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Rest of the Story: Tony Wagner & DCSD

Colorado Community Media published a story on January 2, titled “Consultant mixed on school changes.” We would like to clarify some items mentioned within the story.

The article featured an interview with education author Tony Wagner. His recommendations for change, including the insights made within his books, The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators, were among the many that inspired the Douglas County School District in the creation of the groundbreaking strategic plan, “New Outcomes for a New Day,” in 2010.

On DCSD’s website, Wagner is nearly always cited alongside more than a dozen education experts, whose work DCSD consulted during this process:

We did our homework. Our work is built on a convergence of recommendations for change in education. We listened to some of the best minds in education:

Norm Augustine
Jim Collins
Stephen Covey
Willard Daggett
Michael Fullan
Howard Gardner
Ken Kay
Carole Miller Lieber

Jay McTighe
Marc Prensky
Peter Senge
Mark Tucker
Tony Wagner
Todd Whitaker
Grant Wiggins
Yong Zhao


Challenged by authors like Tony Wagner, Yong Zhao and Marc Prensky, the Douglas County School District aspires to provide a world class education for all students.


While each one of these individuals has influenced the District’s direction, DCSD has never stated nor implied that we endorse all of the suggestions made by these experts. Additionally, we have never stated nor implied that they have endorsed our practices.

It is no surprise then that the District invited Wagner to visit in 2012, not to endorse the work of the District, but to share his insights with our teachers, administrators and the Board of Education.

Again and again, Wagner encouraged the District to move forward with its work in reshaping education, especially when it comes to the following areas:

  • Encouraging students to use high-level thinking rather than a focus on test preparation
  • Training teachers and treat them professionally, moving away from standardized teaching and testing.
  • Providing students the flexibility to choose topics they are interested in and then create a body of evidence to showcase their mastery in a subject.
  • Defining clear outcomes and goals for the District.

During a presentation to teachers on the evening of December 6, 2012, Wagner seemed genuinely impressed by the work being done in Douglas County.

“It is really a pleasure to be here. I talked at length with Liz and some of the other District leaders back in October [2012] in Denver and the more I heard about the work all of you are doing here, the more interested I became in trying to understand this important work, and the ways that you may really be creating a model for educators around the country,” Wagner said.

At the end of the presentation, Wagner added, “The good news, from visiting your classes this afternoon is that you already have teachers doing all of these things. They are committed to doing these things. The challenge now is for you as a district to think about, how do you make these extraordinary acts of great teaching the norm in all of your classrooms in Douglas County.”

WATCH: Tony Wagner speaks to DCSD educators on December 6, 2012

Finally, the article’s author questioned the morale of teachers in the District. In 2013 our staff members participated in the Tell Colorado survey, which is administered by the Colorado Department of Education every two years. The survey asks questions on topics ranging from school safety to teaching conditions.  Survey participation increased significantly over 2011 levels and DCSD results demonstrate tremendous improvement on more than 2/3 of the questions asked on the survey.

LEARN MORE: Teacher leadership, safety score high among DCSD teachers in TELL Survey

Finally, as noted in the story it has been more than two years since Wagner visited. In the time since, much has changed.

Unlike many of the other school districts inspired by Wagner and others who have called for change in American education, DCSD has actually taken action.

The District has implemented comprehensive changes to the way we teach and assess students, as well as the way we evaluate our teachers and leaders.

DCSD has been committed continuous improvement, consistently bettering our approaches through feedback from our stakeholders, including our exceptionally talented teachers.

From the very beginning we’ve based our work on a convergence of expert opinions and data, not a single voice or data point. Today is no different.

Return to the Rest of the Story