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Private Interests in a Public Profession: Teacher Education and Racial Capitalism

by Lauren Anderson - 2019

Background/Context: This article offers an analysis of the contemporary policy context surrounding teacher education in the United States. It lays out recent policy shifts that have come to frame the field, particularly university-based teacher preparation as “broken,” and to fuel forward certain strands of disruptive innovation.

Purpose/Objective: The article’s aim is to prompt consideration of how teacher educators are navigating and might navigate, on their own and together, the tentacles of neoliberalism climbing from K–12 into teacher education. Specifically, it explores the outsize influence of pro-privatization entities and teacher educators who have partnered with them, and it raises questions about the compromised positions that the enduring structures of racial capitalism and the neoliberal turn in education policy seemingly extend to teacher educators in these times.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article closes by arguing that even well-meaning teacher educators can end up ensnared in destructive reform, and for reasons far more complicated than simple character flaw, carelessness, or collusion. Thus, while teacher education needs “transformers,” it needs for them to be conscious, careful, and accountable when it comes to the structures of racial capitalism and the (neoliberal) web into which present-day privatizing interests would like to see them profitably woven.

These are trying times for teacher education, and especially for university-based programs. As popular narratives go (Duncan, 2009a; Levine, 2006; National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013), ours is a broken field (Knowles, 2013), mired in mediocrity (Sleeter, 2014), ripe for disruption (Liu, 2013), and in need of nimble new entrants to teacher training (Rotherham, 2008). Cast as disconnected from practice and slow to change, higher education has become, for teacher preparation purposes, context-non-grata among policy makers, many of whom view new ventures and the philanthropic funds behind them as an expedient means to address trenchant challengesbudget shortfalls, teaching vacancies in shortage areas, employment needs generated by routine migration and attrition away from high-needs schools, disincentives associated with entering teaching as a long-term career, and enduring demographic divides between those at the helm of classrooms and the children they serve.

Few working in teacher education would argue that these arent the pressing challenges we face profession-wide. Indeed, teacher educators know intimately how linked these challenges are to the foundational commitment we share and struggle to realize: namely, to help ensure that young people encounter in their classrooms teachers who can provide the learning opportunities that they deserve. And yet, there are differences, fissures even, in how teacher educators are responding to these challenges. Some differences are talked about openlydifferences in emphases, programs, pedagogies, and the structure of K12 partnerships. Others are avoided, perhaps for fear of sounding too political, ideological, personal. Those are understandable concerns; they are also ones interestingly tethered to teaching and teacher educatings particular historiestheir feminization, marginal status in and beyond the university, disciplining of the overtly political, and compromising quest for recognition within systems of hierarchical knowledge production and labor extraction.

Skirting some differences as acceptable subjects of debate leaves those differences closed off to the kind of inquiry and interrogation that might yield insight. This, in turn, limits the fields collective power to predict its futures based on a fuller account of its present, to self-regulate, and to interrupt disruptions that compromise professional integrity or imperil rather than improve education writ large, and public education in particular.1 With those concerns in mind, this article aims to surface some of teacher educations quiet as its kept.2 Specifically, it probes the policy context shaping teacher education work and the interconnected suite of disruptive innovations taking hold nationwide (and beyond), sometimes opposed by teacher educators and sometimes fueled forward by them. Its aim is to prompt consideration of how teacher educators might navigate, on their own and together, the tentacles of neoliberalism climbing from K12 into teacher education (as could have been predicted), and with what implications for the field and its foesblunt categories that are increasingly blurred and that have been helpfully challenged and complicated (Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015).

To that end, this article begins by situating teacher education, past and present, in the context of capitalism . . . as a racial and gendered regime (Kelley, 2017b). It then quickly maps that past and present, eventually homing in on how policy and philanthropy have conspired recently to concentrate power around practice-based preparation and to catalyze public-private partnerships, a harbinger of neoliberal incursion into teacher education as in other sectors (e.g., Harvey, 2005; Miraftab, 2004; Sturges, 2015; Wacquant, 2009). The article then turns its attention to teacher educators themselves, specifically the enlistment of some into hybridized ventures and generally negative narration of teachers and teacher education. Underscoring that it is both beside the point and unproductive to focus on particular people and to impute intent, the article considers the positions that the enduring structures of racial capitalism and the neoliberal turn in education policy encourage teacher educators to take up in these times. Finally, the article ends with a call to teacher educators: an invitation to speak and act with the urgency, the political transparency, and the ideological clarity necessary to realize teacher educations potential as a democratic and justice-oriented endeavor that interrogates and resists rather than colludes with the neoliberal, racial capitalist order.


The last few decades have wrought a major shift in resources from public entities to private organizations (e.g., Harvey, 2005; Ivory, Protess, & Bennett, 2016), especially so in low-income communities of color, where public school closures, charter school expansions, undercredentialed and short-term teachers, and fast-track teacher preparation programs proliferate without any such parallel in affluent communities populated by predominantly White residents (Mayorga & Picower, 2015; Rooks, 2017). This exemplifies what critics of neoliberal reform mean when they reference rampant and growing inequality in the distribution of precarity, as a structurally supported (rather than individually attributable) form of social, political, and economic insecurity, and profit (Cottom, 2017; Fine, Greene, & Sanchez, 2016; Gilmore, 2007). One need only consider who has accumulated wealth from the same privatization processes that have dispossessed communities of public schools, and the material and intangible resources that those schools represent (Buras, 2014; Lipman, 2011, 2015; Makris & Brown, 2017; Ndimande & Lubienski, 2017). When, for example, developers can acquire closed school buildings on the cheap, corporations can claim tax breaks via charter school investments in low-income communities, hedge funds can profit from schools hiring of inexperienced, transient, nonunion teachers and wield outsize political influence in policy making, and voucher programs can shunt public funds to unproven private providerspractices that are all permissible only because they reap reward at the expense of poor Black and Brown childrenjustice is most certainly not the driving motivation.3 These imbalances and their implications are at the heart of why community organizers take umbrage at those who proclaim that education is the civil rights issue of our time4 and yet promote pro-privatization policies; as expressed by a well-known alliance of grassroots organizers, for example, It is appalling that anyone would dare to equate the billionaire-funded destruction of our most treasured public institutions with the grass-roots-led struggles for racial equality to which many of our elders and ancestors made heroic sacrifices (Journey for Justice, 2014, p. 4).

Racial capitalism gives context for these developments and their dynamics. Although there is much to say about Robinsons (1983) formulation, its central contention is that capitalism and racism coevolved and are thus inseparable (Kelley, 2017a). This formulation makes explicit and extends ideas that scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois and others expressed in philosophical and practical terms years earlier; it likewise offers a broad framework that scholars are refining still (e.g., Gilmore, 2002, 2007; Hill, 2017). To quote a recent keynote by Kelley (2017b), in which he braided together the failures of voluntary desegregation via busing, the rise of financialization, the reasons for Flints poisoned water, the roots of Puerto Ricos debt crisis, and the precarity of our collective futures, race and gender are not incidental or accidental features of the global capitalist order; they are constitutive. What this means more practically in the U.S. context is that race and gender (as well as other modalities of difference through which class is lived) have everything to do with who does what work, including the work of teaching and teacher education, and how they are rewarded (and/or punished) for it.

Despite being a relatively new prospected site of potential wealth accumulation for the entrepreneurial class, teacher education has never been a neutral project, as its history, laid out briefly next, reminds us.5 It has long been intertwined with making America great via a manifest destiny project conditioned on accumulation by dispossession. This is what recognizing the racial capitalist order helps us see.6 And yet, the words of NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Stacey Childress (2016) are still striking for how they explicitly position the field in novel and ignoble wayschiefly as a target of deregulation and an engine for the private accumulation that deregulation, by precedent, has proved to enable (e.g., Gaffney, 2014; Immergluck, 2009; McLean & Elkind, 2013). Teacher preparation is shaping up to be the next frontier for entrepreneurs, Childress asserted; Growing attention from federal and state policymakers and newly available capital from large philanthropic sources such as the Schusterman and Gates Foundations are attracting attention from entrepreneurs looking to break the lock that universities have on preparing teachers (p. 26).

To the extent that teacher education leaves unexamined the role that racial capitalism plays in its history and in present-day privatization efforts, it does so at its own moral peril. Just as ethical medical professionals must work to ensure that their practices defy racialized structures that might otherwise condition the care their patients receive, teacher educators cannot ethically decontextualize entrepreneurial innovations in teacher education from privatizations extractive functions and its exacerbation of precarity for particular public school students, their families, and their teachers.


The first formalized teacher education in the United States came in the form of short trainings and institutes. In the early part of the 19th century, these took place over days or weeks, often in the summer, in locales adjacent to universitiesa symbolic indication of where teachers thinking and work was seen to reside vis-à-vis scholarship and the intellectual life associated with higher education (i.e., at the periphery if even there; Fraser, 2006). The countrys first teachers, chiefly (and still) White women, were by no means innocents; on the contrary, they were in many ways instrumentsof colonizing on the great plains, of civilizing in the cities, of assimilating immigrants into an American mainstream and its mythologies, and so on. They were expected and socialized to be temporary, maternal, compliant, and apolitical workers. They did important, noble, and undercompensated workteaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, and caring for childrenand also the bidding of a raced, classed, and gendered social structure. Teachers of color, often excluded from the stock stories about early teaching in the United States and from the aforementioned summer trainings and institutes, played powerful roles in their own communities, even as their contributions went unrecognized or punished by the postcolonial power structure (Fairclough, 2007; Foster, 1997; Goldstein, 2015; Spring, 2007; Tyack, 1974; Walker, 2005; Woodson, 1919, 1933).

The creation of normal schools represented an important, imperfect step toward codifying and cultivating the expertise that scholars increasingly recognized as necessary to the work of managing and facilitating learning (Goldstein, 2015; Labaree, 2008). Emerging in the 1830s1840s, normal schools evolved with time, many into key campuses in the state higher education systems in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Michigan, Rhode Island, Illinois, California, and so on. Over the subsequent century, their purview would come to include far more than the cultural norms at the heart of their French-originating moniker (i.e., normal school from lécole normale). From management to development, to content and pedagogy, to pedagogical content knowledge and beyond, teacher education established itself as a field of study; along the way, it sought and earned some of the status associated with advanced study, too, beginning with the shift in 1893 of Teachers College from a small, unaffiliated outfit to a Graduate School of Education at Columbia University.

Despite battling for legitimacy as an intellectual project and a profession over the next 100 years, teacher education remains at the periphery, figuratively and/or literally, in most colleges and universities where it still exists. This is true even at the high-status end of its bimodal distribution (i.e., among education schools at top-ranked universities deemed academically strong but professionally weak versus professional schools, situated at mostly regional state universities and deemed professionally strong but academically weak; Labaree, 2008, p. 302). Teachers College offers one telling example; a storied, historically significant, and high-status school of education, it nevertheless boasts a fraction of the wealth Columbia University claims, and with implications for who can attend and how much support graduate students receive, despite them being otherwise well positioned (given selectivity, location, accomplished faculty, etc.) to move the field forward.7 And yet, Teachers College is still a place of tremendous relative prestige for those engaged in teacher education work. In many other institutional spaces, teacher education resides at the unenviable intersection of resource-strapped and revenue-generating for its parent institutions (Zeichner, 2009). This makes for tricky dynamics that are predictably exacerbated by economic downturn and divestments in education (Cottom, 2017; Mitchell, Leachman, & Masterson, 2017).

Long looked down upon as less scholarly in the academy (Liston, 1995; Lucas, 1999), teacher education is critiqued as not practical enough by those beyond the Ivory Tower, some of whom argue that the quest for institutional inclusion led to an overemphasis on theory at the expense of practice (e.g., Clifford & Guthrie, 1988; Duncan, 2009b; Nemko & Kwalwasser, 2013). Teacher education today is thus pinched from many sides, expected by diverse critics to do more with less. Even if in agreement with the rising rigors of accreditation and accountability, teacher education programs are often not resourced in ways that make it easy to respond accordingly (Labaree, 2008; Levine, 2006). Decried as shallow, idiosyncratic, and incoherent (e.g., Hess & McShane, 2014; Keller, 2013), the fields quality and research base are subject to broad critique without nearly as much attention to the conditions constraining knowledge productionfor example, that most in the field occupy non-tenure-track (nonresearch) positions; that many come to the work of teacher education having not prepared intentionally for it; that many who conduct research do so on their own practice, which is important but does not readily yield fieldwide insights; and that tenure-track teacher educators often perform substantial programmatic labor compared with productive peers in other concentrations and find fewer funding options, especially if situated in small institutions (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005; Goodwin, et al., 2014; Zeichner, 2006).

To point out this pinching is not a defense of poor practice or admitted shortcomings, such as the continued overrepresentation of White faculty and students in teacher education (Ludwig et al., 2010; U.S. Department of Education [U.S. DoE], 2016a),8 but it is an appeal to context and nuance. Simply put: What teacher educators are doing and trying to doand why it matters to do it within universitiesis often not well understood in the public domain, in higher education itself, or in policy circles. Misuse and selective or strategic use of research has only exacerbated confusion, and usually not in teacher educations favor (Zeichner & Conklin, 2017). Although the field has its failings, as every field does, it is more than the sum of these. In that regard, teacher educators face a bind akin to teachers, who also wrestle with popular misunderstanding of their work and its yields, and contend with constraining regulation and accountability that have been proposed and projected onto petticoat professions throughout history.

Case in point, the current policy climate favors Pearson over professors when it comes to vetting teacher candidates readiness to teach (Bacon, 2017; Madeloni, 2015; Saltman, 2017). It favors the proliferation of programs that disavow theory and social foundations and that fast-track candidates into classrooms (Kamenetz, 2016; Zeichner, 2014)sometimes offering just weeks-long summer institutes before placing instructors-of-record in schools that arguably need the most, not least, prepared educators. It places no small measure of faith in entrepreneurial upstarts, in part based on the selective and inadequately substantiated accounts of their success pervading popular discourse (e.g., see reference to Relay Graduate School of Education in U.S. DoE, 2014). All the while, education schools and their teacher preparation programs are simultaneously denigrated and called to demonstrate their impact in resource-intensive ways (e.g., U.S. DoE, 2014, 2016b), not all of which they agree with epistemologically or pedagogically (e.g., Au, 2013; National Association for Multicultural Education, 2014). Add to this the enduring lack of political will to improve K12 school conditions (the main driver of teacher migration and attrition), alongside corporate-backed antiunion activism, and it almost seems as if the United States is not so much moving from teacher education 1.0 to 2.0 or 3.0 (Hess & McShane, 2014; Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015), but to teacher education 0, or even −1.

None of this has happened to teacher education overnight or in a vacuum. Higher education has been under siege in recent years; public institutions are increasingly resource starved (Mims, 2016), outspoken faculty members are made solitary spectacles (Flaherty, 2017), and private, for-profit colleges remain symbiotically on the rise (Cottom, 2017). Amid this, teacher educations marginal status represents for higher education a kind of Achilles heelan opportunity zone where privatizing forces can gain easy ground, penetrate institutional and public space, and pick at the perceived lock that universities have on preparing teachers (Childress, 2016). Its work, meanwhile, offers another means of accessing K12 public schools and communities for predatory purposes. Teacher educators, situated as they are, are unsurprisingly both target of and accessory to this particular neoliberal project.


The NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF) has been among the more prominent entities working over the past decade to target that Achilles heel and break the aforementioned lock (e.g., Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015), at least in part via convening and concentrating clout as a hub of entrepreneurial activity in the teacher preparation space (Cheng, 2013, p. 8). In their words, this quest has been overt and influential:

NewSchools is aiming to profoundly disrupt the current teacher preparation market. . . . We are well-positioned to support efforts to transform teacher preparation. We already have advanced several disruptive models, including two new graduate schools of education and alternative teacher preparation programs. And, our track record goes beyond our deep partnerships with entrepreneurs. We have helped to create federal policy to support innovative models, and have established the leading convening of innovators, which includes traditional institutions of higher education as well as entrepreneurs, and actively fosters the wide-scale adoption of promising practices. (NewSchools Venture Fund [NSVF], 2013)

What has been less overt and addressed is how, and with what implications, university-based teacher educators have participated influentially in disruption catalyzed and carried forward by NSVF and the neoliberal networks of which it is part.

After its founding in 1998, NSVF focused mostly on the expansion of charter schools and other entrepreneurial efforts bringing market-based education reform to low-income districts situated in and serving communities of color. Its turn to teacher education occurred more recently, with 2011 as a kind of banner year. Two years prior, in 2009, NSVF convenedinitially with support from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement for Teaching and the Carnegie Corporation, and later with support from the Gates Foundationthe Learning to Teach Community of Practice (LtT-CoP), a cross-sector gathering of approximately 50 education practitioners, researchers, school system representatives, and funders focused on the transformation of teacher training at scale (Cheng, 2013, p. 10). Although not archived centrally with NSVF or mentioned on most members websites, accounts of the initiative appear somewhat in NewSchools materials (e.g., blog posts, Summit agendas) and substantially in doctoral work supervised by the NewSchools representative most familiar with the LTT Community of Practice (i.e., Julie Mikuta, NSVF managing director before joining the Schusterman Foundation in 2013) (p. 99).

Among LtT-CoP members were representativesinitially high-level leaders, including at least some deansfrom the schools of education and teacher education programs at Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California, as well as from entrepreneurial outfits such as Teacher U (now Relay Graduate School of Education), The Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), The New Teacher Project (TNTP), Match Teacher Residency (now Sposato Graduate School of Education), and Teach For America. In this sense, LtT-CoP enlisted members from not just any traditional and entrepreneurial programs; it enlisted members from some of the countrys most prestigious, research-productive, and well resourced.

The convenings name calls to mind Lave and Wenger (1991), particularly their ideas about groups learning through participation in common craft or practice and with shared identity. As descriptions like those that follow suggest, however, applied network theory arguably offers more purchase in explaining NSVFs approach and outcomes.

When NewSchools brings together entrepreneurial alternative teacher preparation providers with Deans of traditional schools of higher education, it exposes them to a larger social network of diverse experiences and fosters the exchange of fresh ideas and perspectives. (Cheng, 2013, p. 29)

The cross-sector networking that has occurred at convenings and through introductions brokered by NewSchools has produced fruitful collaborations between traditional and nontraditional preparation providers. For example, over the past several years, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) teacher residency program in Chicago has visited New Visions Urban Teacher Residency in New York through regular visits and an on-going exchange around best practice. Similarly, the leaders at Match Teacher Residency in Boston have invited the leadership team with TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan to discuss their high leverage practices in teacher preparation and implications around training. Likewise, TeachingWorks, in producing its online seminar series to support collective progress around practice-based approaches to teacher training, recently invited the co-founder of the Urban Teacher Center to speak about using data to inform instruction. These thought-partnerships are the direct result of networking at the LTT convenings, and demonstrate the rich relationships that have been forged within this community. (Cheng, 2013, pp. 1011)

Putting aside causal claims, which are often spurious and always hard to substantiate, such convenings appear rooted in social engineering aims more than the situated, political, and historicized aspects of learning that were central to communities of practice and the Marxist and neo-Marxist scholarly traditions from which the concept emerged. And yet, that materialist grounding informs not just what communities of practice are (an outgrowth of negotiated and indigenous enterprise, marked by mutual accountability; Wenger, 1998) but also what is seen to constrain their formation and generativitythings like standardization of curricula and examinations, evaluation through grading, the deskilling of teaching (Apple, 1979), relations between the decomposition of school knowledge by teachers and their control over students in classrooms (McNeil, 1986), and forms of student stratification and classification in schools (Lave, 1991, p. 78). That much of what NSVF funds accelerates rather than ameliorates these constraints adds context to the claim that, in this case, convening offered a means by which to advance particular ideas about practice and to generate instrumental gains in situations where community ties could be leveraged to convey the imprimatur of the university (or alternatives to it) and deployed for persuasive purposes in policy circles.

To that very point, in 2011, LtT-CoP members purportedly agreed . . . to a statement of policy principles which became the foundation of the proposed Senate Bill, the GREAT Act (Cheng, 2013, p. 30). These were presumably the principles that Benjamin Riley (NSVF), Julie Mikuta (NSVF), Norman Atkins (Relay GSE), and Tim Knowles (Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago) discussed early that year when they went to Capitol Hill and secured for the Act sponsorship and support from a bipartisan group of legislators (Riley, 2011b). The bill, premised in part on the (arguably inaccurate) claim that the majority of teachers feel . . . woefully underprepared to meet the challenges they faced when they entered the classroom, posed that its primary aim was to harness the power of innovation to create new and more effective avenues for preparing great teachers and principals.9 Under the GREAT Act, funding would be available to all preparation programs, including independent, charter-school-like academies, so long as they agreed to certain accountability demands.

Among the list of over 70 GREAT Act supporters (NSVF, n.d.), which was circulated to key legislative committees, only a handful were university situated; among that handful, just about every one was from an institution with members in LtT-CoP. Only one in the entire list was a scholar of teacher education, Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, holder of school and university named chairs, National Academy of Education member, National Science Board member, founder and director of TeachingWorks, outgoing president of the American Educational Research Association, and principal or coprincipal investigator on grants totaling more than $45 million over 25 years in teaching and teacher education.10 It would be hard to find a teacher education scholar more distinguished, a fact likely not lost on NSVF.

Seemingly in recognition that the GREAT Act might chafe with university-based teacher preparation, NSVF leveraged its university-based endorsers for legitimation. For example, it posed to itself, among a set of questions, And what about institutions of higher education, what do they think? and published the following reply:

At present, were thrilled to have the support of a variety of folks from the higher-education community, including USC Rossier School of Education, Dr. Deborah Ball (dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan), and the National Center for Urban Education at the University of District of Columbia (to name only a few). (Riley, 2011b)

The few named are three of five higher education entities (one no longer in existence) in the entire list of endorsers, the balance of whom do not reflect much variety, ideologically speaking. Consider a random selection: 50CAN, Achievement First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Pioneers, EnCorps, Rocketship, and Kim Smith of Bellwether Education, who was one of the founders of NSVF.11

To a list of names like these, the inclusion of high-status university-based programs and professors adds a veneer of R1 legitimacy and signals, especially in tandem with NSVFs promotional materials (e.g., Riley, 2011c), broader support than is accurate. This matters for various reasons, not the least of which is that the traditional university-based providers who stand to be impacted most by such policies are not those represented among the LtT-CoP or those likely to be structured or resourced to meet the selectivity, training, and accountability requirements that would render them eligible for proposed funds (Riley, 2011b). It also matters that the vast majority of entities listed among the endorsers are those that have benefited from the same reform agenda that communities of color have named as not only fundamentally oppositional to their needs but also injurious to their health and well-being (Journey for Justice, 2014; Movement for Black Lives, n.d.; Rooks, 2017; Rosenbaum, 2018). Indeed, efforts to deregulate and privatize teacher education are largely synergistic with efforts to do the same in K-12 education, since many of the teachers prepared in entrepreneurial programs like Relay or Sposato or TFA feed the expansion of corporate charter school chains in low-income urban areas. 

Although the GREAT Act of 2011 did not pass, much of its genetic material can be traced to state policies (e.g., Colorados Senate Bill 10-191), model policies advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (e.g., American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC], 2016), future bills (e.g., House Resolution 848, the Great Teaching and Leading for Great Schools Act, introduced in February 2015), and the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well (Every Student Succeeds Act Title II, 2015; Riley, 2011a, 2011d, 2012). It is reasonable to wonder how such policies might develop differently absent the legislative efforts of reform entities like NSVF and the imprimatur they present of university-based participation, credibility, and backing. After all, NSVFs interest in disrupting teacher education predates LtT-CoP, whose membership was then leveraged in the service of those predetermined political aims. In this regard, the mostly veiled connections between the LtT-CoP and GREAT Act are a potentially helpful example of what it means for NSVF to not lead from the front, but from behind (Mikuta, quoted in Cheng, 2013, p. 122).12

Although it remains unclear what LtT-CoP produced in terms of learning or promised prototyped solutions or approaches to problems of practice (Mikuta, quoted in Cheng, 2013, p. 124), relationships formed and fortified through LtT-CoP have helped to advance aforementioned disruptive models, including two new graduate schools of education and alternative teacher preparation programs (NSVF, 2013), propel forward practice-based approaches to teacher preparation (i.e., see Ball & Forzani, 2009, 2011, and the Core Practices Consortium, 2018), and advance narration of university-based teacher education as incoherent, overly theory focused, and disconnected from the day-to-day work of teaching. Under the banner of practice-based preparation, hybrid public-private endeavorslike TeachingWorks, a nonprofit recipient of NSVF fundshave become network hubs around which the power to influence the discourse and doing of teacher education concentrates. Emerging formally in 2011, TeachingWorks, for example, collaborated with NSVF to convene, debrief, and document the LtT-CoP (Cheng, 2013; TeachingWorks, 2012).13 With substantial grants from Gates Foundation and Shusterman Foundation and their employees (e.g., Mikuta) on its advisory board, TeachingWorks is both an outcropping of an established and esteemed university-based research agenda around teacher education and at the vanguard when it comes to advancing entrepreneurial teacher preparation. And it is more than that, too; it is an active broker between higher education and edupreneur circles, making each more porous to the others presencea reciprocal exchange with disproportionate benefits for the edupreneurial class.

Indeed, soon after its launch, TeachingWorks invited LtT-CoP members to present their work in university spaces known for respected teacher education practice and research. Framing speakers as leaders in the fields of teacher training and development, it livestreamed, to more than 1,000 viewers worldwide, Doug Lemov of UnCommon Schools and Brent Maddin of Relay, Annie Lewis of Teach for America, Brandeis Johnson of The New Teacher Project, and Michael Goldstein of Match, alongside faculty from Stanford, the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan (TeachingWorks, 2012). The following year, when Match Education launched its university-unaffiliated Sposato Graduate School of Educationan entity that explicitly defines itself in contrast to a traditional education school approach, focuses on hyper-prescriptive training, places teacher candidates exclusively in urban charter and turnaround schools, and quotes quarterback Tom Brady on its How Were Different landing page (Sposato, 2018)Ball was among its keynote speakers.

In the years since, TeachingWorks has served as a Gates-funded professional development provider, supported by a $6.8 million Teacher Preparation Transformation Center Initiative (TPTCI) grant to offer direct professional supportincluding workshops, modeling and coachingto staff members in the [four] other national centers and, as needed, to teacher educators in each centers provider network (University of Michigan News, 2015). Among the other four grantees, for example, is TeacherSquared, which is led by the Relay Graduate School of Education and announced among initial members Aspire [now Alder] Public [Charter] Schools, the Sposato Graduate School of Education [which emerged from Match Education charter schools]Urban Teachers [formerly the Urban Teacher Center], the YES Prep Teaching Excellence program [which prepares teachers mostly for placements at charter schools such as KIPP and Uplift], and all Relay campuses (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015). By these methods, philanthropy has found ways to incentivize and subsidize the transfer of knowledge from the university to the same entrepreneurial upstarts that are chiefly invested in narrating university-based teacher education as a problem, rather than productive of expertise they themselves need developed.

The LtT-CoP seeded other networks, too. Cheng described in 2013, for example, that the NewSchools Policy Director is in the midst of crafting a collective strategy that assembles the deans of institutes of higher education (some of whom are already members of this community of practice) as a group to advocate for change within teacher preparation (p. 141). In 2015, this strategy became the member organization Deans for Impact, which aims to change the way this country prepares teachers (Deans for Impact, 2015), includes some original LtT-CoP affiliates, convenes new members and affiliates, produces reports that repackage knowledge established primarily in traditional university settings (e.g., see Deans for Impact, 2016, on deliberate practice), and, until recently, featured alongside its Policy Leadership and Advocacy content an action shot of Mikuta even though she was not listed formally on its website.

To mention a single photo might seem trivial, but it signals a bigger point about how agents of neoliberal reform have crisscrossed organizational lines, carrying ideological and relational ties with them into new spaces from which they can steer resources and coadvocateall part and parcel of leading from behind. Consider just a few. Kim Smith, a Teach For America founder, went on to found NSVF, later worked at Bellwether Education Partners, and now serves on the board of Bellwether, NewSchools, and Rocketship Education. She is currently CEO of the Pahara Institute, which has named as fellows individuals from just about every listed GREAT Act endorser, many of whom have also received NSVF support. Years apart from one another and Smith, Julie Mikuta and TeachingWorkss associate director Francesca Forzani also taught through Teach For America and then shifted into other roles within that organization, where Forzani recounted having worked alongside Brent Maddin of Relay 10 years before his visit to TeachingWorks (Forzani, 2011). Mikutas path took her through a number of education reform entities, most notably into a leadership role at NSVF and now the Shusterman Foundation, where she directs education funding and has served on the boards of organizations such as Stand for Children, the Urban Teacher Center, the New Teacher Center, Relay Graduate School of Education, and TeachingWorks14all among the GREAT Act supporter list. Forzani now associate-directs TeachingWorks and serves on the advisory board for Deans for Impact, which is helmed by Benjamin Riley, formerly that NewSchools Policy Director, and includes among its staff and members LtT-CoP participants. It is, quite literally, a tangled, powerful, and capital-rich web they weave.

It is also a web that has helped empower, politically and pedagogically, a particular demographiceducated at elite institutions, invested in Whiteness and the rights its confers (Harris, 1993), affiliated with charter schools and corporate wealthto exert significant influence in shaping the political discourses and policy frameworks that redirect resources from university-based teacher education and K12 public schools, particularly in urban districts, and toward privatizing interests (Au & Ferrare, 2015; Buras, 2014; Mayorga & Picower, 2015; Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015). Many would argue that establishing ties to such a web is a matter of pragmatic strategy amid scarcity, a means by which teacher educators can secure the resources they need to produce the innovation that they believe in. It is a somewhat cynical funding-first narrative that comports with the neoliberal tilt toward individual and private gains over collective and public goods. More likely, no small measure of this has to do with social ties and also the liberal politics of inclusion, both of which have led many in higher education (and beyond) to view being at the table as a desirable good unto itselfa place from which to wield influence, even if it means consenting to a table sized, set, and catered by others.

Regardless of whether one believes that being at the table is worth its compromises and costs, the dynamics at play raise issues. NewSchools Venture Fund (NewSchools), as Cheng (2013) stated, has deployed convening as a tool for fostering innovation and enabling disruption in the teacher preparation market (p. 4). What happens when university-based teacher educators consent to this convening, literally or figuratively? How does teacher educator participation, particularly in spaces that are not public or propublic education, shape the disruptive project? What does it mean when reform entities leverage some of the (concentrated) power in the field against the field? Even if aspects of reformers agendas align with our own, what does it mean to let them lead from behind?


One of the things these dynamics have fueled is a relatively unchecked and increasingly common negative narration of university-based teacher education that draws selectively, and sometimes questionably, on existing research (Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015). That teaching and teacher education are narrated negatively from beyond their borders is no surprise given the fields institutional standing and relative status. That they are maligned by entrepreneurs and the venture philanthropists who back them is even less shocking, given teacher educations identification as the next frontier for disruption (Childress, 2016). That teacher educators, too, critique themselves and their peers is to be expected, though presumably for different reasonsmatters of professional integrity, a drive to work more effectively, and so on. At issue, then, isnt so much why teacher educators, particularly decorated ones, assent (or acquiesce?) to increasingly normative narratives about the fields brokenness and incompetencepresumably they believe these to be accuratebut rather, what work these narratives do in this political and policy context, with what implications, and for whom. As the examples unpacked next show, participation on the part of university-based teacher educators often comes at a price to the profession, while generating benefits for those invested in disruption, and in ways that racial capitalism and the gendered history of teaching have made both plain and predictable.  


In March 2010, Elizabeth Green wrote a The New York Times Magazine feature about Doug Lemovs (2010) codification of discrete techniques that can be taught quickly to teachers and that were emerging at the core of some teacher education 2.0 initiatives (Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015). The article also references a few of the countrys foremost experts on effective teaching, mostly as confirmation for Lemovs techniques and as foils for his clarity. At one point, Green wrote that these practices [of Lemovs] were so imprinted on [Deborah] Balls soul, that when it came to talking about them, to passing them on to her students, she had no words. To those who have read any of Balls 150+ articles, seen her model teaching, or heard her speak, it is quite something to describe her as having no words with which to pass knowledge on to her students.

It is strikingand yet not surprisingjust how much Ball and Grossman, two senior women scholars of teacher education who have conducted research for decades, become primarily a point of contrast in support of Lemovs taxonomy.15 Both receive credit for their attentiveness and expertise regarding content knowledge, but less so for pedagogy, where Lemov emerges as a clear and present authority even though his most viable techniques (e.g., using exit tickets or offering precise praise) replicate what experienced practitioners know and have passed on to countless novice teachers, and the remaining techniques run contrary to the tenets of humanizing, democratic practice.

This is the first and most subtle example in which the participation of university-based teacher educators, usually women, alongside those representing independent upstarts, often men, ends up reifying the incoherence of university-based teacher education and/or the incompetence of university-based teacher educators, while lionizing the least robust articulations of practice-based teaching and the predominantly charter-school-situated leaders who promote them. It is also an example that serves to center via points of contrast presumably race-neutral teaching and teacher education expertise without addressing the racial elephant in the roomnamely that the most reductive instantiations of practice-based teaching have been and will be rationalized and rationed out in racialized ways by mostly White proprietors (including both privatizers and professors) while disproportionately impacting the lives and learning of Black and Brown children (e.g., see Buras, 2014; Mayorga & Picower, 2015; Rooks, 2017). When this occurs, teacher educator participation can, inadvertently or otherwise, end up helping deliver good press for those seeking to disrupt public education and higher education alike and to dispossess both of resources.


The 2011 NSVF Summitan annual invitation-only gathering for . . . educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers (NSVF, 2018b)gathered together a number of LtT-CoP participants for a session framed as follows:

Teacher education is broken. Entrepreneurs have stepped up to this challenge, offering teacher preparation solutions that aim to redefine what it means to adequately prepare and support teachers. This session will showcase a variety of models being pioneered by performance-based teacher preparation providers, as well as the content they believe new teachers need to master in order to be effective from their first days as teachers of record. This session is structured as office hours, where Summit attendees have the opportunity to schedule 30-minute periods to meet with entrepreneurial preparation leaders in small groups to learn about their specific programs. Deborah Ball, University of Michigan; Ronni Ephraim, 2tor; Francesca Forzani, University of Michigan; Jennifer Green, Urban Teacher Center; Sarah Hayes Campbell, KIPP DC; Christina Hall, Urban Teacher Center; Heather Kirkpatrick, Aspire Public Schools; Brent Maddin, Teacher U / Relay School of Education; Jesse Solomon, Boston Teacher Residency; Melora Sundt, University of Southern California; Yutaka Tamura, Teacher U / Relay School of Education. (NSVF, 2011)

Although most session participants were women, most represented entities that were focused on preparing teachers for urban schools specifically, funded by NSVF and/or founded by White men, many with business backgrounds: 2tor (Jonathan Katzman), KIPP (Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg), Aspire Public Schools (Don Shavley and Reed Hastings), Relay (Norm Atkins), and Boston Teacher Residency (Jesse Soloman and Tom Payzant). These gendered demographics were ones that Cheng (2013) herself noted when explaining the dynamics that emerged among LtT-CoP members, who eventually self-selected into subgroups based on trust and rapport. One consisted of mostly men who run entrepreneurial teacher preparation organizations, the other of mostly women from institutes of higher education (p. 99).

Curating this session under the banner of brokenness in teacher education and identifying all participants as entrepreneurs apart from that brokenness offer up to those in attendancepresumably invited by NSVF, not session participants themselvesa clear and insider-approved narrative about the state of the field. It offers up as well a new kind of university-based (White woman) teacher educator: one more identifiable with pioneering disruption to the field than participating with and within the field, despite (for some) decades working in the belly of that presumably broken beast. It even offers office hours, indexing literally and figuratively the shifting of university-based resourcesin this case, (some) teacher educators time, energy, and expertiseto NSVF Summit attendees where one might otherwise expect students.

These extractive offerings are part of what makes university-based teacher educators participation doubly profitable for privatizers. They are also part of why being at the table so often falls short of delivering on the liberal fantasy of inclusion and its promises of increased influence. As the recent blockbuster film Get Out harrowingly reminds viewers, it matters profoundly whose table it is and who has a hand in setting it, not to mention what (or whom) is being served and for what ends and what extracts. Certainly, there are potential (individual) social, financial, and material gains to be made by participating alongside, for example, Silicon valley titans (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Salman Khan of Khan Academy), venture capitalists (e.g., John Doerr), business gurus (e.g., Stanford professor Steve Blank), key Department of Education representatives, leaders of major school districts, directors of high-status, capital-rich charter management organizations, and so on (NSVF, 2011); there are also (collective) consequences for public education, higher education, and the professions of teaching and teacher education. In this sense, as with many public-private partnerships under neoliberal regimes, in which the state assumes much of the risk while the private sector takes most of the profits (Harvey, 2005, p. 77), teacher educators participation alongside privatizers stands to exacerbate the very dynamics that ask public education, higher education, and teacher education to assume disproportionate risk and that reproduce the inequitable distribution of educational precarity.


Whatever peripheralizing occurs for teacher education in institutional settings, it is not absolute. Tenure-track and tenured teacher educators at high-status institutions especially are not just invited to tables but positioned to survey and set them, tooall of this in the very institutional spaces where knowledges are vetted and venerated and where the next generation of educational elites is socialized and skilled up. In these spaces especially, what does it mean to stand by while teacher education is served up? What does it mean to be in on the serving?

In spring 2011, for example, Stanfords School of Education (SUSE) and d.school (design school) cosponsored with NSVF a course titled Innovations in Education: Designing the Teaching Experience. In it, students studied educational disruptions, received NSVF mentoring, and completed intensive practicum experiences with entrepreneurs, institutions, and funders such as Aspire Public Schools, 2tor Inc., Teach For America, and others. Later that same year, SUSEhome to one of the countrys most highly regarded teacher education programs (i.e., STEP), teacher education scholars (e.g., Linda Darling-Hammond, Pamela Grossman, Lee Shulman), and historians of teacher education (e.g., David Labaree)hosted a panel discussion as part of its Cubberly Education Series. Its title was simple and striking: Does Teacher Education Have a Future?

Questions, of courselike speechescan be political, pedagogical, and imbued with different meanings when posed in different contexts. The question in this case might reasonably seem at first closed, then leading, perhaps even cynical, and finally prophetic given its placement and the panelists present to engage itBall, Grossman, and Steve Farr, chief knowledge officer at Teach For America. Looking back from the vantage point of fall 2016, watching then Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. release the new (now rescinded) teacher education regulations at the LtT-CoP-contributing and GREAT-Act-endorsing University of Southern California Rossier School of Education (Anderson & Zeichner, 2016), SUSEs 2011 panel seemed almost prescient. And it arguably was.

Around the table with King at the live-streamed event were Riley of Deans for Impact and his former NSVF colleague, then Undersecretary of Education and now Deans for Impact board member, Ted Mitchell; two deans, one from the hosting institution, another from an HBCU,16 and both among the then 20 members of Deans for Impact; a mix of educators, all affiliated with the host institution as doctoral students, graduates, and/or adjunct faculty; one entrepreneur and innovator who held a named university chair in Educational Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation and had founded, cofounded, and/or led online education ventures; and one clinical teacher educator, participating without the protections of tenure. Missing entirely were representatives from teachers and teacher educators key professional organizations (e.g., National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education).

Why curate such a group and yet still situate in a university setting the announcement of a sea change for teacher education? Why not host the event at Relay GSE, for example, one of two programs lauded in the Department of Educations press release about the regulations and an outgrowth of the very charter school network where King himself had worked? It likely mattered that the selected site had experimented with hybrid programs and proprietary partnerships, as the regulations encouraged, and projected a particular, pertinent future for higher education faculty, with a teacher education concentration composed of 41 adjunct, 19 clinical, and 0 tenure-track professors. It likely also mattered to have a selected site that would appear to signal some measure of endorsement from university-based programs, made plural by the overt praise King offered to Deans for Impact; you all are leading across the country. In addition to serving pedagogical and political ends, such curation arguably served a Trojan horse purpose, toosetting a university table with seats for disruption and serving up teacher education faculty and students alongside entrepreneurs, who felt comfortable enough to interject assertively despite having no actual teacher education experience and even to joke disparagingly about the [teacher education] research in the journals I dont read. These optics and politics are made possible only by the coparticipation of those claiming to represent university-based teacher education and urban-focused and/or minority-serving programs, specifically.

Looking back from 2018, now two years after the aforementioned press release, SUSEs spring 2011 panel seems prescient still. Practice-based approaches have been propelled forward by its panelists and other LtT-CoP participants, in some degree of partnership with one another and with the backing of venture philanthropy. Together, these players, and the privatization project to which they are all connected, have made practice-based preparation the mainstream answer to a different question, namely, What is the future of teacher education generally, and for those who will serve low-income youth of color in particular? Its a better question for sure, but one that is still met too often with simplistic calls for scalable ventures (Childress, 2016), replicable inventories of practice (Lemov, 2010; Peterson, 2010), and less theoryand more realityin teacher training (Riley, 2013). Indeed, a pedagogy of teacher education that fetishizes prescriptive methods and/or representational approaches to transforming the teaching force risks intensifying inequities by further blunting teacher candidates access to the kind of preparatory experiences that would develop in them a critical consciousness about the structures of schooling and a sense of agency about navigating and transforming them justly (Bartolomé, 1994).


Key to the preceding paragraph is the word together. The work of university-based teacher educators and the work of those invested in the disruption and deregulation of teacher education have become, by the disrupters design, a system thatquiet as its keptmay seem symbiotic but is nevertheless extractive. That the field discusses such things hardly, if at all, speaks to the content of the colloquial phrase; there is something to the silence, and thus something worth sayingdespite the stigma that might come with saying itabout the ways that some among us sponsor the same simplistic narratives to which the field has been subjected.

Balls keynote comments at the 2012 opening of Match Educations Charles Sposato School of Education offer a straightforward example.17

I have to sayas a person who taught for a long time in public education and . . . continues to teachthat we accomplished teachers. . . . We say things all the time like teaching has always come naturally to me, or Ive actually learned how I do what I do from experience and I really like to pass on what I know to beginning teachers. We say things like I cant really explain what I do; teaching is really an art form and you have to kind of follow your intuition a lot. Or people say things like I really appreciate the way Brian led that discussion but that would never work for me because thats not my style; it doesnt fit the way I am. I think that if most of us who went to, you know, have a surgical procedure and as we had the consultation the surgeon said, I know that this technique works really well for my colleagues, but I really prefer to use plastic spoons when I provide this procedure. Thats my style. (Audience laughter) I say these things to call to our attention to how appalling it is that the enterprise that matters so much to the future of this country is one where weve left adults to figure it out on their own. (Ball, 2012)

However lighthearted, it is quite a stretch of text for a teacher education scholar and leader of a public universitys celebrated school of education to offer up at the launch of a proudly anti-theory, independent teacher preparation program that receives funds from and partners with organizations that actively organize for privatization and against, in many ways, veteran teachers. It begins with an appeal to authority as an insider to long-term public school teaching, attributes a kind of casual fault to experienced teachers, and puts forward a metaphor that suggests a kind of flip, unprincipled, even willful malpractice, which is an altogether different thing than struggling to put into words ones accumulated and embodied knowledge. As a joke in context it landed predictably well; in fact, just after the spoons line, the camera angle shifts to the crowd, Mikuta in the foreground, laughing alongside others. With its final assertion, the excerpt slides from silly to somber and, in doing so, nearly narrates teacher education out of existence. If weve left adults to figure [teaching] out on their own, what, then, have teacher educators been doing all this time?

At another point in the same speech, Ball frames teacher education as a unique case of collective abdication of responsibility and, befitting the occasion, the opening as cause for celebration.

In no other sector in this society would we think the way to supply skillful service, skillful work would be to go find people, hope they do it well, leave them on their own to figure it out. We dont do that with nursing, we dont do that with surgery, we dont do that with hairdressing, and Im pretty happy about that to tell you the truth. We dont do that with firefighters, and we dont do it with airplane pilots. And every single time I get on a plane Im really glad that the plane is not being flown by somebody who just always loved planes and is being permitted to put one up in the air and see if he or she can do it. (Audience laughter) But thats what we do in this country; we take people who are committed to children and we say, Here, you know, its individual. Work on it, figure it out, well help you. Imagine if we did anything else that way. Its shocking but whats so important to me is that theres a growing movement in this country that recognizes that the next step after learning that teaching effects are so large is to build the system that equips the adults who are willing to teach with the skills it takes to do it and thats why Im so glad to be here as part of this opening.

It is another notable stretch of text from a teacher education scholar speaking at the opening of independent graduate school that defines itself through a negation of what it calls the traditional education school approach; commits to learning first and foremost from Relay GSE, Teach For America, and TeachingWorks; and advocates for an uncommonly direct and highly prescriptive approach to preparing a still predominantly White workforce for classrooms in urban charter and turnaround schools populated predominantly by kids of color (Sposato, 2018). And as with the preceding excerpt, this one arguably would take on different meaning, do different work, if delivered elsewheresay, to an audience of veteran public school teachers. Serving this speech in this setting, however, situates it as legitimate stock for rationalizing the same political and pedagogical project that has worked assiduously to erode union protections for teachers (Weiner, 2012), positioned veteran public school teachers as primarily a problem (Kumashiro, 2012), presided over one of the most racially suspect transformations of the teaching force in U.S. history (Buras, 2016), and on and on.

Though the we invoked remains abstract, given its speaker, the implication is clear: Teacher education before this moment and movement has accomplished little more than telling its charges to figure things out on their own. Such an insider indictment intersects powerfully with the history of feminized professions (i.e., repeatedly holding suspect womens professional knowledge) and with the neoliberal press to penetrate, privatize, and profit off public institutions, including K12 and higher education. Together they provide fodder for popular discourses and feed policy frameworks that rationalize removing from teachers and teacher educators the responsibility to direct and assess their own work in accordance with their own expertise. In fact, such narratives arguably negate the very idea that experienced teachers and teacher educators, on their own without entrepreneurial intervention, have expertise on which to draw and from which to speak. This, in turn, feeds a racial capitalist system in which expertise can be presumed or invisibilized, and identities can be commodified, as suits those in power; in such a system, being a teacherand/or a person of color, for that mattercan become a resource put into circulation as valuable only when it befits private interests. These dynamics give cause to carefully consider, for example, what privatization-linked entities stand to gain via their investments in communities, including educators, of color (e.g., tax credits, funding allocations, image laundering).

It follows that if teacher educators are frustrated with developments such as shifting performance assessment beyond teacher education program purview and in ways that privilege Whiteness (e.g., edTPA),18 or requiring, for accreditation purposes, that programs track graduates impact on their students learning and in ways that portend predictable unintended consequences (e.g., CAEP),19 or navigating preferential hiring arrangements that disadvantage traditionally prepared and/or homegrown candidates in urban districts (e.g., TFA),20 then teacher educators should be as frustrated with one another as they are with so-called reform entities. Indeed, teacher educators have played a role in scaling up such initiatives and shoring up the popular discourses and policy architecture that enable them. That many former LtT-CoP members feature so prominentlywhether Stanford as the site of edTPAs scaling up via Pearson; USC Rossier School of Education as a member of Deans for Impact, a partner with the for-profit company 2tor for the provision of online teacher education, and at the helm of CAEPs board of directors; or TeachingWorks as the key collaborator with Educational Testing Service in developing a national (avatar-based) observational teaching exam based on three high leverage practices (Educational Testing Service, 2016)speaks to the concentration of power and its connections to privatization.21

None of this should chill or otherwise discourage outspoken self-critique about the field among its members; to the contrary, ethical engagement requires it. Indeed, while all speech acts are political, and time and place imbue them with particular significances, so too are silences. If there is a quiet as its kept about which to worry today, it is the fields quiet when it comes to venture philanthropy, its connections to the broader privatization project, and the racialized implications for the public.22


The professional foils embedded in Balls aforementioned speech are potentially instructive, toonot as much in the manner presented, but in how some of their contemporary contours point back to underlying (racialized) economic structures. Why is it that financial vulnerabilities, including wage violations, are a fact of life for so many hairdressers despite the fields recession-proof status? Why was it that when wildfires raged last year in California, frontline firefighters included so many incarcerated women in a state where ALEC-funded three-strikes legislation helped create a substantial, exploitable, racially disproportionate inmate underclass? Why was hero pilot Captain Sullenberger, a month after navigating his plane safely onto the Hudson River, in Congress arguing for better working conditions and wages, recounting that he now consulted on the side just to maintain a middle-class life and stating, I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps? To consider teacher education as somehow apart from these dynamicsand to recycle profession-to-profession comparisons decontextualized from capitalism . . . as a racialized and gendered regimeis to participate in the very obfuscation on which that regime depends. To be sure, it is no small task to cut against that obfuscating grain; in fact, doing so is quite the opposite of what social structures and institutions have socialized us to do.

In reality, and as these examples suggest, there are few good positions offered up to teacher educators by the enduring structures of racial capitalism and the more recent neoliberal turn in education reform. Some enlist teacher educators in the tail-chasing work of following bad ideas with incrementally better ones; they risk ensnaring teacher education in endless quests to build better virtual teaching simulations, better proprietary performance assessments, and on and on. Such distractions stand to serve the neoliberal project more than the profession or the public. Others extend to teacher educators the role of reforming reformers; they incentivize efforts to intervene and fix privatizations fixers, leaving untouched the roots of the broader project. In this, teacher educators labor becomes the fulcrum for developing the very sector that seeks to discredit their expertise and dismantle the structures that enabled its production. Still others situate teacher educators, the vast majority of them White women, as potential sponsors who can provide entrée into public education via hybrid ventures and, in so doing, ease nonpublic entities extraction of resources from universities and public schools and in ways that maintain or exacerbate the racialized distributions of precarity.

Then there are the positions that open up around the inevitable endingsuniversity-based program closuresthat privatization portends. Impending extinctions only offer so many avenues for action. Hospice is one, easing the inevitable as painlessly as possible. Pallbearing is another; in other words, finding ways to be among those carrying, perhaps shifting outside traditional higher education, rather than carried and lowered down. Neither seems an appealing option for most teacher educators, which is perhaps why being at the table with privatizing entities retains such appeal. Liberal fantasy lets us imagine that there might be some new option to cook up if closer to the kitchen. Alas, despite its rhetoric, neoliberalisms cruelest gifts are often ever more limited and disappointing choices. And racial capitalism reminds us that those choices, whether acknowledged or not, are sure to elevate some and injure others, and not at all at random. This is one of the reasons that collective agency in transcending neoliberalisms offerings arguably holds the most potential for rebuffing the well-resourced, highly organized effort to lead [us, against public education] from behind and for refusing to collude with racial capitalism.


With all that is swirling around usaudio recordings of the now president joking about sexual assault, White supremacists in the streets, Syria as the site of the worst humanitarian crisis since Word War II, calls to further militarize schools in response to mass shootings, and on and onteachers face an incredible task: how to support young people in navigating these realities while also teaching them ambitious academic content. Its a task that demands from teacher educators something more and different than highly proscriptive training, more and different than what any proprietary performance assessment could capture, more and different than what, say, the test scores of students of programs graduates might represent.

In this climate, practice-based approaches that have been embracedand in some ways misappropriatedby privatizing entities have begun to face rightful, if quiet, criticism for their inattention to equity (Philip et al., 2018). Some of those pressing practice-based teacher education forward, particularly in the university, have seemingly distanced themselves from the likes of NSVF, while at the same time appearing to take pages from its playbook, convening around themselves those who might assist with such a distancing as well as create new and valued proximities.23

In recent years, for example, TeachingWorks has commissioned equity-oriented working papers from scholars beyond its most proximal networks. It has kicked off speaker series that differ from years prior, when it hosted disruptive innovatorsincluding representatives from organizations that ended up explicitly or implicitly named as problematic by Black Lives Matter activists, the NAACP, and public school advocatesand framed them as leaders in teacher preparation alongside established scholars.24 Its 201718 series, From Outrage to Action: Disrupting Inequity Through Teacher Education, features scholars working at or near the intersection of race, teaching, and teacher education. Each is charged with selecting a high-leverage practice and illuminating how the enactment of that particular practice exposes the nuanced ways in which issues of equity and inclusion are fundamental to just practice (TeachingWorks, 2017).

As a project, it seems both an invitation to bring ones own work into conversation with that of colleagues and akin to an outsourced retrofitting of equity to presumed neutral practices that have already been deemed just. With its naming and framing, it obscures TeachingWorks originating ties to venture philanthropy and disruptive innovation, while reframing inequity (rather than teacher education) as disruptions target. At least some of those speaking and submitting knew little about the ties between TeachingWorks as a public-private hybrid entity, NSVF as a venture philanthropy outlet, and the broader agenda to break the lock and decouple teacher preparation from higher education. To quote one invitee, I agreed to participate not really understanding who they were and only really paying attention to the politics of the other scholars they had invited. Now understanding where their funding is coming from, their hosting of events focused on issues of equity and justice feels purposeful and intentionally misleading.25

Of course, this might be precisely how some in the original LtT-CoP group felt upon realizing by and with whom they were being convened, too. That is a possibility beyond this articles scope. It is also beside the bigger point, which is this: If teacher educators do not make it normal to surface and speak about the otherwise shadowed networks striving to lead from behind, then many will be at risk of landing themselves and others in positions they did not intend or even understand. The same risk is likely, too, if teacher educators leave uninterrogated the mechanisms by which the neoliberal academyand the broader apparatus of which it is part (including its premier organizations)enlists members into racialized extraction by emphasizing individualist ascendance, conditioning professional advancement (accumulation) on dispossession, promoting surface representation and inclusion over transformation, and so on.

In this moment, university-based teacher educators face many binds. If they acquiesce to popular narrations or allow them to go uninterrupted, they risk ceding legitimacy in the broader discourse. If they dispute unsubstantiated claims, point out data misuse in media, or mention teacher educations limits in the face of long-standing structural inequities, they risk common criticismaccusations of kneejerk defensiveness, deflection of responsibility, and defense of the status quo. If they try to ride the tenuous middleacknowledging the need for change and highlighting their efforts in that regardthey risk setting themselves apart rhetorically in ways that implicitly impugn peers for not doing the same, or more, or better. If they collaborate, they risk cooptation into agendas beyond their own. If they critique colleagues who partner with privatizers, they risk criticism as petty and overly political and risk, too, the marginalization of their work. These conditions convenience capitalist accumulation by pitting teacher educators against one another and by drawing attention away from policies, practices, and processes that harm public schools and the communities that suffer most as a result (Buras, 2014; Journey for Justice, 2014; Rooks, 2017); teacher educators are thus called to refuse them.26

Teacher education has a future to imagine and important questions with which to grapple transparently: Whose agendas will shape what comes next? Whose knowledge will factor, and how? In what ways will teacher educators hold each other accountable, not just pedagogically and professionally, but politically too? What will it take to move the field forward, given the landscape as it has been laid? Where are the strengths on which to build? Rather than reifying brokenness or incompetence, these questions assume intellectual engagement, moral commitment, political action, and professional renewal on the part of teacher educators.

It is crucial that teachers use their influence and authority always in others best interests, reads one of the University of Michigans teacher education ethical obligations (University of Michigan School of Education, 2017). This is a wise obligation and an oath that warrants, in these times, careful articulation of which others interests matter most and how. In todays policy context, it is silence on these topics of substance that renders even ethical teacher educators at risk of ending up ensnared in destructive and racially suspect reforms, and for reasons far more complicated than simple character flaw, carelessness, or collusion. Indeed, there is no way to do right by the public in public education without coming to clarity on these issues. Thus, although teacher education absolutely needs transformers (Kretchmar & Zeichner, 2016) who will take seriously the mentioned questions, it also needs for us all to be conscious, careful, and accountable when it comes to the structures of racial capitalism and, importantly, the (neoliberal) web into which present-day privatizing interests would like to see teacher educators profitably woven.


1. The terms disruption and disruptive innovation are used repeatedly by entities referenced throughout this article (e.g., NewSchools Venture Fund), as well as those writing about their work (e.g., Cheng, 2013), whether appreciatively (e.g., Hess & McShane, 2014) or critically (Zeichner & Peña-Sandoval, 2015).

2. This colloquialism is often cited back to Toni Morrison, who uses it a number of times in her novels, including in the preface to The Bluest Eye (1970), to signal the importance of secrets and silence to African American history, identity, and storying. It offers a fitting frame for this article, given its literal content and conceptual grounding in racial capitalism.

3. All clauses reference matters covered concretely in popular media (e.g., see Miller, 2016; Rizga, 2017; Singer, 2014, 2016; Turner, 2017; Wiggin, 2013).

4. This is an actual quote that could be attributed to President Obama (2011) and/or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2014); it is also an oft-repeated refrain among those on the political left and right who align themselves with neoliberal education reforms and reformers.

5. This use of prospected indexes both Milton Friedmans 1951 essay titled Neoliberalism and Its Prospects and David Harveys (2005) chapter Freedoms Prospect, as well as the words lay usage in reference to gold mining, mineral extraction, experimental drilling, and so on.

6. This is meant to reference the phrase Make America Great Again, which was introduced into the popular lexicon by Donald Trump in his successful 2016 presidential campaign. The phrase has been used so often that it requires no specific citation and has become a kind of shorthand phrase to invoke the campaign and its reliance on dog whistle racial politics, both leading up to and during the 45th presidency.

7. In 2017, Columbia Universitys endowment totaled $10 billion, while Teachers Colleges totaled $300 million.

8. Percentages of White teacher education program faculty and enrolled students have hovered at or slightly above 75%, with some variation by level and field, some indication of greater diversity among alternative providers, and some continued challenges to securing reliable data (Ludwig et al., 2010; U.S. DoE, 2016a).

9. These quotes are extracted from a GREAT Act summary (GREAT Principals and Teachers Act, n.d.) that lists Senators Michael F. Bennet, Lamar Alexander, Barbara Mikulski, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Kirk as its authors and is publicly available via NSVF- and EdWeek-hosted links.

10. Specific details embedded in this sentence were extracted from Deborah Balls personal website in November 2017.

11. This group was chosen from the larger group using a random number generator.

12. For more context, the longer quote reads, As my supervisor [Julie Mikuta] explained, NewSchools does not lead from the front, but from behind, and that when NewSchools has led from the front, it hasnt been as productive.

13. Annual reports and public materials indicate that TeachingWorks launched officially in 2011 (e.g., TeachingWorks, 2012); website content, however, links its founding to 2004 (NSVF, 2018a) and narrates it as an outgrowth of the preexisting Teacher Education Initiative (TEI) at the University of Michigan (U-M) (TeachingWorks, 2018).

14. For years, these affiliations were referenced in Mikutas bio and on organizations webpages and/or annual reports. Since fall 2018, content changed in various places. Verb tense has been copyedited accordingly here. Elsewhere in this paragraph, efforts were made to reconfirm information that was accurate at the time of submission. That said, any reference to such affiliations is made more so to underscore connectedness generally rather than at any particular moment.

15. To be sure, Greens book (2014) delves more deeply into the topics at hand and with greater nuance than the shorter, same-titled The New York Times Magazine feature that preceded its release, is referenced here, and benefited from the Sundays NYTs reach (i.e., circulation to more than 1.6 million readers).

16. HBCU, a familiar acronym, stands for historically Black college and university.

17. For yearsfrom (at least) 2014 through 2018the website navigation bar for Sposato GSE included a Partners page nested under Who We Are. That page included references to Sposatos participation in the New Schools Venture Fund Community of Practice and its goal to learn from Relay GSE, TFA, and TeachingWorks. That page also featured videos of two speeches from our partners Deborah Ball, Dean of University of Michigan's School of Education and Paul Reville, Massachusetts Secretary of Education, both of which were given at Sposatos launch event September 21, 2012. This page and its content are cached, however, the videos are no longer available.

18. For analyses of edTPA that foreground issues of race, see Madeloni (2015) and Petchauer, Bowe, and Wilson (2018).

19. For analyses that offer examples of unintended consequences wrought by accountability-related policies, see Booher-Jennings (2005) and Valli, Croninger, Chambliss, Graeber, and Buese (2008).

20. For analyses of preferential hiring along these lines, see Buras (2014) and Brewer, Kretchmar, Sondel, Ishmael, and Manfra (2016).  

21. As ETSs (2016) promotional video for NOTE, featuring TeachingWorks and Ball, explained, We work very closely with TeachingWorks to develop tasks, to develop rubrics, and to make sure everythings working correctly. The NOTE assessment is based on three high-leverage practices. TeachingWorks, likewise, promotes NOTE on its own social media platforms and references its organizational publications (e.g., annual reports).

22. Again, this is a reference to the colloquialism mentioned in FN2.

23. To be very clear, this is a descriptive statement, not an attribution of intent.

24. For example, the Movement for Black Lives (n.d.) policy platform includes an explicit call to end corporate backed market reformer programs such as Teach For America and has demanded alongside others (e.g., the NAACP and Journey for Justice) a moratorium on the charter school expansion.

25. This quote is from personal communication in September 2017 and was confirmed for publication in March 2018.

26. See Grande (2018) for a helpful treatment of refusal, which draws on Kelley, the broader Black radical tradition, and the work of scholars within the field of critical Indigenous studies.


I thank Dorinda Carter Andrews, Sandy Grande, Ilana S. Horn, Mariana Souto-Manning, Thomas M. Philip, Jamy Stillman, Manka Varghese, and Ken Zeichner, alongside the manuscript's reviewers, for reading earlier drafts and providing valuable commentary and critique.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 6, 2019, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22729, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 12:35:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Lauren Anderson
    Connecticut College
    E-mail Author
    LAUREN ANDERSON is an associate professor of education at Connecticut College. Her scholarship focuses on teacher education policy and practice and their impacts on K–12 public school students and teachers.
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