Making Meritocrats: An Examination of the Development of Meritocratic Ideologies in High School
Suneal Kolluri

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Riverside

Primary Discipline

Notions of merit are at the ideological center of the United States high school. Students ostensibly earn grades, gain access to advanced classes, and achieve admission to college, all on the basis of smarts and hard work. However, U.S. meritocracy ? the belief that those atop social hierarchies have earned their position due to superior ability or work ethic ? is deeply paradoxical. People in the U.S. are among the world?s strongest believers that anyone who works hard can succeed, but they experience less social mobility than residents of almost any other developed nation. The role of the high school in perpetuating this paradox deserves interrogation. Leveraging social network analysis and ethnographic methods, I will ask how are meritocratic beliefs produced, reinforced, and resisted in a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse public high school in the United States? How students experience academic opportunity and how they engage with peers and teachers in their high school likely shape their beliefs about the meritocracy myth. Since political leaders often legitimize inequality under the rhetorical guise of meritocracy, an exploration of how meritocratic ideologies manifest among students on the precipice of adulthood can help advance justice in the United States.
About Suneal Kolluri
Suneal Kolluri is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. He researches social stratification in high school. Specifically, leveraging sociological theories, qualitative and mixed methods, and insights from nine-years of teaching in Oakland public schools, he interrogates how college readiness practices and school curricula shape existing inequalities by race, ethnicity, class, and gender. His research has appeared in the Harvard Educational Review, Urban Education, the Review of Educational Research, and Educational Researcher, among others. He has written op-eds in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Inside Higher Ed, and Education Week. Previously, he was a President?s Postdoctoral Scholar for the University of California, and he was awarded National Board Certification for secondary social studies teaching. He received his PhD from the University of Southern California, his MA from Stanford University, and his BA from UCLA.

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