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Reeves: Greater Achievement is Not Something a School System Can Buy

Douglas Reeves

Superintendents, principals and teachers are often hit with vendor pitches on core competency programs that promise to drive up student achievement, but leadership and education expert Douglas Reeves has a tip: “It’s what you do. It’s not what you buy.”

Reeves offered that and many other pieces of advice to administrators Saturday at the AASA National Conference on Education. He noted that the trending issues in education include some misinformation about lagging reading scores. Much of it is built on false claims peddled by education program vendors seeking to one-up each other, he said.

Meanwhile, though, superintendents, administrators and teachers face additional scrutiny from board members and their communities when false claims are circulated. Public commenters who speak at board meetings are sometimes a source of misinformation, too.

“I believe in letting them have their own beliefs,” Reeves said. “But just don’t let them have their own facts.”

One fact that school leaders can rely on and share publicly to help debunk misinformation is their district’s data demonstrating year-over-year progress in achievement areas, he noted.

Reeves offered a host of other advice, both on education matters, as well as for leadership decision-making:

  • “Everyone talks about collaboration. Isn’t it great? No, people hate it. There’s blood on the floor. But collaboration will save you work and it will help save time.”
  • When considering how to motivate student achievement, Reeves suggested that superintendents ensure efficacy and efficiency by keeping in mind “the ratio of things that I can control and influence vs. the things I can’t control.”
  • Make a conscious effort to foster equity through teaching and hiring. Recognize that girls are often overlooked in the classroom, even in college. “We call on women in the classroom a fourth as often as men,” he said.
  • Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. If an initiative or new program is failing, admit it and learn from it.
  • When offering feedback to your teams, practice Reeves’ FAST process, which stands for “fast, accurate, specific and timely” advice.

Reeves is a Boston-based leadership and education consultant who has written several academic papers and is a regular opinion writer on trending topics in education. Learn more at

(Emily Gersema is the assistant director of media relations at the University of Southern California.)

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