While it appears that the world (or at least our government) is at a standstill as we wait to see what happens in the next election, in fact, recent action has taken place that will affect our day to day operations in education over the next few years. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed in December is slated to replace No Child Left Behind starting in the 2016-1017 school year. So what does that mean to school leaders? In his State of the Union Address, President Obama made it clear that the “true test is not the challenges we face, but how we approach those challenges.” No matter who is in office or what education act is in place, no truer words were ever spoken.
Where should your focus be on Focus Schools?
Under The ESSA, focus schools, schools that have the largest within-school gaps between the highest-achieving subgroup and the lowest-achieving subgroup, will still have to be identified. What has changed is that newly empowered state and local decision makers must develop their own plans for school improvement.
It is easy in a focus school, where education is going well for some subgroups, to blame the problem on one identifying characteristic of the failing subgroup. “Jumping to cause” is a pitfall that many districts fall into and, just like when you treat an ailment based on just the visible symptoms, can result in wasted time, resources and worsening of the problem.
Proper diagnoses for proper treatment
So, how can we approach that challenge and avoid treating the wrong ailment?
Before you address the problem, you must first have an understanding of the underlying causes. The true cause is not always the one that seems most obvious. Using a strategic process, like Problem Analysis, can help you gather and analyze data more effectively and determine true cause. That process should include these steps:
- Define the problem: Take time to define and state the problem clearly and to organize relevant information so that patterns and underlying problems will emerge.
- Determine true cause: Look for possible causes, vet possible causes and ensure that you found true cause.
It is clear in schools where there is a wide range of achievement, that curriculum and instruction are not a one-size-fits-all phenomena. It should also be clear that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to address the diverse nature of the problems that prevent children from achieving.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states will be required to establish ambitious state-designed long-term goals…for all students and separately for each subgroup of students. We, as education leaders, will be given the responsibility of ascertaining how to reach those ambitious goals. Let’s use this opportunity to properly diagnose the problem and make and implement the best decisions we can for our children.