Following the October 2020 release of EdSystems’ Advancing Racial Equity statement, the need to address systemic racial injustices has only grown. The killings by U.S. law enforcement of Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, and many others in recent months—coupled with the ongoing, disproportionately negative impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx people—are weighing heavily on our team and serving as important and far too constant reminders that we all must do our part to address inequities. The historic guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial will only signal progress if followed by systemic reforms to eliminate racism and ensure equitable opportunities for communities that have been marginalized.
Since October, our team has individually and collectively worked to deepen our understanding of how to make racial equity more central to our work, internally and externally. We began by bringing in partners from ConnectED and National Equity Project to help our team develop shared values and goals through a series of leadership retreats, several of which focused on Liberatory Design as a framework to guide our work.
Beginning Our Advancing Racial Equity Journey
One of our key goals is prioritizing our time and resources working with districts and colleges where we can best advance racial equity by working to support the success of Black and Latinx students. In March 2021, we conducted a review1 of our current engagements and found we are engaged with 50 of the 100 Illinois high school districts where either Black or Latinx students represent 20% or more of the student population.
While many of those communities were already critical partners, twelve of the districts are new engagements initiated over the last nine months since the release of our statement. We continue to identify regions serving significant populations of Black and Latinx students where we are not yet engaged but hope to recruit for future partnerships aligned to their needs and goals. As populations shift and grow across the state, we will regularly review the data to help inform our outreach efforts.
First Steps in Implementation
To truly advance racial equity, however, we recognize that what matters is not just whom we work with or where we work geographically but also how we work with our community partners. One key aspect of that is listening to and engaging with end-users and community stakeholders more deeply as part of our process. What does that look like in practice? In recent months, our efforts have included the following examples.
- In January 2021, we helped launch the new Student Advisory Council for the Illinois 60 by 25 Network together with our partners Advance Illinois and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. The SAC represents the diversity of Illinois both geographically and demographically. Part of our first meeting of the SAC included hearing how they get information about postsecondary opportunities and how to make plans for their futures. What emerged from this discussion is the need to ensure college and career preparation should be holistic and seamless. We plan to continue exploring these issues with SAC students to better understand the tools they use in their decision-making, including labor market information, to identify opportunities for policymakers and administrators to better direct support and resources to students moving forward. We will also help guide student participants to strengthen their advocacy in their own communities, helping them identify ways to use this information within their schools and communities to drive positive change.
- We are also working with the Illinois 60 by 25 Network Leadership Communities to better understand their use cases for data resources such as the Cradle to Career Community Dashboard and how we can build a flexible and valuable resource to fit their community-specific contexts.
- We are partnering with an NIU College of Education researcher with a focus on understanding minorities’ experiences in schools to conduct deep research into student experiences in education pathways to better inform our Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois (SEPI) work. From that experience, we hope to develop models for student engagement and capturing user stories that can be used in other projects.
- We are directly engaging with hiring managers in the health sciences industry to understand how they recruit job candidates so we can better prepare and inform individuals to enter the workplace to identify opportunities to enhance quality pathways for Black and Latinx students. We will also be conducting focus group discussions with individuals who have completed health science pathways to understand their experiences and how the system could better support them and their peers as they progress along their pathways.
In addition to the above examples, our team has been deeply engaged in designing and launching a new community-based initiative that will place racial equity at the forefront of local college and career readiness strategies.
At the state level, we are advocating for clear racial equity targets by sharing the impact policies have on Black and Latinx students, encouraging state agencies to target outreach and engagement with students of color.
- In conversations around the emerging equity targets for Illinois’ postsecondary attainment goal, the EdSystems team recommends a process to backward map the goal through the education and workforce systems and determine how Illinois can monitor progress at a community level and prioritize equitable access and outcomes.
- We participated in workgroups for the Higher Education Strategic Planning process, bringing our systems thinking and focus on equity to those long-range policy conversations.
- We are engaged in the ongoing Illinois Workforce Innovation Board Equity Task Force, particularly engaging with questions around data and how we know the workforce system is thoughtfully integrated with the education system.
- In our monthly transitional instruction calls with our state agency partners, we are bringing forward data to understand the experiences Black and Latinx students have with developmental education.
- Through a partnership between the Illinois Work-Based Learning Innovation Network and Practera, we are supporting communities to pilot fully virtual or hybrid team-based challenge and career development experiences that provide more equitable access to work-based learning experiences. Incorporating multiple work-based learning models addresses common barriers such as transportation and scheduling and can reach different groups of participants more effectively.
With new funding from the America Rescue Plan and guidance from the P-20 Council Learning Renewal Resource Guide, we anticipate new project spaces to emerge this next year and are already thinking about how to intentionally implement our racial equity guiding principles in future work.
In our statement, we committed to sharing our journey with you. We wanted to share the examples shared above as some of our early steps, though we still have much to learn and do moving forward. We will continue to share our journey, and we invite you to join us in advocating for and advancing racial equity across Illinois.