TFA and the magical thinking of the “best and the brightest”


  • Megan Blumenreich The City College of New York, CUNY
  • Bethany Rogers The College of Staten Island, CUNY/The Graduate Center, CUNY



urban education, urban teaching, educational history, oral history, politics of education, teacher preparation, teaching conditions


This article draws on oral history testimonies to examine the experiences of participants in the inaugural 1990 cohort of Teach For America (TFA)—a group of young people dubbed the “best and brightest” of their generation and tasked with “saving” urban education. For 25 years, TFA has operated according to the principle of the “best and brightest,” in which it is assumed that participants’ personal qualities and prior academic achievement can stand in for deep professional knowledge and experience. Yet as our data show, the presumptions—that any “smart” person should be able to pick up teaching by doing it, that there is no specialized knowledge needed in order to teach, and that “outsiders” with little knowledge of a school community and its families can “swoop in” and “rescue” underserved students—ultimately set up and demoralized the participants with whom we spoke when they could not live up to such unrealistic expectations.  Through participants’ words and experiences, framed in historical context, we raise questions about the myth of the “best and brightest,” the theory of action promoted by TFA, and what it takes to teach in urban classrooms. 


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Author Biographies

Megan Blumenreich, The City College of New York, CUNY

An Associate Professor of Childhood Education, Megan Blumenreich’s research interests include urban education, teacher inquiry, and qualitative research methodologies. She is the co-author of Teaching Matters: Stories From Inside Urban Schools (New Press, 2012), and The Power of Questions: A Guide for Teacher and Student Research (Heinemann, 2005) and has also been published in Teachers College Record, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Qualitative Research.

Bethany Rogers, The College of Staten Island, CUNY/The Graduate Center, CUNY

Bethany L. Rogers is an education historian whose research focuses on the history of urban teachers, teacher preparation, and teacher reforms within the larger context of educational inequality.  She has published in Teachers College Record, History of Education Quarterly, and The Oral History Review.





How to Cite

Blumenreich, M., & Rogers, B. (2016). TFA and the magical thinking of the “best and the brightest”. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24, 13.



Teach For America: Research on Politics, Leadership, Race, and Education Reform