Don’t Confuse School Choice with Segregation

Recently, the Associated Press released its analysis of charter schools, claiming charters are the most segregated schools in our nation and perpetuate the challenges that charters claim to solve, including educational equity.

This study is inherently flawed as it fails to incorporate the lack parity in housing and communities and fails to acknowledge the influence that someone’s residence has on school options. Where people live determines where their children go to school, and unless families are able to drive their children to a more diverse community with stronger schools, families make choices based on the options they have close to home.

There are some families that can spend two hours on public transportation or take their child out of their home area for school. Throughout the last year, I’ve heard from many Compton families who are excited about a high-quality option for their children. They love their community and want to stay there, but they also want their children to have an excellent education.

Many parents shared with me stories of using a family’s address in Long Beach to enroll their child in Long Beach Unified because of the better quality of schools there. Or families who are pinching every penny to send their child to a parochial school in Compton because they don’t want their children in CUSD. Or families who are spending gas money to take their children to charter schools in Gardena or Los Angeles because of the options in those communities for rigorous and high-achievement, options not available in Compton, where 31% of students are proficient in ELA and 25% are proficient in math.

But for most families in Compton, where the per capita income is $13,847, this is not an option. Attending schools in their immediate neighborhood is the only choice for parents who lack transportation, work multiple jobs, and are the caregivers for nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, as is the case for many families in Compton.

In Compton, where we will open Paragon Academy of Compton in August 2018, 33% of residents are black and 65% are Hispanic, according to 2010 Census data. Two percent are white, Asian, or Pacific Islander. Compton USD’s student enrollment reflects these residential patterns: nearly 80% of CUSD students are Latino and 19% are African-American. The difference accounts for the differences in the age of demographics; with a younger population of Latinos, there are more school-aged children who identify as Latino/Hispanic.

One would not argue that CUSD is perpetuating the issue of segregation based on its enrollment patterns. (That the district is perpetuating systemic inequity through lowered expectations and low proficiency rates is a matter for another article.) The district demographics reflect those of the community, residents, and school-aged children. As a school of choice in Compton, we anticipate that our student demographics will parallel that of the district’s, and we should not be cited perpetuating segregation as a charter school. It is the default of where people live that inform student enrollment, and that, despite the AP’s claim, is the crux of the matter of segregation.

Another point overlooked by the AP in their analysis is choice. Charter schools provide choice for families; families can select the best option for their child. Families with means have choices.

At Harvard-Westlake, a premiere private school in LA County, 69% of students are white, 18% are Asian, 7% are black, and 5% Latino. Le Lycee Francais, another well-known LA private school has a student population of 74% white, 5% black, 4% Asian, and 2% Hispanic. In a County where 48% of residents are Latino, where is the outcry about segregation at these schools? Oh, right, there isn’t any because of these are private schools, and choice is allowed when you are wealthy.

When families can choose to send their child to a school where the cost of tuition –  $22,675/year on average at Lycee Francais – is almost as much as the per capita income in LA County – $27,954 – but families in low-income communities are blamed for wanting the same quality options and choosing charters for their children, that is perpetuating segregation in our schools.

ALL children deserve a choice of a high-quality education, and when families in communities like Compton choose a high-achieving school, that’s not perpetuating segregation. That’s trying to find a solution to the systemic inequities that plague communities and allow for their child to have the same opportunities in life as those paying $23,000 do.

The reality is where someone lives dictates their educational options, and schools, by default of housing patterns, reflect the population of that school community. If we want to tackle segregation in schools, we must first start address issues related to housing and stop the myth that charters are to blame for an issue that’s been around longer than charter schools.

What do you think?

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Sandra Kinne

Sandra Kinne

Sandra Kinne is the Founder and Executive Director of Paragon Academy of Compton, a TK/Kinder – 8th grade free, public charter school driven by excellence for all. Paragon Academy opens in August 2018. Learn more at
A former Fellow with the selective, national organization Building Excellent Schools, Sandra studied more than 40 of the highest-performing schools that educate students in low-income communities. Observing best practices of instruction, school culture, and school leadership, Sandra also received extensive training in finance, facilities, curriculum, and organizational leadership. She completed five-week-long leadership residencies at Endeavor College Prep in Los Angeles in January 2017 and Great Lakes Academy in August 2017
As someone from a low-income background, Sandra is passionate about creating opportunity, access, and hope for students and their families. As a first-generation college graduate, she knows the power of an education and wants to provide an exemplary education for children of Compton, where she began her career in education 18 years ago.
Sandra was a 1999 Los Angeles corps member with Teach For America, and she taught 4th grade at Kennedy and King elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District for five years. She also taught in Syracuse, NY in a Special Education program for emotionally disturbed students and at Southside Academy Charter School, teaching 1st and 2ndgrade in a school where 97% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch. She was also a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development with Teach For America-Las Vegas Valley, coaching first- and second-year teachers. Sandra served as Assistant Principal at a middle school with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. Sandra also has worked in research evaluation, consulting on education projects – including PBS Kids.
Sandra has a B.A. in Newspaper Journalism, International Relations, and Women's Studies from Syracuse University, an M.A in Education from Loyola Marymount University, and an M.P.A from Columbia University.

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