalistic solutions that corrode public education's democratic promise.

Exploiting the Market Imperative for "Reform"

The ties among organizations that have invested heavily in market-based reform over the last two decades are dense and defined by a movement of personnel between funders, policy analysts, and researchers who transition from one entity to another and sit on each other's boards. For example, the NSVF has been an especially key force in efforts to promote market-based solutions in public education (Zeichner & Pena-Sandoval, 2015). A venture philanthropy that has heavily underwritten charter school networks such as KIPP and Aspire, and accountability-oriented enterprises such as GreatSchools that have worked to narrowly quantify school quality, NSVF's staffers have rotated in and out of influential positions in policy, philanthropy, and reform while consistently supporting the same genres of reform.

In recent years, NSVF has invested liberally in teacher education reform, including "driving" (Riley, 2012) federal legislation aimed at deregulating the field. (2) Chief among these efforts were its contributions to the Growing Education Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act or GREAT Act, which sought to open up the field to marketization and entrepreneurial innovation, especially, via the establishment of teacher education "academies" (i.e., preparation programs that reside outside what deregulation proponents view as higher education's monopoly on the production of teachers; Riley, 2011; Zeichner, 2016). The first of these, and one of the key templates for subsequent academies, is the RGSE. RGSE began as Teacher U, originally a joint venture between three charter networks--KIPP, UnCommon Schools, and Achievement First--and Hunter College, City University of New York (Otterman, 2011). In 2011, it became the first independent graduate school of education established in New York since Bank Street College in 1916.

As Norman Atkins, cofounder of UnCommon Schools and cofounder and president of RGSE put it, NSVF has been instrumental in the creation of RGSE:
   Well beyond its financial investment, NewSchools has helped
   shape the ideas that brought RGSE into being and it continues to
   be supportive in creating the field in which we operate.
   NewSchools funded the charter school movement, and it's now
   playing a key role in teacher preparation. (NSVF, n.d.-a)

Atkins has been closely affiliated with NSVF, for example, as the director/founder of grantee organizations (e.g., UnCommon Schools received US$2.85 million and RSGE received USS1 million) and as a participant in NSVF's GREAT Act's writing and lobbying efforts. His chief collaborators in those efforts--Benjamin Riley (then at NSVF and now Founder and Executive Director of Deans for Impact), Julie Mikuta (then at NSVF and now Vice President of Education at the Shusterman Foundation), and Tim Knowles (then at the University of Chicago's Urban Education institute and now Founder and Managing Partner of The Academy Group "enterprise")--have gone on to support to varying degrees the marketization of teacher education as well as the advancement of core practices scholarship specifically. In fact, NSVF offered seed funds for TeachingWorks, a hub in the web of ties producing, promoting, and popularizing core practices scholarship.

Established in 2011, TeachingWorks sits at the intersection of higher education and corporate reform (see Anderson, in press). Now funded by the Gates Foundation and others, TeachingWorks partnered at its outset with NSVF to convene the Learning to Teach Community of Practice that brought together in multiple meetings over multiple years "a group of leading innovators" working to redesign "teacher training and beginning teacher support" (TeachingWorks, 2012). (3) Its Founder and Director, also convener of the CPC, Deborah Ball, was also the only established teacher education scholar among the GREAT Act's endorsers and just one of the three university-affiliated scholars who signed NSVF's letter of support (NSVF, n.d.-b), alongside more than 70 charter organizations, corporately funded reform and advocacy organizations, entrepreneurial endeavors, and philanthropies (e.g., Achievement First, 50CAN, Democrats for Education Reform, NSVF, Teach for America, Education Pioneers, and the Business Roundtable). (4)

Although the GREAT Act never passed, much of its content ended up informing subsequent state and start-up efforts and was written into Every Student Succeeds Act's (ESSA's) Title II (Cheng, 2013). To date, most academies or academy-like teacher preparation entities are affiliated, more so with charter school organizations or alternative routes to teaching than they are with universities--an approach that downplays the foundational knowledge that universities offer and favors the "practical" skills acquired in the workplace. Most do not require faculty to have advanced degrees akin to higher education faculty or for their graduates to fulfill the same requirements as their university counterparts. Sposato GSE, for example, arose from Match Charter Public Schools (5) and explicitly distinguishes itself from the "traditional education school approach" by describing itself as "direct and prescriptive in its teaching of specific pedagogical 'moves' and habits," offering coursework with "high dosages of simulated teaching practice" facilitated by expert coaches and "faculty composed entirely of practitioners (i.e., experienced classroom teachers and school leaders)" (Sposato GSE, 2017).

This emphasis on prescriptive practices is echoed and amplified across the web of ties that are propping up and propelling forward core practices. For example, Doug Lemov, who authored Teach Like a Champion and teaches at RGSE, was the first external guest speaker--followed soon after by representatives from Match/Sposato--in TeachingWorks's inaugural "Defining a Practice" speaker series (TeachingWorks, n.d.). Indeed, although Lemov and Ball were offered up as contrasting poles of teacher preparation in the popular press (Green, 2010), Lemov's "49 techniques that put students on the path to college" and his claim that "everyone, and especially educators, can improve their performance through relentless and deliberate practice" resonate with Ball and Forzani's (2009) calls for "deliberate and unabashed prescriptiveness" in teacher training (p. 506). And, not surprisingly, both resemble the notion of "deliberate practice" put forward by NSVF-offshoot Deans for Impact in its recent report, Practice with Purpose: The Emerging Science of Expertise, which mostly self-cites or draws on the work of CPC members from institutions that were represented in the Learning to Teach Community of Practice convened by NSVF with consultation by TeachingWorks. The converging messages across these organizations have lent them both an air of common sense and research validity in improving teacher education.

However, all arguably de-emphasize teacher education's role in developing "the broad professional vision (deep knowledge of their students and of the cultural contexts in which their work is situated), and the relational skills they need to be successful in the complex institutional settings in which they will work" (Zeichner, 2012, p. 379). Their technique-focused and reductive readiness approaches hold special appeal for charter schools that rely on short-term teaching and high turnover (Stuit & Smith, 2012; Toma & Zimmer, 2012)--another manifestation of the "new economy" that demands that education "constantly and consistently retrains ... workers, quickly and at little to no expense for the employer" (Cottom, 2017, p. 12).

Ironically, university affiliations help bolster the credibility of practice-based approaches even as those taking them up (e.g., Lemov, Sposato) actively work to discredit university-based teacher education (Zeichner & Pena-Sandoval, 2015). Indeed, few entities have been more openly involved in discrediting university-based teacher education and working to "create a vibrant market" in its place than NSVF and its grantees and offshoots. For example, founded by Riley, staffed by former NSVF employees, and supported with funding from the Shusterman foundation where former NSVF staffer Julie Mikuta now works, Deans for Impact has gathered a group of Deans, some leading Schools of Education, and some leading academy-like entities, around an emphasis on seemingly objective and neutral language of improving performance through the use of data (Gallagher, Smith, & Anderson, 2016). Yet their commitment to deregulation and the advancement of "academies" are apparent in documents such as their policy agenda, From Chaos to Coherence, which lauds Title II, section 2002 of ESSA, under which "states may use federal funds to create educator-preparation-program 'authorizers' that will enter into agreements with educator-preparation programs (titled 'academies') that set forth specific performance goals" (Deans for Impact, 2016, p. 14).

In addition to financial capital, human capital is shared among these entities: Forzani, the deputy director of TeachingWorks, used to work for Teach for America and Teach First and now serves on the Board of Deans for Impact; Mikuta serves on the Board of TeachingWorks; Ball and TeachingWorks are partners to Sposato, and the list continues. We highlight some of these multilayered relationships to make clear how the core practices movement remains fundamentally tied, intentionally or not, to the larger effort to promote market-based solutions in education and "dispossess" the public (Harvey, 2004) of this purportedly democratic institution. (6) Even when those advancing core practices espouse a commitment to "counter long-standing inequities in the schooling experiences of children, particularly youth from communities that continue to be marginalized in the US" (CPC, 2018), they directly benefit from relationships with organizations whose actions undermine this espoused effort and vision. We recognize, as Cottom (2017) details in her study of for-profit colleges in higher education, that the perpetuation of inequality works "best" when intention is not required; indeed, we are not aiming to impute intention, but rather to show how even well-intentioned emphasis on core practices stands to exacerbate that which it claims to redress as it (un)intentionally ignores associated forces that are explicitly undermining public education.

Practice and Improvisation

In connection with aforementioned economic and political concerns, we argue that the conceptual underpinnings of core practices scholarship--particularly, the interpretations and representations of practice and improvisation--marginalize equity and justice and do not engage deeply with related scholarship. For example, Ball and Forzani (2009) juxtapose teaching practices in opposition to improvisation. They argue that teaching is a "high-precision and exacting practice," and the "widely held view of teaching as improvisational, uncertain, and impervious to specification" is the major impediment to the idea that complex practice can be identified and taught" (p. 507). They draw on Lampert and Graziani's (2009) assessment that challenges the view that teaching "constantly needs to be invented from scratch and tailored to particular students"; instead, they argue that teaching "involves stable and learnable practices [for which] we could specify the kind of skills and knowledge needed to do it" (p. 492).

Although practice and improvisation are constructs with rich theoretical histories, Ball and Forzani (2009) do not clearly specify what they mean by either of them. They implicitly endorse Grossman, Compton, Igra, Ronfeldt, Shahan, and Williamson's (2009) view of practice that draws on Chaiklin and Lave (1993), but these nuanced understandings of practice from scholarship in anthropology are not evident in their usages. Although attention to the nuanced meaning of practice has been engaged by some members of the CPC (e.g., Lampert, 2010), these subtleties are often lost in attempts to bring its approach to scale. Also missing are connections to other established scholarship about "the peculiar problems" encountered in preparing teachers (Labaree, 2004). In fact, their use of practice resonates more so with popular discourses of "best practices" for teachers and skirts the political and powered meaning of practice in Lave's work (e.g., Lave, 2012; Lave & McDermott, 2002), which is anchored in Marxist and neo-Marxist thought. Similar to our concern about how the interconnectedness of universities and market-oriented reform entities serves to legitimize a simplistic emphasis on core practices, we note with concern how the use of terms (e.g., practice, community of practice) can afford credibility and legitimacy even when those terms are extracted from the rich scholarly traditions of which they are part and deployed to (re)define practice in simplified ways that align with reform efforts undermining the democratic purpose of schools.

Our concern that core practices decenter justice arises, in part, from what we see as a frequent oversimplification of practice and improvisation, and the relationship between the two, in some of this work (e.g., Ball & Forzani, 2009) and a shallow uptake (at least rhetorically) of related efforts at scale (e.g., Lemov, Sposato). Practice, in the anthropological sense, draws from Bourdieu (1977) and seeks to reconcile theories that were either overly deterministic or individualistic. Practice was a construct to understand people's activities as simultaneously shaping and being shaped by the social world. Ball and Forzani's (2009) and Lampert and Graziani's (2009) characterization of improvisation and uncertainty as "situational totalitarianism" (Holland, Lachiocotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998, p. 39) downplays this body of scholarship in anthropology.

In the anthropological tradition, a practice cannot be reduced to what a teacher does; a practice emerges and gains stability in interaction between participants within a historical context and is dependent on relationships between the participants (Holland et al., 1998). In addition, improvisation and practice are not opposite poles but are co-constitutive. As Holland and colleagues explain, improvisations arise from the "meeting of persons, cultural resources, and situations in practice," and these improvisations are used as "heuristics for the next moment in activity" (p. 40). It is to the extent that these improvisations are used again and again that they become practices that are "tools of agency or self-control and change" (p. 40).

These differences in the understanding of practice and improvisation are not simply theoretical quibbles; they undergird consequential distinctions for teaching and teacher education. Although close mentoring, guidance, and facilitation in practice certainly have a place in teacher learning, extreme prescriptiveness fundamentally conflicts with our understanding of learning, including teacher learning, as an activity where "heterogeneous meaning-making practices come into contact--explicitly and implicitly, intentionally and emergently--to generate new understandings, extend navigational possibilities, and adapt meaning-making practices to new forms and functions" (Rosebery, Ogonowski, DiSchino, & Warren, 2010, p. 324).

Ball and Forzani's (2009) call for "deliberate and unabashed prescriptiveness" (p. 506) in instructing new teachers reflects an underlying assumption that the teacher educator knows the correct way of teaching, regardless of the contextual particularities. This premise leads to fundamental differences in how we understand the purpose of teaching. The imposition of single "best" practices has a long history of ultimately harming historically marginalized communities through cultural dispossession (Horsford, 2011; Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018). Such rigid conceptualizations of practice and prescriptiveness separates the teachers' social and cultural identities from what they are able to actually do in a classroom: how they can respond, what they can convey, and to whom. This separation strips individual teachers of both their resources for connecting with children through shared culture and identities and their accountability for bridging the differences between themselves and the students they teach. It is this separation, in particular, that eschews the imperative for teacher reflexivity in their relationships with students, schools, and communities.

Furthermore, the reduction of teaching to prescribed practices hides the reality that such practices are imbued with power. The presumed neutrality projected onto these practices risks reproducing systems of inequity and injustice as they often reflect the values and experiences of White, middle-class, monolingual, female teacher candidates for whom teacher education is often tailored (Sleeter, 2001), often by White, middle-class, monolingual teacher educators (Milner, Pearman, & McGee, 2013). By the same token, unrestrained prescriptiveness erases the unique strengths of teachers of color (Brown, 2013; Villegas & Davis, 2008) as it restricts them from building on and improvising with cultural repertoires of practice (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003) in ways that are culturally relevant and sustaining (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Paris & Alim, 2017). Determining what practices work, for whom, and in what contexts cannot be performed a priori; it must happen in dialogue with key actors--teachers, students, and community members--and requires a co-configuration of teaching and teacher education that is rooted in and responsive to the histories and horizons of people in place (Ellis & McNicholl, 2015). Anything else stands to erase the humanity of teachers and their students, to the detriment of both.

Ball and Forzani's (2009) embrace of prescriptiveness not only evidences distinctions in how we understand the purpose of teaching but also highlights differences in how we understand teacher learning. The surveillance and correction of the novice teacher's performance, in Ball and Forzani's proposal, has the potential to equate teacher learning with a disciplining of the body (Foucault, 1977). In contrast, scholars of teacher learning have found accomplished practice to be informed by teachers' empathic and ecological reasoning about their particular students and contexts (Horn & Kane, 2015; Philip, 2011). Such reasoning happens in response to particular students and teaching situations and cannot be fully imagined absent actors and contexts.

These different meanings of practice and improvisation have real consequences for PreK-12 students' learning opportunities. Take, for instance, Ball and Forzani's (2009) discussion of Daniel, a child "whose English [was] still slow," as he participated in a unit on fractions in a "linguistically and ethnically diverse third-grade class." For Ball and Forzani, "When Daniel, a limited English speaker, ventures an important mathematical observation that, although important, is off the main point, the teacher has to complete his turn without getting off track or making him feel sidelined" (p. 502). Here the prevailing notion of practice relies on following a rule to remain "on track"--a rule that positions students such as Daniel problematically from a deficit perspective (Valdes, 1996). This notion of practice obscures the raced and classed dimensions of rules such as "staying on track"; it overlooks the academically rich contributions that students from nondominant backgrounds (such as Daniel) make, obviates epistemological diversity, and ultimately threatens to reproduce White, middle-class, assimilationist discourses and practices (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003; Lee, 2007; Rosebery et al., 2010). It also effaces the diversity teachers bring: A teacher fluent in Daniel's first language, for example, would have different resources to draw on in bringing him into the lesson than a monolingual English-speaking teacher. Teachers who are themselves multilingual (even in languages other than those the student knows), and/or better understand how bilinguals "language," are also positioned to recognize and value the students' full linguistic repertoires and multilingualism (Garcia, Flores, & Woodley, 2015).

Realizing the instructional potential in "the inevitable diversity of human experience, ideas, and ways of talking, acting, knowing, and valuing" (Rosebery et al., 2010, p. 325) requires improvisation that is continually subject to a critical analysis of how each moment in the classroom reproduces, challenges, or transforms status quo relationships (i.e., structured by systems of power such as White supremacy, Eurocentricity, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and coloniality). The erasure of power-laden dynamics through prescriptions to "stay on track" threatens to continue a history of epistemological, symbolic, and material violence against individuals and communities of color.

Rather than pushing for preseriptiveness, we agree with Kennedy (2016) that the role of teacher education cannot be to train teachers with specific solutions to discrete problems. Instead, teacher educators and teacher education programs have to facilitate judgments and improvisations that allow teachers to understand the inherent tensions in teaching so that "they are better able to devise their own solutions in the future" (p. 12). This judgment in improvisation, and its potential to become or transform practice, is a central aspect of teachers developing an inquiry stance and teaching "against the grain" of deficit ideologies (Cochran-Smith, 1991). It also powerfully informs teachers' understandings of and actions toward justice.

Understandings of Justice

Those advancing core practices often frame their focus in equity terms, as most reformers do to varying degrees. The CPC, for example, asserts that core practices, "help novice teachers counter long-standing inequities in the schooling experiences of children, particularly youth from communities that continue to be marginalized in the U.S." (CPC, 2018). However, a clear articulation of equity, justice, or the basis for how and why core practices support new teachers in addressing historically rooted oppressions is lacking. (7) Although general core practices such as "orchestrating whole class discussion," "modeling," and "providing instructional explanations" as well as subject-specific practices such as "identifying inquiry-worthy ideas in science," "modeling historical thinking skills," and "facilitating text-based instruction of literary texts" are explicitly identified (CPC, 2018), the rationale for how they account for or address the inequitable and unjust schooling experiences of historically marginalized communities and groups is underspecified. In this sense, the CPCs' approach reflects a long tradition of Western notions of justice, rooted in classical liberalism and emphasizing an abstracted, undifferentiated, and equal individual (Mills, 2005). The prevailing assumption of this perspective is that good teaching can be distilled down to a certain set of core practices that all teachers can uniformly enact and that will benefit all students regardless of their relationship to histories and contemporary processes of oppression. Such approaches to educational reform, however well intended they may be, recur in our nation's history and ultimately serve the status quo because they distract us from specifying and addressing continued structural violences in the name of being more "practical" or, in this case, "practice-based." Good teaching, in these popular frameworks, problematically "abstract away from relations of structural domination, exploitation, coercion, and oppression" (Mills, 2005, p. 168).

In contrast, we argue that good teaching must entail pedagogies and practices that make explicit and seek to address these relations that locate students "in superior and inferior positions in social hierarchies of various kinds" (Mills, 2005, p. 168). We share Martin's (2009) concern about "overly broad, assimilationist-oriented slogans" that emphasize all children. Like the projects Martin critiques, core practices scholarship--and the core practices movement it fuels forward--too often opts for subdued or superficial appeals to equity and diversity. Rather than addressing them substantively, this scholarship fails to grapple with, for example, the complexities of race, racialization, and racism. In this sense, much of the work engages in a "direct avoidance of race and racism under the assumption that the larger contextual forces are too complicated and beyond their control" (Martin, 2009, p. 303). In this vein, we agree that

it is this uneasiness, and unwillingness to truly engage the meanings of race and the consequences of these meanings that will make it difficult to improve conditions for students whose [schooling] experiences, all the while, continue to be racialized. (Martin, 2009, p. 311)

The very proposal that a set of core practices is central to countering long-standing inequities in education erases how schooling has been and continues to be intricately tied to the stratification of labor, normalization of unequal resources, assimilation, cultural genocide, cultural erasure, and White supremacy (Anyon, 2005; Spring, 2016; Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2013; Valenzuela, 1999). Promising to address long-standing inequities while remaining silent about the societal processes of oppression that shape and are shaped by schooling risks reproducing historically rooted and contemporary forms of injustice. That is, whether intentionally or not, the core practices movement serves to legitimize gross inequalities in U.S. schooling and society, especially, in its alignment with organizations that emphasize the neoliberal logics of education. This comes to light, for example, in how charter networks such as those supported by NSVF and with close ties to TeachingWorks depend on robust school choice systems which, in turn, contribute to measurable increases in gentrification in urban communities of color by White elites (Pearman & Swain, 2017).

The sidelining or subordinating of historical and contemporary processes of oppression in favor of practice is reflected in Ball and Forzani's (2009) proposal for a "reorientation" in the foundation courses in teacher education:
   For each instructional task or activity that students learned to
   perform, they would study and practice how to modify the work to
   meet the needs of their particular pupils, with explicit attention
   to the ways in which race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, and
   other backgrounds and characteristics interact with instruction and
   classroom dynamics. For example, they would analyze examples of
   whole-group discussions among pupils whose language backgrounds and
   practices differ from their own or differ from one another and
   practice leading effective discussions with varied groups of
   pupils. They would learn to choose examples in mathematics with an
   eye toward their pupils' familiarity or lack thereof with the
   context and with attention to the ways in which the example might
   impede or promote the learning of their pupils. They would practice
   conducting phone calls or face-to-face meetings with parents from
   different kinds of communities and from different kinds of
   backgrounds, learning to adjust their approach, demeanor, language,
   and cultural practices with sensitivity, (p. 507)

These proposals, in our assessment, stand to trivialize what we see as the crux of teaching and its social and cultural foundations--namely, that teachers should be intellectually and pragmatically engaged in the continual (re) formation of democratic society. The underlying assumption of the excerpt above (and the piece and perspective in which it is situated) locates, "diversity in otherness--in deviations from a presumed mainstream Euro-American, middle-class norm" and thereby threatens to flatten "the complex and varied ecologies of everyday life into an essentialized group trait, often linked with academic deficits or disadvantages" (Rosebery et al., 2010, p. 323). Such notions of diversity are rooted in, and reproduce, Whiteness as they inherently continue the legacy of positioning children from historically marginalized communities as inferior or deprived or at least as "lesser than" the presumed norm (Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018; Valdes, 1996). They simultaneously normalize the practices and subjectivities of White teachers. Acquiring the "right" practice with the intention of eventually modifying it for "others" precludes the possibility of starting from a place that recognizes, builds on, and sustains the assets and strengths of historically marginalized teachers, students, parents, and communities (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Paris & Alim, 2017). Not surprisingly, frameworks that fall prey to this problematic approach often, somewhat predictably, earn substantial public praise and receive quite a bit of popular (reductive) uptake, in part because of how well their prescriptions cohere with liberal notions of individual progress and social uplift, thereby undermining equity and decentering justice.

Conclusion: How Core Practices Might Contribute to Equity and Justice

We emphasize that naming what is "core" in our profession is a political project as much as it is a pedagogical or philosophical one. This is especially the case when what becomes core are not foundational principles or commitments but specific teaching routines and moves. That project, as undertaken, centers certain people, relations, histories, and processes and marginalizes Others. It also centers particular understandings of teaching and teacher education, as discussed earlier.

The core practices movement, and related efforts to organize teacher education around core practices, defines the purpose of teaching and the nature of teachers' work in terms we find troubling for their restrictiveness; their undermining (however unintentionally) of equity and justice; their potential to inflict material, emotional, and symbolic harm on historically marginalized communities; and their actual embeddedness with entities working against public education. To reiterate, our aim is not to impute intent or to critique individuals. Our concern is the erasure of equity and justice and the reinforcement of market-oriented ideologies and practices that emerges at the nexus of venture capitalist-funded educational reform, core practices scholarship, and its popular uptake--particularly, as prescriptions travel from (public) institutions of higher education into (privatized) teacher preparation entities and, by extension, into PreK-12 public schools.

In light of these concerns, we hope that those considering or already taking up core practices or other practice-based approaches to teacher education will concomitantly

1. Take a public stance on how market-based reform efforts undermine the ideals of public education and act on that stance accordingly and transparently. As we have shown, dominant constructions of core practice within and outside of university-based teacher education exist (perhaps unwittingly) in a symbiotic relationship with market-oriented reform. We acknowledge that research funding and political influence shape teacher education and inevitably involve compromises. But, are short-term goals related to organizing teacher education around core practices worth long-term detriments to public education and to teacher education? Are collaborations with neoliberal reform entities acceptable, and if so, under what conditions? The aim here is not to shame away affiliations but to press ourselves to ask and answer these questions with and for one another, to acknowledge the supports, sources, and lineages on which our work relies and to interrogate against them the claims we make about what we stand for.

2. (Re)emphasize the social, cultural, political, and situated dimensions of teachers' practices and how they stand to reproduce, challenge, and/or transform systems and hierarchies of power in classrooms and society. "The practices of teacher education as a field afford and constrain different kinds of development for teachers" (Ellis & McNicholl, 2015, p. 9), and no one practice will work in every situation. Our fundamental humanity--all of its diversities and complexities--is at the core of teaching. Teaching is, by necessity, relational and situated. It is not only a technical endeavor but also an intellectual and creative one. The aim here is to acknowledge outright that any emphasis or uptake of the "practical" alone, by definition, tends toward the preservation of the status quo and threatens to undermine further equity and justice.

3. Center justice, with a recognition of and willingness to address historical and contemporary systems of oppression; consider if, how, and when core practices might mis/align with this commitment to justice. Neoliberal conceptualizations of equity and justice, such as closing the achievement gap and tying teaching quality to narrow conceptualizations of student achievement, are rooted in perceived deficits or pathologies of marginalized individuals and communities. They do not address the systemic and structural problems of education writ large and teacher education in particular. Centering justice requires historical knowledge, reflection, and action when it comes to the ways in which teacher education (especially, restrictive notions of teacher education) are implicated in the production of oppressive ideas and in the maintenance of inequities. It prompts examination of how teaching and teacher education covertly and overtly (over)values the knowledge, values, practices, and legacies of dominant groups. This requires making questions of justice--Justice for whom? And, according to whom?--the precondition for practice.

Taking a public stance against market-oriented reform, emphasizing the social, cultural, political, and situated dimensions of teaching, and centering justice stand in direct opposition to--and indeed protect against--a fetishization of methods. Over two decades ago, Lilia Bartolome (1994) wrote about the "methods fetish" as a constant feature in the perpetual quest to improve student achievement; she captured it well with the common refrain she heard from her students:
   If nothing is basically wrong with teachers and schools ...
   then linguistic minority academic underachievement is best
   dealt with by providing teachers with specific teaching
   methods that promise to be effective with culturally and
   linguistically subordinated students ... many of my [teacher
   education] students seek generic teaching methods that will
   work with a variety of minority student populations, and
   they grow anxious and impatient when reminded that
   instruction for any group of students needs to be tailored or
   individualized to some extent. Some of my students appear
   to be seeking ... a "one size fits all" instructional recipe, (p.

Decades later, the essence of the "methods fetish" has not changed, and we hear it not just in the desires of teacher candidates but in the prescriptions of the core practices movement, especially, its most reductive scalability strands. What has changed in contemporary manifestations of the "methods fetish" are the economic and social conditions that have fundamentally re-shaped the labor market for teachers, facilitating the rapid expansion of such approaches. (8)

In this political and economic moment, alongside the systematic undermining of public universities (including those that have historically prepared the lion's share of teachers in the United States), it has become increasingly possible and acceptable to marshal the language of the market, resignify it to serve neoliberal interests, and to blame "failing" students and schools on teachers and programs of teacher education. Rather than just seeking generic methods for teaching all students as they did in prior eras, reformers are now seeking generic methods for preparing all teachers to use generic methods to then teach all students. With this, the methods fetish itself, it seems, has been scaled up in hopes that it will trickle down. Destructive dynamics like these work "best" when they do not require intentionality--when simply "going along" with the direction of the field, for example, will enlist us into that work (Cottom, 2017). Rather than seeing--or simply acquiescing to--this reform agenda as the only way forward, let us commit, as Bartolome urged us over 20 years ago, to engage seriously and address with all our might the historical, structural, and ideological aspects of teaching and teacher education, so we can create spaces that truly humanize students and teachers. Indeed, it is humanity--ours and that of our students too, in all its complexity--and justice that are, and should be, at the core of teaching and teacher education.

Authors' Note

This article is the product of collective labor and represents our collective stance as university-based teacher educators and teacher education researchers. Our ordering of coauthors reflects our understanding of each author's contributions. Philip and Souto-Manning worked together to conceptualize, develop, and write the first draft of this manuscript. Anderson and Horn added, revised, and further developed core ideas, particularly, related to the role of reform entities and marketization conditions, respectively. The ordering of the final three names is alphabetical; Carter Andrews, Stillman, and Varghese contributed to the manuscript via commenting on the draft, offering points of revision, and editing smaller sections. Footnotes and non-peer-reviewed references appear in the electronic version of the journal.

DOI: 10.1177/002487118798324


We thank Ken Zeichner who provided insightful comments and critiques on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a Spencer Foundation Conference Grant (Award 201600181).


(1.) From this point forward, we use the term "core practices" to indicate those practices that were originally hypothesized as high leverage. The shift in language--from high-leverage practices to core practices--occurred roughly in 2011, when scholars who used the prior term began using the latter term instead. We acknowledge that advocates of "core practices" differ as to which specific practices are and should be deemed "core."

(2.) We use "driving" based on the language of then NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF) Policy Director Ben Riley in framing NSVF's role in the Growing Education Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act (GREAT Act), in particular:

Over the past 12 months, a broad bipartisan coalition has rallied around the core concept of the GREAT Act, namely, to invest federal dollars to support state-level changes to teacher preparation. And though few expect ESEA to be reauthorized in 2012, both chambers of Congress have now sent a clear signal that the status quo in educator training is unacceptable, and it's time for change. We here at NewSchools Venture Fund look forward to continuing to drive this effort, particularly as we look for a handful of states to be the true pioneers in revamping their training program. As always, if you'd like to join to evergrowing list of GREAT supporters (see below), please contact me at (Italics are our own)

(3.) These convenings brought together roughly 40 "CEOs, founders, leaders, and deans of both entrepreneurial ventures and traditional institutes of higher education, policy, funding, and research" (Cheng, 2013); They included representatives from Graduate Schools of Education at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, University of Southern California, and University of Washington, as well as Teacher U/Relay, Urban Teacher Center, Boston Teacher Residency, Academy for Urban School Leadership, Match Teacher Residency/Sposato Graduate School of Education (GSE), The New Teacher Project, and TFA (Fishman, 2010).

(4.) The other two university-based signers were Thomas Payzant, Professor of Practice at Harvard and former Superintendent of Boston Public Schools where he mentored Tim Knowles, and Kenji Hakuta of Stanford Graduate School of Education, where NSVF was collaborating on a "reforming teaching" course cosponsored by Stanford's Graduate School of Education and or design school. The USC Rossier School of Education is also listed, but it is unclear whether that was an individual endorsement or something actual faculty scholars agreed to support.

(5.) For brevity, we shorten this to Match in future references; we also consider "Charter Public Schools" to be a misleading misnomer as charter schools differ substantially from (regular) public schools (i.e., charters are accountable to boards, which are often privately appointed and serve at the pleasure of the appointing body, versus public schools that are accountable to elected public school boards in most places, barring those such as Chicago where this democratic protection has been undermined).

(6.) TeachingWorks, for example, has conducted core practices training for Gates Teacher Education Transformation Centers, including TeacherSquared, which is led by Relay GSE. In this way, independent teacher preparation providers such as Relay GSE benefit from associations with higher education in general and the prestige of particular cooperating universities to legitimize themselves.

(7.) In the time since this article was submitted for publication and potentially in response to criticisms along the same lines advanced in this article, TeachingWorks did commission a series of working papers by scholars (primarily racial justice scholars not affiliated with the Core Practices Consortium [CPC]), who were invited to bring core practices into conversation with their work centered more squarely on matters of equity and justice, and organized panels to the same effect for presentation at major national conferences.

(8.) See Johannesburg-based Instill Education, which names Relay GSE and Sposato as model programs, for one example of the perceived portability and scalability of such approaches, http://


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Author Biographies

Thomas M. Philip is associate professor of teacher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mariana Souto-Manning is associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and founding codirector of the Center for Innovation in Teacher Education and Development (CITED).

Lauren Anderson is associate professor of education at Connecticut College.

Ilana Horn is professor of mathematics education at Vanderbilt University Peabody College.

Dorinda J. Carter Andrews is associate dean of equity and inclusion for the college of education and associate professor of teacher education at Michigan State University.

Jamy Stillman is associate professor of educational equity and cultural diversity and of research on teaching and teacher education, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Manka Varghese is associate professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Washington's College of Education.

Thomas M. Philip (1), Mariana Souto-Manning (2), Lauren Anderson (3), liana Horn (4), Dorinda J. Carter Andrews (5), Jamy Stillman (6), and Manka Varghese (7)

(1) University of California, Berkeley, USA

(2) Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

(3) Connecticut College, New London, USA

(4) Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

(5) Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA

(6) University of Colorado Boulder, USA

(7) University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Corresponding Author:

Thomas M. Philip, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, 2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. Email:
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Theoretical/Conceptual
Author:Philip, Thomas M.; Souto-Manning, Mariana; Anderson, Lauren; Horn, Ilana; Andrews, Dorinda J. Carter
Publication:Journal of Teacher Education
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2019
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