Published: May 10, 2012

Just prior to entering the University of Michigan Law School, Wendy Chi taught in a Bay area under-resourced school. That experience motivated her to plan a career combining education and law, and brought her to CU-Boulder.

Having already earned a BA degree with Honors from the University of Chicago, she was eager to explore the field of law. While enrolled in law school, she realized that she needed a stronger background in education, too. Thus, after earning her JD, she entered the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education’s PhD program in Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice, coincidentally just as the school was embarking on its first cohort model.

“I had to take both qualitative and quantitative courses and that made me feel very well rounded and prepared for the job market,” Chi said. “And, there was great camaraderie among my peers because we were in classes together all day.”

Professor Kevin Welner, who also has both his JD and PhD degrees, was her advisor. As a nationally known education policy expert, he helped guide her desire to incorporate her dual passions of law and K-12 education.

Indeed, Chi’s dissertation, “Racial Isolation in Charter Schools: Achieving the Goals of Diversity and Constitutionality in the Post-PICS Era,” interweaves law and education. The research encompasses data she obtained from the Delaware Department of Education and explores the impact of the PICS case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 that struck down race-conscious policies in Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

“I grew up in Delaware, which was racially segregated. The inner city students were bused to the suburbs and vice versa,” Chi said. “Charter schools became prevalent in Delaware and now are also becoming extremely segregated.”

Chi’s research uses the dataset she obtained to compare the racial compositions and achievement levels between charter and traditional public schools. She follows up with a legal analysis using the PICS decision.

“This research made me wonder what districts can do to address segregation in their schools given the Supreme Court decision that struck down race-conscious policies.” What she discovered opened her eyes about enrollment practices in Delaware charter schools.

“I found that students in Delaware moved from traditional public schools to charter schools with more of their own race. I also found that minority students were moving to charter schools with lower levels of achievement than the public schools they left. Non-minority students moved to charter schools that were higher achieving than traditional public schools.”

Now, as she leaves academia, she is open to career possibilities in school districts, policy organizations or government, “as long as it’s something I believe in.”