Our Mission

Shape and strengthen education and workforce systems to advance racial equity and prepare more learners for productive careers and lives in a global economy.

Education Systems Center (EdSystems) is a mission-driven policy development and program implementation center based at Northern Illinois University.

Our primary focus is Illinois, while also working with national and international partners. Through our State university home, we forge longstanding leadership roles with State agencies and interagency boards and commissions. We work at the state level to create ecosystem and policy change while simultaneously working at the local level to create organizational change. This bi-directional approach allows us to align local efforts to state policy while elevating local experiences and learnings to state tables. Through strategic partnership building, we articulate a shared vision for enabling more Black and Latinx learners to achieve educational and career success.

We focus on three substantive priority areas: College and Career Pathways, Bridges to Postsecondary, and Data Impact and Leadership.

Mission-Driven, Data-Informed





5 Characteristics
These five characteristics define the EdSystems approach. Click an icon to learn more.

Creating Change

How We Work

Across our portfolio, we embed the following work cycle to effect organizational and ecosystem change.

Data for Continuous Improvement

At every stage, we incorporate the collection, utilization, and sharing of quantitative data—particularly disaggregated, longitudinal data—and qualitative data—particularly by learners most impacted by policies and practices—to inform the continuous improvement of our statewide and community-level efforts in support of our mission.


We advance a comprehensive and supportive State policy environment to support learners in Illinois equitably. 

We influence public policy by building relationships with policymakers, State officials, and policy advocates who can champion our policy agenda; taking an active role at policy tables with State agencies and government partners; forming networks; and providing public education on the issues. 

We champion and facilitate opportunities for state leaders to participate in national, cross-state initiatives that foster learning from promising practices and lead to policy change in Illinois.

We include the experiences and perspectives of Black and Latinx learners in policy advocacy efforts.


We spearhead innovative education and workforce models aimed at tackling systemic inequities and positioned to scale to regional and statewide implementation, such as student-centered personalized instruction, competency-based education, and performance-based assessments. 

We work to identify, support, design, and amplify models unlikely to emerge from schools making more incremental changes.


Along with research partners, we use longitudinal data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and other relevant demographic characteristics to understand whether our initiatives have an equitable impact.

Alongside quantitative data, we collect qualitative data to incorporate the perspectives of those the systems seek to serve, particularly Black, Latinx, and other historically underrepresented learners.

We work with our partners to gain a comprehensive understanding of their data and how to use that information to assess and monitor progress and goals.

Program Design & Implementation

We use local and state education and labor market data to understand learner opportunities and inform program design.

We build community networks to co-design programs, ensuring the identity and experience of all learners, particularly Black and Latinx learners, are considered and valued. 

We value the input of learners, employers, and other stakeholders when designing programs, particularly Black and Latinx learners and their families, and work with our partners to gather stakeholder feedback.

We design program models that develop technical and employability competencies, leading to state- and locally-recognized credentials, certificates, and degrees aligned to high-quality occupations.

We create inclusive spaces to support implementation, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, technical assistance, and sharing of best practices.

Learners need holistic support alongside meaningful educational and workforce experiences to succeed, and employers need support in ensuring their workplaces are welcoming, inclusive spaces for learners. We work with our partners to ensure thoughtful supports for learners, educators, and employers are implemented.

Sharing Learnings/Resources

We publicly share our learnings, best practices, and resources statewide and through national platforms to help advance equitable policies, practices, and implementation in the field.


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