Theses Doctoral

Executing Content: Instructional Guidance Infrastructures and Conceptions of Teacher Professionalism

Flack, Clare Buckley

In response to increasing expectations for college and career readiness, networks for school improvement have been codifying instructional guidance infrastructures (IGIs) for teachers, expanding and aligning components such as prescribed curricula, assessments, coaching, and professional development. Historically, teaching in the United States has lacked infrastructure. Teachers who have done ambitious work have done so by placing an enormous burden upon themselves, and more prescriptive IGIs may relieve some of this burden. However, the occupational control exercised by an IGI may constrain teacher autonomy. This comparative case study documents rationales for IGI expansion at two purposefully-selected network in a large urban district, developing profiles of their IGIs, and exploring implications for the occupational role of teachers. Findings emerge from iterative analysis of 42 semi-structured interviews and 51 hours of observation. Each network staff’s sensemaking around their respective instructional guidance infrastructures (IGIs) reflected competing conceptions of teacher professionalism. Denizen Charter Management Organization promulgated a more prescriptive IGI that included minimal support for adaptation and tightly aligned accountability mechanisms. Conversely, Metropolitan Schools, a non-profit organization, implemented a more discretionary IGI with flexible curricular frameworks. Adoption of their IGI was voluntary with fewer accompanying accountability structures. Denizen’s more prescriptive IGI reflected the new professionalism (in which bureaucracies routinize the knowledge base of discretionary work) while Metro’s more discretionary IGI aligned more with classic professionalism (characterized by abstract knowledge, authority over practice, and autonomy). Distinct conceptions of the knowledge base for teaching undergirded these differences. An emphasis on pedagogical content knowledge and content-area pedagogical practices at Metro reflected an understanding of teachers as experts. In contrast, Denizen’s emphasis on content-agnostic pedagogical knowledge and generic instructional moves reflected a performative model of teaching. However, elements of competing conceptions of professionalism co-existed within each IGI.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Flack_columbia_0054D_15977.pdf Flack_columbia_0054D_15977.pdf application/pdf 2.25 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Pallas, Aaron M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2020