Since our founding, Education Systems Center (EdSystems) has been committed to advancing equity in Illinois through strengthening the connections between education and the workforce. Over the past eight years, our understanding of equity has evolved significantly, coming more and more to the forefront of our work. In 2017, we intentionally stated that one of the ways we characterize our work is that it is equity-focused, naming that “we prioritize eliminating disparities in education and employment outcomes for young people from underserved and underrepresented populations.” This statement has manifested itself in our work since then in multiple ways, including our emphasis on disaggregating data across the 60 by 25 Network dashboard and supporting communities to use it, our leadership for the State’s efforts to establish equity targets within its 60 by 25 goal, and our deeper engagement in communities across Illinois serving high proportions of Black and Latinx students.
Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black individuals in the spring of 2020, EdSystems recognized the need to stand publicly in solidarity with Black Americans to bring awareness and change to our nation’s systemic racial inequity and the lack of justice for many Black lives. This movement is growing during the national COVID-19 health crisis and subsequent economic devastation that are disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx communities. Considering this historical confluence, our team is taking active steps to reflect, learn, and make racial equity even more tangible in our work, deepening the commitment we made in 2017. We view this work as an ongoing journey and not a one-time planning exercise, and we will continue to adjust our direction in response to our learnings and engagement with our stakeholders.
Defining Our Racial Equity Goals
Our organizational racial equity goals will follow a “mirrors and windows” approach. We will reflect on our internal work while looking externally to advance racial equity within our community-level and state policy work.
Internally, our goal is to clearly define the team’s core equity values and establish how we will apply them as guiding principles in all our work. This process will include building a shared vocabulary and understanding by conducting an internal exploration of our teams’ perspectives on equity and our individual strengths and assets.
We are engaging experienced external partners to guide us for the next year, grounding us in the purpose and message that we carry into our three external-facing goals:
1) Advancing Racial Equity Within Our Community Networks
EdSystems will listen to and engage end-users and community stakeholders more deeply in our work with communities and regions across Illinois, thereby building our empathy for how students, families, and educators interact with the systems we influence. Listening and engaging will help us deepen our understanding of the communities we serve and support the local implementation of equitable policies and practices. We will work with stakeholders to develop clear, equity-focused goals to close racial opportunity gaps and define how EdSystems can support those efforts. We will prioritize our time, learning, and resources on school districts, community colleges, and regions where EdSystems can best advance equity for Black and Latinx students.
2) More Strongly Emphasizing Racial Equity in Our State Policy Work
EdSystems commits to examining our current priorities and efforts to identify where we might be upholding racist systems and advancing work that significantly lessens racial inequities. We will ensure that a strong focus on racial equity is tangible in all of our work. While our stakeholders will further inform us, we have identified four initial areas of focus:
- We will minimize remedial course barriers to college access and success, which disproportionately impact historically marginalized populations.
- We will develop high-quality, accessible, and equitable college and career pathways leading to fulfilling and sustainable careers.
- We will focus our work-based learning efforts on building connections between Black and Latinx students and mentors and industry professionals to increase access to opportunities and resources.
- We will seek to support and learn from innovative educational approaches such as those emerging from the State’s competency-based education pilots. We believe that to tackle systemic problems and inequities, we need to do more than “tinker at the edges” of structures that have underserved students for decades.
3) Modeling and Leading for Racial Equity
EdSystems will leverage our individual and collective access to policy-making spaces to push forward at micro and macro levels racial equity consciousness and commitment. In partnership with communities across the State, we will intentionally seek out, support, and amplify locally developed, innovative approaches to reducing racial inequities that can serve as models for other regions. We will engage stakeholders to inform our areas of leadership, which may include developing fundamental principles for racial equity in college and career pathways, and identifying or developing frameworks and supports for the application of those principles.
As we expand our racial equity emphasis, we will focus on our areas of expertise and influence. We will increase our understanding of how the systems we influence and design impact students and families and identify ways to measure our efforts. We will use data and our stakeholders’ input to identify additional engagement areas to make meaningful changes in racial equity, particularly in relation to barriers faced by Black and Latinx students successfully transitioning from high school to college and attaining postsecondary credentials of value.
The EdSystems team invites you to join us on this journey. We will share more steps and outcomes of this work and welcome your ideas and feedback to help us make this critical shift in how we operate and how we engage with the systems and communities we impact.