by Susan Arnold, parent
Published Denver Post Your Hub October 15, 2013
Google Elizabeth Celania Fagen and the first listing you see is not the Douglas County School District (DCSD) website, where she is superintendent. No – the first listing for Fagen is the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice founded by Rose and Milton Friedman. Fagen is featured in the Friedman Foundation’s speaker’s bureau where she is credited with making DCSD a “beacon” of education reform. If you are not familiar with this organization, the Friedman Foundation’s overarching and highly publicized goal is to privatize public education through a school voucher system. Look at these quotes below from a February 19, 1995 article, “Public Schools: Make Them Private,” written by Milton Friedman for The Washington Post.
- “I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational services is rendered to individuals by private enterprises.”
- “Vouchers can promote rapid privatization only if they create a large demand for private schools to constitute a real incentive for entrepreneurs to enter the industry.”
During my September 30 meeting with Fagen, she claimed to be unaware of the Friedman Foundation’s agenda to privatize schools. She commented: “My experience with them has provided no evidence that they are interested in privatization of education.” She also stated that she had not read any of Friedman’s books, but that she knew of his support for school choice.
So what we have here is either a superintendent who failed to do her homework and allowed her name to be used prominently as a featured speaker for a foundation whose goal is to privatize public education, a goal she claims to not support, or we have a superintendent who knows exactly what the Friedman Foundation stands for and is using her position within DCSD as a platform to raise her stature to a national level among privatization advocates. With either scenario, the implications for DCSD are dire: we have a naïve and uninformed superintendent or we have a superintendent who is running a calculated campaign to boost her national presence while we, the citizens of Douglas County, are paying her to lead our schools.
Number four on the Google rankings for Fagen is a YouTube clip of “Cage Buster” Fagen speaking for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on January 10, 2013. Yes – that’s the same American Enterprise Institute that collaborates frequently with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity that created and paid for those pretty television advertisements that are trying to convince us that everything is just fine in the Douglas County schools. Fagen has appeared at least twice for AEI events (see below).
- January 10, 2013, Fagen at American Enterprise Institute Event in Washington, DC
- September 17, 2013, Fagen at American Enterprise Institute Event, via videoconference
AEI is documented extensively as one of, if not the, most prominent neoconservative think tanks in the country, with a track record of releasing scholars who fail to adhere to their strict world view. Fagen, once again, seems to be unaware or unwilling to admit her knowledge of AEI. She commented: “AEI is a non-partisan group. There are people from all different thoughts at AEI.” There are also people like Rick Hess at AEI. Yes, that would be the Rick Hess who is a paid consultant for DCSD while also serving as AEI’s director of education policy studies, and the same Rick Hess who co-authored a report, “The Most Interesting District in America? Douglas County’s Pursuit of Suburban Reform.” This report was paid for by DCSD, but not acknowledged as such by Hess, who has personally benefitted from multiple opportunities to share this report nationally through speeches and articles.
Other speaking engagements on Fagen’s resume include a September 24, 2013, appearance on the Laura Ingraham radio show. That would be the Laura Ingraham who on August 26, 2013, played an audio clip of Rep. John Lewis speaking at the 50th anniversary event of the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech. On air, Ingraham plays the audio of Lewis’ speech and then interrupts the speech with the sound effect of a gunshot. The overall effect for listeners of the program was that Lewis, a well-known civil rights hero who had his skull fractured by a state trooper during the first 1965 Selma march, becomes silent mid-sentence as if he had been hit by a sniper.
Fagen was also a featured speaker at the Leadership Program of the Rockies on February 24-25, 2012. What does this organization stand for? The call to action for graduates of this program, who find Friedman’s book Free to Choose on their required reading list, is presented below.
- “Graduates of the Leadership Program of the Rockies form a distinct and potent legion for liberty. So the question is: What are you doing with your talents and learning? Are you doing everything you can to recover and advance freedom in America?”
- “We have watched countless men and women of good intentions get elected, and then fail us. People who talked a good game in primary and even general elections, just couldn’t get over the finish line when it came to expanding freedom and reigning in the scope and size of big government. Why did they fail? Answer: they were not persuasive in explaining to their fellow citizens why the risks of freedom are preferable to the supposed security of slavery.”
You see the picture emerging of Fagen. Our superintendent is spending time away from district business and activities to be in the national spotlight. Now you might say that Fagen is out and about doing local events – interacting with Douglas County citizens from the full continuum of the political spectrum – and this information never gets documented and posted on the Internet. Yet during my meeting with her when I asked about how she selects organizations she speaks to, the only example of a moderate organization that she cited was the Public Education & Business Coalition, a nonprofit partnership of Colorado education and business leaders.
If you look at the totality of her speaking engagements that are documented on the Internet, you see a superintendent who relishes being on the national stage. Fagen claims that doing these speeches fulfills her role in letting others know about how she and the board are reforming education in Douglas County, even though the district was high performing before Fagen landed in Colorado. It is a fair argument to say that a superintendent may want to be part of a national dialogue on education, but Fagen’s choice of venues for national dialogue are overwhelmingly skewed toward organizations with documented track records of extreme reforms aimed at privatizing public schools. And these organizations are not looking for dialogue. They know what they want and are aggressively targeting public school districts. In the case of Douglas County, it is these organizations that are destroying our once high-performing school system and using our children for their national experiments. It is time for a new direction and new leadership for the Douglas County School District.