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NEPC’s January Education Interview of the Month Features a Discussion About American Meritocracy

BOULDER, CO (January 16, 2020) – In this month’s NEPC Education Interview of the Month, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña speaks with Dr. Daniel Markovits, the Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School, about his new book, The Meritocracy Trap

In The Meritocracy Trap, Markovits outlines the historical roots of meritocracy and the characteristics that made a meritocratic system appealing.

Today, however, critics argue that meritocracy in America is more myth than reality because the majority of American students are not offered real opportunities. Markovits agrees, noting that even as the majority of students are not provided adequate opportunities to succeed, the level of investment in educational opportunities for privileged students has exploded. So much so that Markovits believes the disparities in investment are establishing the kind of dynastic structure of opportunity that characterizes an aristocratic system.

Even for students that “win” America’s meritocratic competition, Markovits notes that their opportunities to flourish in life are diminishing. He points to the never-ending need to compete for opportunity and to work endlessly both during their academic careers and throughout their work careers to maintain their status – a phenomenon Markovits calls the meritocracy trap.

Markovits argues that elite educational opportunities should be made available to a greater number of students by enacting policies that require elite K-12 schools to increase the number of students they admit. He acknowledges that his proposal is politically contentious; however, he argues that it may find considerable support because America’s broken meritocratic system not only harms less privileged students, it offers even the “winners” little opportunity to meaningfully flourish in life.

A new NEPC Education Interview of the Month, hosted by NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All NEPC Education Interview of the Month podcasts are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

Coming Next Month

In February, Chris will be speaking with Jennifer Jellison Holme, an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning at UT Austin, and Kara Finnigan, director of the educational policy program at the University of Rochester, about their new book, Striving in Common: A Regional Equity Framework for Urban Schools.

Stay tuned in to NEPC for smart, engaging conversations about education policy.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: