Summary and Keywords
While meritocratic ideals assume a level playing field for educational competition, those who can may seek to tilt the field in their children’s favor to ensure better educational opportunities and the associated life rewards. A growing body of literature is researching “up” to better understand how advantage for some through the choice of elite or private schooling contributes to the relative disadvantage of others. Institutional claims to offering an “elite” education can rest on different logics such as social selectivity by dint of high fees or academic selectivity by dint of enrollments conditional on academic excellence. Private education provided by a non-government entity serves as an alternative to public sector provision for those who can afford it. The global spread of neoliberal metapolicy has fanned a general trend towards privatization. Such logics of social restriction can distinguish the whole school, niche programs of distinction within a school, or tracking practices that pool advantage in particular classes or subjects. While education policy debates wrestle with how to articulate competing ethics of excellence, inclusivity, and equity, elite branding unapologetically resolves these tensions by conflating excellence and exclusivity. To achieve and sustain elite status, however, relies on the extra work of carefully curating reputations and protecting the brand. Recent research has started to ask more difficult questions of educational privilege. Such research helps to understand: the curricular processes and nature of privilege achieved through elite and private educational choices; how such education harnesses the semblance of meritocratic competition to legitimate its forms of distinction; and the broader impact of these processes.
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