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(Design) Fair Policies and Systems

One does not understand structures or systems by looking at intent. Instead, we have to examine what they actually do—how they operate and what the outcomes are. Certainly a system or structure could be established for the purpose of excluding or discriminating. However, most structures produce racialized outcomes without intent.

John Powell


Scales IconFair policies and systems promote equitable opportunities to reach equal positive academic and socioemotional outcomes for all student and stakeholder groups with an emphasis on those who are most impacted by structural inequality and inequity. Fair policies and systems happen
after examining the impact of key policies, practices, and budgets on students and communities followed by recommending and implementing actions for change. All policies require systems within which to operate; not all systems require policies. A system can function equitably with or without policies and policies can be used to positively impact systems to function equitably for students.

To examine policies and systems, we must ask who is burdened by past and present policies and practices and who benefits in order to chart a future plan to address the impact of inequity and promote access and opportunity.

The impact of inequity can include, and is not limited to, racial predictability of student success and community and school push out and displacement. Because policies and systems exist at the classroom, school, district, and city level, examining connections between policies and systems is critical for transformation.

All policies and systems should be continuously improved with equity and social justice at the center.


Those who design fair policies and systems:

  • Examine the impact within their control and explore possible equity-based solutions.
  • Create conditions that foster mutual trust and understanding, and which help stakeholders at all levels to be accountable for equity.
  • Check to see if their efforts marginalize a group of people or cause an undue burden.
  • Ensure inclusion and equal treatment of greatest needs groups in their school context.
  • Find root causes and generate a plan to redesign a policy or system.
  • Center policy decisions within students’ lived experiences.
  • Inform those who currently hold the power and responsibility to impact the inequity that is uncovered.
  • Redesign policies and systems to address the pressing need for racial equity and to meet the needs of those most impacted by inequity.
  • Ask a set of agreed upon questions when assessing any policy or system to reduce bias.
  • Monitor the impact of policies and systems to ensure success for all student groups.
  • Utilize the strengths of Chicago’s diversity to incorporate the social and cultural capital of its communities in all decision making.
  • Strengthen the links between school, classroom, and home to increase access and opportunity for parents.

This downloadable PDF includes the Equity Framework and interactive worksheets.

Download framework