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Finding root causes effectively: A powerful way to improve schools


By: Andrew Hegedus


Most School Improvement Plans (SIPs) in education do not guide staff efforts to tackle the root causes that prevent significant performance improvement. It is unlikely student achievement will improve should these root causes remain. As a result, NCLB mandated consequences will eventually be imposed. These consequences increase pressure to address the root causes, but do not, in themselves, help schools determine or remove the root causes. SIPs generally reflect surface level discussions about the root causes of school performance issues. This then leads to plans that address symptoms rather than causes. By improving SIP quality through better determinations of the root causes of school performance issues, staff and administrative efforts will be more focused and directed in ways that have a higher likelihood of improving results. A review of education research and literature found that educators are urged to create cultures of inquiry and to determine root causes of problems to improve student achievement; however, almost no guidance actually exists that provides a school team a detailed methodology for finding these root causes. Using experience gained by facilitating the determination of root causes in schools and in industrial settings, as well as lessons from research and literature both within and outside of education, this paper provides a recommend process, and detailed protocols and tools for defining problems to be investigated and determining their root causes. The process differentiates the facilitation, protocols and tools to be employed based on the school’s existing organizational culture and its past performance results. These recommendations also support the development of a collaborative, inquiry based culture. Additional proposals are then provided for the entire SIP process, as well as for school district central office support, based on the lessons learned from developing the recommended process, protocols and tools.

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