Reframing Teach For America: A conceptual framework for the next generation of scholarship


  • Janelle Scott University of California, Berkeley
  • Tina Trujillo University of California-Berkeley
  • Marialena D. Rivera University of California, Berkeley



Teach For America, racial inequality, policy entrepreneurs, educational leadership, urban educational reform, power networks


In this article, we advance a conceptual framework for the study of Teach For America (TFA) as a political and social movement with implicit and explicit ideological and political underpinnings. We argue that the second branch of TFA’s mission statement, which maintains that TFA’s greatest point of influence in public education is not in classrooms, but in its facilitation of entry into leadership positions aimed at reshaping public schooling, can be better understood in terms of the organization’s: a) infusion of “policy entrepreneurs” into educational policymaking processes; b) cultivation of powerful networks of elite interests; c) promotion of “corporate” models of managerial leadership; and, d) racial and social class identities of its corps members that facilitate entry into leadership and policy networks. Our framework is informed by the extant research literature on TFA, interview data from more than 150 alumni and corps members, and our observations of TFA’s 20th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C., as an illustrative case of TFA’s messaging and general orientation toward educational reform. We conclude that this framework can help illuminate under-examined political and ideological motivations behind the organization’s activities.


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Author Biographies

Janelle Scott, University of California, Berkeley

Janelle Scott is a Chancellor’s Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Graduate School of Education, Goldman School of Public Policy, and African American Studies Department. She earned a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of California at Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Before earning her doctorate, she worked as an elementary school teacher in Oakland, California. Scott's research investigates the politics of elite and community based advocacy, the politics of research utilization, and how market-based educational reforms such as school choice and privatization affect democratic accountability and equity within schools and school districts. She is currently working on a William T. Grant funded study of the politics of research utilization and intermediary organizations in Los Angeles and New York City with Christopher Lubienski and Elizabeth DeBray.

Tina Trujillo, University of California-Berkeley

Tina Trujillo is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education, and the Faculty Director of UC Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from UCLA and her M.A. in Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is a former urban public school teacher, school reform consultant, and educational evaluator. She uses tools from political science and critical policy studies to study the political dimensions of urban educational reform, the instructional and democratic consequences of high-stakes testing and accountability policies for students of color and English Learners, and trends in urban educational leadership. Her work is published in a range of journals, including American Educational Research Journal, Teachers College Record, Journal of Educational Administration, and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Marialena D. Rivera, University of California, Berkeley

Marialena D. Rivera is a doctoral candidate at the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education in the Policy, Organization, Measurement and Evaluation program, and a 2016 Intercultural Development Research Association, José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow. Her research focuses on the politics of education policy, privatization, and school finance. Her dissertation research explores school district debt financing and the politics of privatization.




How to Cite

Scott, J., Trujillo, T., & Rivera, M. D. (2016). Reframing Teach For America: A conceptual framework for the next generation of scholarship. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24, 12.



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