We have begun the school review in School X. The committee consists of a nice cross-section of administrators and teachers from outside of that school. A delightful group. Clearly invested. Very professional. A pleasure.

They began to review the mountain of evidence the school under review had assembled. These data consists of you name it; from official notes, observations, achievement data, etc. all of which intended to be used as yardsticks for determining how or to what extent the school “measures up” to indicators that the state has adopted.

The indicators, ranging from use of data to professional development, to use of resources; to teaching and learning etc., are thorough and seemed grounded in the best research about effective school organizations. Ultimately the group, after examining the evidence, observing classrooms, and performing interviews, will decide the building’s strengths and deficits and make recommendations appropriate. I’m told that many buildings use this report to inform the Comprehensive Education Plans they must also put together. Makes sense.

As I opened the conversation I urged them to realize that it was important to be conscious of the lens they used and the lens we will all use. By that I meant that there were at least two ways to engage the process; the letter of the law and its spirit. It is one thing, I said, to review the evidence as a checklist to mechanically determine if all the facts existed. It was another thing I urged, to look for the “message behind the music”.

In other words, the paper evidence should perhaps be the sheet music, but the real melody would be heard and recognized in the walk-throughs and interviews. It was also important to seek the root causes.

Root cause is a word bandied about far too often lately. I’d like a penny for every time I heard or read it when analysts (so-called) agonized about the economy’s collapse. I can mix a million metaphors here but I’ll use Senge’s description of one system archetype known as the quick-fix. It is obvious enough. I can “fix” a say, language arts deficiency short term, by chasing after the innovation-du-jour and it might even fix it. However unless the thinkers/planners take the time to truly peel back the onion (mixing metaphors again!) their solution such as Lone Ranger Professional Development; punitive supervisory techniques, a new text, a new piece of software or internet site, or a new teacher will not work unless all the pieces of the puzzle fit.

If you as reader, are experienced as a school reformer or planner you might be wondering about why I even talk about this premise. It is Planning 101 after all. However you also have to remember that such review teams more often than not, do not have the skills and the knowledge base immediately at hand to truly engage the process of reform and of planning effectively.

Check out Wohlstetter’s High Involvement Model or my website, http://www.activelearningconsult.com to get a better handle on what I am driving at …  or simply keep reading these posts:)

But my point here is that I had to teach the group about some root cause identification techniques such as the 5 Why’s and the Fishtail so that I could scrape their instant diagnose thinking sensibilities down to something more raw and more keen. Check out Paul Preuss or Victoria Bernhardt for a crash course.

But it gets more interesting when we get to interviews! Next post.