Section 1:

A Transformative Engagement Process

Providing Stakeholders the Pen to Co-Design Policy

In fall 2020, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) asked Kids First Chicago (K1C) to serve as the district’s lead stakeholder engagement partner for Accountability Redesign – a multi-year initiative to create a new system for measuring school quality and performance that would be fully informed by the ideas, insights, and perspectives of our city’s diverse education stakeholders.

This new system will replace the district’s previous measurement system, School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP). A strength of SQRP was that it included student growth measures, as well as school climate and culture information, compared to previous policies that focused on student attainment.

We heard loud and clear, however, that SQRP did not always align to stakeholders’ vision of what a “high-quality” school should provide for students – and, despite the inclusion of multiple measures, the policy reduced schools to a single rating.

K1C was responsible for creating the project’s stakeholder engagement plan and supporting the district on the outreach, collection, and synthesis of all stakeholder feedback data through town hall meetings, focus groups, surveys, local engagement efforts, and more.

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One of the things that would go a long way in keeping [stakeholders] engaged is showing us that we’re being heard. The trust issue is extremely significant. And it has a lot to do with why parents give up even trying to talk to the district.

—CPS Parent, Spring 2021 Town Hall

Insights From City-Wide Town Halls

Accountability Redesign was launched in January 2021 with the announcement of an Advisory Group – consisting of parents, students, teachers, principals, community members, CPS staff, and CPS Board members – that would be tasked with developing recommendations for the district’s new policy.

K1C began by designing the initial series of town halls that would introduce Accountability Redesign to CPS stakeholders. We memorialized key trends and themes from the town halls in a report.

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We heard from more than 750 attendees that there was a significant trust deficit between stakeholders and the district.

To be successful and inspire trust, we would need to help the district create an inclusive policy-making process wherein decision-making was transparent and stakeholders were continuously sought out for their insights and kept informed about the project’s progress. Moreover, K1C and CPS could not create and implement a stakeholder engagement plan in a vacuum; rather, we would need to co-create and co-implement a plan with stakeholders.

Defining High-Quality Schools

Defining what constitutes a high-quality school experience and measuring performance is essential to keeping parents, students, teachers, administrators, and district leaders informed about how our schools serve students.

Before: What Engagement for School Accountability Policy Looked Like in the Past

  1. Top-down, district-driven
  2. Limited opportunities for stakeholders to share their priorities and insights
  3. Ideation occurs behind closed doors
  4. Reliance on limited number of “experts,” not those most impacted
  5. Little iteration or substantive change
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We have heard these anonymous accounts of Black, Indigenous, Latinx/a/o people experiencing racism at some selective schools. When we think about outcomes — and making a school better — we need to listen to these voices to ensure that an excellent school is one that creates an equitable space for everyone.

—Community Partner

Section 2:

Inclusive Policy Design

The Stakeholder Engagement Design Team

Recognizing that stakeholders with different identities, perspectives, and backgrounds bring invaluable knowledge, talents, and insights to the design of the district’s new accountability policy, K1C and CPS launched a new Stakeholder Engagement Design Team (SEDT) in spring 2021.

The insights gathered by the SEDT would add to the technical expertise of the Advisory Group – allowing for the co-creation of an equitable, human-centered policy.

Radical inclusion asks us to acknowledge the system’s complexity and to open the system by making it accessible to all stakeholders. This means taking the time to educate and engage individuals or groups that may lack social capital or awareness of a particular policy, but whose perspectives and expertise are essential to promoting equity and inclusion.

Theory of Action

If CPS engages stakeholders in co-creating policy through a radically inclusive process, then district policies will be more reflective of the needs of those most impacted, resulting in improved policy outcomes and students being better prepared to succeed in life.

Stakeholder Engagement Design Team

Brings “unlikely” collaborators and their respective expertise to the table.
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Sometimes you want changes right away, but when you are part of a team, sometimes, to make change happen, it takes time. Considering other minds and perspectives, [I felt] relieved when my ideas were heard.

—CPS Parent, Advisory Group & SEDT Member

Section 3:

Looking Ahead

Recommendations for CPS’s new Accountability Framework will be considered by the Chicago Board of Education in February 2023 and the Board expects to adopt key measures in April 2023.

Takeaways on the Future of Accountability

  • Social-Emotional Learning. Across all stakeholder groups, a school’s ability to develop students’ social-emotional skills emerged as a top priority metric for any future school accountability system.
  • District Accountability. Schools cannot do this work alone. Specifically, any future school accountability system should establish greater accountability for the district, grounded in the shared responsibility of providing the necessary support to generate positive outcomes for students. This could be accomplished through more transparent reporting on what every school receives in terms of funding, staffing, and support.
  • A Focus on Inputs and Outcomes. The system should not solely focus on school-level outputs and outcomes and instead, give greater consideration to, and accountability for, inputs such as the set of resources (e.g., funding to schools) and conditions (e.g., safe and inclusive professional and student learning environments) that effectuate a high-quality educational experience.
  • Less Punitive and More Supportive. Stakeholders felt SQRP was punitive and did very little to support school improvement. Instead, stakeholders want the district to use the new school accountability system to diagnose where and how to equitably direct funding and support to schools with greater needs.

Takeaways on Inclusive Policy Design

Equity Requires an Inclusive Approach. Real equity in policy design requires us to include the voices of those most impacted and meet them where they are – both in educating them on the issue and centering on their ideas. Involving people in the design of the process itself is just as important as the resulting policy.

Inverting Power Creates Durable Solutions. By co-designing solutions alongside those most directly impacted (bottom-up) rather than being driven by the district (top-down), those solutions will inevitably work better for those affected – and therefore will last much longer.

Inclusivity Takes Time. And that is okay. We have to detach ourselves from traditional notions of urgency that prioritize output rather than outcomes. Inclusivity requires us to accept a pace of change that ensures inclusion.

Inclusion Requires Trust. Intrinsic biases often prevent us from fully including those directly impacted. We have to challenge ourselves to trust people to lead themselves – if we give them the information and opportunity to do so.


You may find more information on key findings from focus groups, and other community engagement events, along with information about the Accountability Redesign Initiative at the links provided.

Press Announcement (February 2021)

Chicago Public Schools' Strategic Initiatives Accountability Redesign

Summary Report (May 2021) Town Hall Meeting Analysis

Summary Report (June 2021) Focus Group Analysis

Summary Report (February 2022)
Survey Dashboard, video presentation, and PowerPoint presentation

Summary Report (September 2022) Focus Group Analysis