Using Root Cause Analysis as Part of the Continuous Improvement Process in Education

A root cause analysis process is a systematic investigation of the contributing and foundational (or “root”) causes of the problems that organizations or institutions face.1 In practice, root cause analysis is an approach to problem solving that uses data analysis and discussion to dig deeper than the surface symptoms of a problem to uncover the underlying causes. In recent years, identification of root causes has been highlighted as important for school improvement planning efforts.

This resource is designed to provide states and districts with information on root cause analysis as part of school improvement, including both high-level guidance as well as detailed examples of what root cause analysis can look like at the school level. This resource includes four main sections: the purposes of root cause analysis, different approaches to root cause analysis, the state and district role in supporting root cause analysis processes, and three detailed profiles of root cause analysis in Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools (based on real-world examples).

To learn more about root cause analysis as part of school improvement planning, click on the graphic below, beginning with “Purposes of Root Cause Analysis”:

Purposes of Root Cause AnalysisApproaches to Root Cause AnalysisThe State and District Role in Root Cause AnalysisProfiles of Root Cause Analysis in Action


1 A root cause has been defined as a an issue that 1) has specific underlying causes, 2) can reasonably be identified, 3) under the control or sphere of influence of leaders, and 4) has potential recommendations for preventing recurrences of associated challenges (Rooney, James J.; Vanden Heuvel, Lee N. (2004). Root Cause Analysis for Beginners. ABSG Consulting Inc., Knoxville, TN). [Back]

Using Root Cause Analysis as Part of the Continuous Improvement Process in Education