Root Cause 2.0: Opportunity to Develop Equity Lens

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Welcome everyone to the Community of Practice discussion around root cause.

My charge is to do a little bit of a root cause 2.


There's much that we know around how to do root cause and in conversations with Jen and with Connie, they asked me to provide some dialogue around what are some of the things that school districts should be mindful of as they are going through the root cause process, or ending up in the back end of that process and they are launching into an implementation process.

What are some of those things that we need to be mindful of that don't slip through the cracks or that may be indications that we may need to do a little more work.

I'm going to cover some of that.

In particular, really emphasize the significance of root cause being our opportunity for us to develop an equity lens.

Connie mentioned that the absence of the identification of causes that are connected to issues of race and ethnicity is showing up as absent in what you are identifying as the causes, should raise a good deal of questions as to the degree to which, as a team, there's a complete understanding in term of what's the disparity about that is occuring in your particular system.

I'm going to talk a little bit about how we need to be mindful of this as we go through root cause.

As a quick definitional – we keep saying root cause – the way I talk about root cause is root cause is any structured approach to identifying the behaviors, actions, inactions, conditions, or beliefs that involve our various systems that play a role in the type of outcomes that we're particularly attending to here.

Because we're paying attention to issues of racial and ethnic disparity, at the core of disproportionality in special education and suspension of students without disabilities, that means that we are, we have an umbrella that allows us to explore what are some of the behaviors or the actions or the inactions or conditions or beliefs that are interacting with the way in which we do our referral process, intervention to referral to classification process, with all of our kids.

And in particular, as we understand that gaps that may emerge in those systems, in those behaviors or actions or inactions is how it exactly is impacting diproprotionally particular groups of students.

And that ends up becoming that hardest question we have to get answered through this root cause analysis process.

The beauty of root cause is that it allows you to get into the weeds of how you actually do the things that we do.

For us to step away from everything that we do and ask the question, not only what do we do, but also why are we choosing to do it in this particular way.

And is the way in which we have chosen to do it leading us to the path of the type of outcomes that we are actually seeing.

And at the core of what the root cause analysis process allows you to do is, in particular around education, is it paints a picture of how policy and practice, policies and practices focus on climate, instruction and learning.

It allows us to put that at the center of our conversation and look at each nugget of how we do our climate work, how we do our instruction work, how we do learning how all of those components feed into or are interacting with the type of outcomes that we are seeing in our special education assignments, and/or discipline outcomes specific for students with disability.

What ends up emerging out of root cause processes is that we identify that there are limitations that are existing in implementation quality.

It's the difference between what we decided RTI would be and then there's the way in which we actually did it.

And the distance between what we designed and what we actually did is some of that limitation that root cause allows us to define.

The question that root cause also allows us to explore is, in the absence in clear attention to the those gaps, or trying to shore up that distance between what we decided RTI needed to be and how we were actually doing.

In the absence of close attention to some of those gaps, between those two sets of understandings of RTI, we have bias.

Bias as we all understand it, puts the bias in sig dis around us all the time.

It's something that we have – and a colleague who presents some of the best examples of thinking about implicit bias, he always talks about the idea that implicit bias is something that we've been fed for a long time in our own personal history of good data that helps to substantiate why we come to those particular understandings, no matter what those biases may be.

We may have a bias for green over blue.

Or we have a bias over bacon over sausages.

Those different that bias that we have, that comes from what I call "good data".

Data that we have collected over the years of our own personal experiences that we bring into the fold.

That bias is always sitting in front of us and walks with us.

And the question becomes whether or not that bias lives in a subconscious or conscious manner.

The concern about bias is when we're talking about educational practice is when you have the design of an RTI and then how an RTI is actually implemented is that gulf that may exist between can allow may allow the manner in which bias exists in our personal lives to actually seep in there and be a bit of a driving force to try and explain why there's a distance between what we are doing and how we are actually doing it.

The manner in which implicit bias may seep in there, and alongside our limited implementation quality lead to the the types of outcomes that we are particularly paying attention to here, which is patterns of disparity in outcome.

So as we think about root causes, it's not just a matter of we have all these gaps in our system, but we have to ask the harder question, which is if these gaps in our system have been existing, why does disproportionality effect certain groups of kids.

It is that particular question that our root cause should really be able to allow us to explore in a manner that us clearly identify that it's not just that we haven't been doing a good job of making sure we are paying attention to how well we are implementing RTI but also the manner of which we are not doing it well has also allowed for bias to take root in helping define the manner in which some kids are getting intervention in quality ways and other kids are not.

Or some kids are being recommended more often than others.

Whatever that manner may be.

Root cause is an analysis process that is very important for us.

As a quick refresher around root cause, in case we – I'm sure it's sitting front and center for folks – you have your outcome data that you have, that's been brought to the fore- front in terms of you citation around significant disproportionality.

The beauty of the root cause analysis process – and I will point to the ones that the Napa County folks have put up on the SPP-TAP website – most of them really allow you to dig into your outcome data to do a disparity analysis, which is a particular type of analysis that you really want to be mindful of actually doing.

Root cause process, as you all know, also encourages you to look very closely at process data.

This data is one of those processes that are connected to those outcome data points.

When we are looking at disproportionality in special education as well as disability category, we want to obviously look at the process from initial referral that may occur, the intervention the suite of interventions that are being provided – which means looking at the process of how do we decide which interventions get, how do we decide when they get it, how often they get it, and what we are measuring to see whether or not they're making progress.

Those are some process pieces of data that we would want to be intentional about looking at.

As well as we want to look at the types of belief data that may be available for us to actually understand.

What's also the culture of our school that's also encouraging what matters a great deal.

The degree to which – a lot of school districts are paying close attention to the idea of school climate as it relates to their kids.

And, as well as, paying attention to school climate as it relates to their adults.

It is that set of belief data that is important for us to also dig inot and see what's the goodness of the types of beliefs that exist within our school system.

I can talk a little bit later about types of beliefs that some of our climate work should pay particular attention to.

And finally, causes.

So root causes should lead you to the types of – should identify for you process gaps.

What I find is more often than not that a lot of school teams and district teams are quick to identify those process gaps.

And the beauty of root cause is that now you have data to help support those types gaps that are actually missing.

We also want to be able to identify what are those belief gaps that may also exist alongside these process gaps.

What are the types of beliefs that are missing in our system.

That may also be functioning as a role.

For example, one of the recurring beliefs in this work around disproportionality that I end up running into is that there's a distance in terms of how special education staff see their role and how general education staff see their role.

In relation to when kids are demonstrating academic or behavioral struggles.

There's a belief among some general education staff that see their role is if a kid is demonstrating struggles outside the norms of what they consider their bandwidth of capacity then that is where special education staff need to be brought into the fold.

And there's a presumption, a pedagogical belief, that special education staff are tasked with and have this immense capacity of.

sprinkling this fairy dust on our students and are able to magically make these changes with kids.

That's a significant belief gap because it's presuming that anything that falls out of the norm of academic or behavioral struggles that kids demonstrate are expected to be rectified by special education.

Also, obviously as you know, part of the root cause process, it is a part of the self-review protocol that's expected in your identification as a significant disproportional district.

I'm not gonna go through the details around this.

In addition, as you all know from that, there are a variety of root cause tools that are available to you to be able to utilize in identifying your set of root causes.

I will say that there is a some more than others of these on here will are more robust in terms of having you actually do your outcome data analysis.

Others are more focused on the process data side of it than the outcome data.

So I would pay particular attention to that to make sure that you are doing both sides: the outcome data and also the process data.

Given that, what do we now know? What we know now is that disproportionality is often times not a special education issue.

I'm going to presume that everybody on this call resonates with everyone.

That while disproportionality citation comes from special education law that the factors that lead to it are often times outside of the realm of special eduction.

They tie back to the areas of intervention and supports that are made available.

And also the types of district and school-wide types of policies and fiscal decisions that are being made that also impact the wellness of what we actually put in to practice to be able to support kids academically and behaviorally.

The other thing that we know is that there are a variety of common causes that exist in disproportionality.

That are tied to disproportionality in special education.

And suspensions of students with disabilities.

We know that there is causes that are tied back to instruction, curriculum, and assessment.

With all three of those, it's not only what are they, what do they look like, but it's also the wellness of them in relation to the types of populations that they're serving.

I found districts where there's a misalignment between the curriculum that's made available and the depth of instruction that is ready for being able to actualize the curriculum that has been adopted by the district.

Or there is a missing understanding around how assessments are intended to be used.


I'll leave it at that.

Another common cause is also around interventions and referral processes.

The degree to which you actually have interventions available.

Or on the flip side I've seen districts with – I'll have them do a root cause, one of the activities that I have them do in a root cause analysis process is to provide a listing of all of the interventions that are provided particularly in Tiers 1, 2 and 3.

And more often than not I find school districts will have a plethora of interventions existing in Tiers 2 and 3.

In some ways appear as a lopsided triangle or a triangle that has a really heavy top to it and which raises a great deal of questions of the goodness of the first cause which is around curriculum and instruction because potentially it could be outlining that there is an inadequacy in the curriculum and instruction.

Another common cause is the degree to which discipline policies and practices are [unintelligible] that they are about developing social emotional learning competencies in kids as well as their intention to help repair and replace the behaviors with kids.

Or are they simply to [unintelligible] that they are able to penalize the kid as the most significant way that they can.

That's one of the common causes around discipline.

Another dynamic that exists is also.

I call it tracking.

I've over the years I have found other soft language to use and I have realized it is tracking and tracking is the manner in which obviously that kids are funneled into particular pathways early on in their K-12 experience.

And that particular pathway ends up not being – it's not a nimble experience where they can move in and out of that, but rather they are pretty much locked in to a process that occurs there.

I know in California you have your GATE process in having worked with a variety of school districts in California it is nicely fed, particularly the high school the GATE part of it that happens there, how middle school is nicely feeding that in a way that there's almost a level of certainty that kids are going to end up in that pathway if they are in it by no later than middle school And it's the concern around, not only that you have tracking, but – because intention is always around how are we adequately providing.


The kids who are gifterd are the one who are solidly in those tracks, but in effect we are also designating the kids who are not gifted, or who kids who don't have special abilities.

So, the manner in which tracking operates also has a deleterious effect on all of our populations of kids.

Another common cause of [unintelligible] is around teacher expectations and misconceptions.

I would also include in there not just teachers, but also administrators.

And in particular the types, of expectations around kids' potential and misconceptions around how to actually work with populations of kids.

And this is where we are going to get into some of the belief sort of notions that practitioners hold about kids, their family structures, that seep into the way in which they are understanding the potential of particular populations of kids.

So the personal and professional sets of beliefs that – as I mentioned before – the types of biases that individuals hold in explaining and understanding why individuals are existing within the [unintelligible] conditions are not absent or not removed from the moment in which an individual enters a school ground.

It does appear in the manner in which they are making decisions around the adequacy of how they are providing supports for our kids.

And then lastly, another cause is the cultural dissonance.

Everybody calls it something different.

I call it cultural dissonance.

As a way to highlight that there is a disconnect that may emerge in terms of how we understand what is that data that we have personally and professionally developed over time to understand our cultural understanding of various racial and ethnic groups and how that ends up sitting right in front of us as we are experiencing kids within the context of our classrooms, within intervention programs that for practitioners can create a level of dissonance or a discombobulation in terms of understanding who these kids are who are sitting in front of us [unintelligible] space to understanding that we bring into that conversation that understanding of our kids.

And then thirdly, the other thing that we know that we now know about disproportionality and this all of this is drawn from a lot of research that is existing around disproportionality.

This last piece, which is disproportionality has more than one cause and more than one solution.

It is not a singular event or cause that are applied here, but rather a set of interactions that are actually existing that tie back to policies, practices and beliefs.

And it's that interaction between those three that have to be paid attention to and how as school districts we look at trying to create the types of solutions that are best for our community.

Given that, given what we know, I want to talk a little bit about.

Actually, before I jump ahead and talk about these root cause traps, I want to give pause for a moment and allow you all an opportunity to take a quick poll.

And, from your vantage point in terms of where you sit as a school district, representing your school district, which of the causes that I just laid out, the ones that are part of the pinwheel that you see as rising to the top as the cause in your particular school district.

I'll give you a moment to look at the poll and let you decide and do your voting.

And if you see, with those options, you can also if there are other causes that you can add please feel free.

I see some folks are typing in and I'm gonna give like another 30 seconds and then I'm going to end the poll and we are going to broadcast the results.

Oh, great.

Susan, thank you for making it available to everyone.

I was starting to reach my technology ceiling.

So, as you all can see, I'm presuming you all can see the set of causes that you all identified and there is a a clustering that is existing there in the types of causes that are emerging within your school district.

And in particular I'm going to look at some of the other causes that were also identified that were around the geography in terms of where, I'm going to presume this is in reference to where populations are coming from.

That may also play a role.

Presumably this may be a distance issue.

I also see the ways in which the combination of discipline policies and practices combined with cultural dissonance, which is right on.

Not just the what policy and practice that we put in place, but also the types of cultural dissonance that emerge when those policies and practices are being enacted and for who.

And then lastly I also see disproportionality around disconnected initiatives.

There's which is such a pertinent issue for us to – it's not just an issue that ties back to disproportionality, but probably ties back to a broader sense of the other set of gap issues that are existing in the school district that I always I call it a bit of the buffet effect, where you walk into – for those who remember Ponderosa – where you can walk in and you see all this food and you think you need to have it, all of it.

And all of it's gonna make you better, but in reality, not all of it is pertinent appropriate, nor to you have the full on capacity to be able to do it at a level that needs to be adequately paid attention to.

And all of these facets are are things that we have to be mindful of.

As we venture not only into identifying some of these causes, but also beginning to remedy because some of these issues that you are identifying around these causes, in particular these disconnected initiatives is if whenever we've identified causes and we've defined some new set of solutions is our system healthy enough to know how to manage that type of implementation or are we just going to make it worse? I'll be honest, I've been in school systems where there was no readiness to, though we could get to a root cause and identify root causes, it did not necessarily mean that the system was actually ready to move forward on it, because it was still not healthy enough as an organization to know how to manage multiple sets of priorities.

And some of that had to do with the degree of leadership to know how to lead it, to know how to manage it In some districts it's also been a matter of nobody wants to stand up and actually take the lead.

Thank you all for sharing your feedback on this.

I want to talk about, staying in the same vein of what are some of the things that we need to be mindful of as we're moving down this road around our root causes? First, I want to talk briefly about is the nature to which we identifying belief gaps without process gaps.

Particularly identifying beliefs by themselves do not necessarily cause disproportionality.

The fact that there is – in your particular system – if there's an absence of responsiveness or there's a an ongoing deficit-thinking belief that exists within the system it by itself is does not engender disproportionality.

There are a set of processes and policies in which those sort of beliefs have to exist in in order to lead to these types of disproportionate outcomes.

It is the manner in which those are created and operationalized themselves are what's causing disproportionality, not just the beliefs themselves.

So we have to be mindful in that in naming root causes we can't just say it just there's an absence of culturally responsive attention within our particular system.

Or there's in broad strokes that have been an absence of equity beliefs.

They have to be tied back to a set of policy and practice areas.

The other root cause trap to be mindful of is the inverse: identifying process gaps without belief gaps.

Because what we can potentially up doing is that we end up improving the efficiency of our processes, but does not answer why the inefficiencies is only impacting specific groups.

So it gets back to that question I'd asked earlier about is that we can get really good at identifying how our systems are not working, but if we don't answer the question – if it's a system or a process component that aren't working at large for every one, why is it disproportionately effecting certain groups of kids? It is that belief side of it that we have to make sure that we clearly identify as playing a role in our process gap.

The other trap that we have to mindful of is process gaps that center on needing more services.

It's the – what I see emerging at times with school districts around their root cause is that they will have process gaps that are about there's an absence of a set of programs or interventions or referral forms or whatever it may be.

Or there is a misalignment with what was designed and what is actually being done.

In that first example, in that there's something missing, this is where we can potentially slip into this trap of we need more services.

We need to get more teachers to do Restorative Justice sessions with our kids.

Once we restore the kids then we will decrease the pattern of behaviors in out kids.

Or we need to have more mentoring for our kids because that will help solve those issues.

Well, the – though we can identify that there may be a need for services because we didn't have it before, we need to be mindful of not getting caught into a circular conversation around this disparity that only focuses on adding more money on trying to solve the disparity, rather than paying attention to the idea that it's not just about we gotta put more money towards it, but we've got to consider, is there – how have we been fashioning our core fiscal budget in such a way that actually it's arranged to meet the needs of our growing population? Particularly if they have specific types of needs.

For example, I know that a variety of school districts that I've talked to in California have mentioned that you have kids who are coming from families who are having distressed environments.

That are – the kids are coming to school in with greater types of stressors that they are demonstrating in the classroom setting.

So that means that if we know that that's an emerging reality, then really that has to shape, reshape, who we start hiring.

So, for example, we need to lessen our load in hiring psychologists who are only there to do special ed testing but rather psychologists who actually do trauma- informed therapy for our kids, if we know that is a growing population that is demonstrating those particular types of struggle, because otherwise we are just going to have the types of staff that are not appropriate for the needs that are being presented from our communities.

The other trap that we need to be mindful of is the is identifying kids with gaps as a disparity problem.

We have to be careful that in our root causes we are not situating all of the issues about fixing the kids, but rather being mindful that it's about fixing the system and how it is appropriately aligning to meet the needs of our kids.

And that is an important trap that we have to be mindful that we don't end up with.

Finally, I want to quickly talk through where should we be going after our root cause? How do we continue focusing on equity wellness once the train has left the station.

Once you have presumably gone down this road of "we need to be doing root cause work, we need to be doing this implementation, how do we continuously make sure that we are focusing on equity on a continuous basis.

A couple of things should be clear from your root cause process that you move into implementation is that you are going to identify a numerical set of goals that you want to remedy.

Whatever it is in terms of your special ed, race, whether special ed by category race, or whether it is by your discipline patterns among students with disabilities.

You have to define what those numerical goals are out of your root cause.

You need to be able to identify what are some of those core social justice process areas that you're gonna be fixing.

Those process fixes have to attend to the access and opportunity issues that are necessary to ensure that those numerical outcomes are improved.

And when I talk about access and opportunity, they are two different concepts.

Access is the right to the services.

Opportunity is about getting those services at the level in which you need them for you to make effective outcomes that are necessary.

Both have to exist at the same time.

You have to provide access such that everybody has the right to the services and the opportunity has to be a persistent element, particularly when we're talking about populations who are not just experiencing disproportionality in this area but are potentially having disproportionality issues in other areas.

And lastly, the other area that should emerge out of your root cause analysis is that you are able to better identify what is the type of culture and belief that are existing within your system than need to be reduced in order for your access and opportunity improvement to actually take root.

Because otherwise, what we don't want is to put in place PBIS or Restorative Justice or RTI with the same deficit thinking belief system because then we are just reproducing the same type of outcome now with what we thought was a more evidence based approach to this work, but rather we're now just using evidence-based practice with the same belief system and ending up with the same sense of disproportionate outcome.

The other dynamic – I really want to harp quickly harp on this bias, beliefs, bias [unintelligible] and beliefs piece of it because there is a substantive amount of research that is emerging and here I'm highlighting that this is the crux of my work for the last 4-5 years is that as much as I have been excited about the policies and practices improvement of the districts I've worked with, I have been completely vexed by the reality that there's still a level of maintenance of the types of biases and beliefs that ends up driving the nature in which you have Restorative Justice and PBIS or RTI still operating with the same deficit orientation.

And that is why you are seeing the research, particularly PBIS that has emerged in the last 4-5 years highlighting that you see massive reductions in suspension patterns but you are seeing a growth in the disparity which means that there is something inherent about how we are doing PBIS work, and we can stretch this out over to Restorative Justice and RTI, that is not sufficiently addressing the core disparity issue.

And it has been that core disparity issue particularly around bias based beliefs that have to be at the center of this work.

And real quickly, the three bias-based beliefs that those who know the work that I've been doing, these are the three that have emerged out of my own research in the school districts in which I have been measuring these bias-based beliefs have an interacting effect particularly around teacher self-efficacy and teacher expectations and the three are colorblindness, deficit-thinking, and poverty-disciplining.

I will quickly define the last one because that's the one that everybody has the most questions around.

Poverty-disciplining is the belief system in which we where we understand that the manner in which individuals are existing within low income conditions is a result of their own behavioral or psychological dispositions.

And the way in which we enact that in school settings as a belief is that translates that to what are the ways in which we need to discipline or how what low income kids need to look like and behave and walk and dress in order for them to be successful because we want to remove the poverty laden behavior out of them.

Lastly, the last thing I will mention in terms of as you move forward around your root cause work is once this train has left it is super important, super, super important that you're root cause is tied back to your CEIS action plan.

Connie mentioned it at the beginning I'm a big strong proponent of really pushing this issue that you cannot put into your CEIS plans action work that is not connected back to your root cause.

Because otherwise you're just setting up an action plan based on a hunch but without having evidence to really articulate what it's all about.

Here's just an example of one of the sections I have in an action planning template that I use with school districts to build out the CEIS so that they are intentionally outlining a very direct SMART goal, a set of indicators that help us know are we heading in the right direction to meet our SMART goal and as well as making sure that they are clear about what are the equity principles that are going to be at the forefront of how they are going to do the work that they're expected to do as part of their action plan.

And the last thing I will say is monitoring this work has to be super intentional.

This can't be accidental.

This can't be "Oh, we'll look at it once a year.

" Because there is a culture of in your school communities of not necessarily engaging around these difficult conversations you have to practice it more often.

Which means particularly monitoring equity outcomes, you need to do it on at least a quarterly basis, ideally on a monthly basis.

And the last piece of it is discussing how our equity practice is feeding the problem.

So every time you are meeting and discussing a particular point of data that there's always a conversation or question that always sits at the table is "Was our practice equitable in the way in which we did it and is that is what is leading to the practice of outcomes that we are actually having?".