For the news and views you might have missed
This evening starting at 5:30 PM in Renton at the Puget Sound Educational Service District located at 800 Oakesdale Ave SW, Renton, WA 98057, there will a hearing of charter school applications for Coral Academy of Sciences, Excel Public Charter School and Cedar River Academy.
If you can’t make it to the hearing, the Washington State Charter School Commission is receiving all information and concerns about the schools presented via e-mail to the attention of email@example.com.
A list of all of the hearings to be held can be found at the charter commission’s website.
The Coral Academy of Sciences
It was brought to my attention that the Coral Academy of Science (CAS), an educational enterprise that has applied to establish a charter school in the state of Washington, is associated with the Gulen charter school chain that has schools established around the world.
The Coral Academy is networked through Accord Institute for Education Research, whose COO, Erdinc Acar, is the proposed Education Director for Carol Science Academy.
I read the proposal for this charter school and wondered how, with its STEM based curriculum and “high standards”, students with special ed needs could fit within this program. Nothing was mentioned.
The other concern is the ties that the Coral Academy of Science has with the Gulen Movement and what that means.
The leading US authority on the Gulen Movement (GM) at this time is Joshua Hendrick, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University Maryland. His new book “Gulen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World” was published in August 2013 by New York University Press. Fifteen pages are devoted to the Gulen charter school situation and are worth your investment in the book. From page 230:
“… by insisting on the nonpolitical nature of the GM’s lobbying and public relations efforts, by maintaining ambiguity regarding connectivity between individuals and institutions, by flatly denying suspect hiring and retention practices at affiliated charter schools, by allegedly engaging in gender discrimination at these schools, and by becoming the subjects of state and federal level investigation for financial mismanagement, the GM has opened itself up to intense criticism at best, and to potential criminal implications at worst.”
Sharon Higgins, who at this time is one of the experts on the Gulen movement and its charter schools wrote the following article for the Washington Post on the subject:
The largest charter school network in the United States is operated by people in and associated with the Gulen Movement (GM), a secretive and controversial Turkish religious sect. With 135 schools enrolling more than 45,000 students, this network is substantially larger than KIPP, the well-known charter management organization with only 109 schools. A lack of awareness about this situation persists despite it being addressed in a national paper and in articles about Gulen charter schools in Utah (also here), Arizona (also here), Illinois, Tennessee,Pennsylvania (also here), Indiana, Oklahoma (and here), Texas (also here), Arkansas, Louisiana (also here), New Jersey, Georgia, and North Carolina. It was also reported that the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education are investigating practices at these schools.
The concerns raised about the charter schools in the GM network have related to questionable admissions practices; the channeling of school funds to close associates; abuse of contractors; participation in biased, GM-created competitions; incidents of bribing; using the schools to generate political connections; science fair projects being done by teachers; unfair hiring and termination practices; and more. Still, authorizers continue to approve charter applications, ill-informed parents continue to use them, and taxpayers keep funding the schools – all without much discussion.
The Gulen Movement originated in Turkey in the late 1960s and has become increasingly powerful. Its members are followers of Fethullah Gulen (b. 1941) a self-exiled Turkish preacher who has been living on a secluded compound in rural Pennsylvania since 1998. Members call themselves hizmet, meaning “volunteer services” movement. The GM conducts four primary activities around the world: a media empire, business organizations, an enormous number of Turkish culture-promoting and interfaith dialog organizations, and a network of schools in over 100 countries, a large portion of which are U.S. charter schools.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the GM began to establish schools outside of Turkey, first in the newly established republics of Central Asia and then beyond. One expert noted that the “…worldwide extent of Fethullah Gulen’s educational network testifies to the internationalist, even imperialist, nature of the movement.” Last year an analyst viewed the raison d’être for the schools “spreading across the globe” in this way: “Students will learn how to speak Turkish, the national anthem, how to be the ‘right kind of Muslim’, etc. In essence, it buys [the GM] loyalty.”
The first Gulen charter school was opened in 1999. U.S. officials have known about the movement’s involvement in charter schools since at least 2006 when our Istanbul consulate noticed that a large number of Turkish men, suspected to be GM-affiliated, were seeking visas to work at charter schools. A company specializing in geopolitical analysisreported in 2010 that the GM was running “…more than 90 charter public schools in at least 20 states.”
Board members of Gulen charter schools are primarily Turkish or Turkic and often can be tied to other Gulenist organizations. GM schools around the world emphasize math, science, and technology, and always provide Turkish cultural instruction, as these are the subjects favored by Fethullah Gulen. Turkish or Turkic individuals, almost all male, are imported (referred to as “international” teachers) to teach those subjects and serve as school administrators. They sometimes transfer to other schools, but only those within the movement’s network. Around the world, local teachers are usually hired for elementary grades and the non-Gulen favored subjects. The charter schools have been criticized for importing so many teachers, but defend their practice by claiming that they are unable to find qualified Americans.
Although there is little awareness in the United States about the GM’s charter schools, major daily Turkish newspapers have acknowledged their existence for some time. Readers of Milliyet were informed in 2010 that the Walton Family Foundation had given $1 million to Gulen’s charter schools in California (translation here). And in 2009, readers ofSabah were presented with an account of GM insiders discussing how the U.S. charter schools serve the movement’s goals: “…through education, we can teach tens of thousands of people the Turkish language and our national anthem, introduce them to our culture and win them over. And this is what the Gulen Movement is striving for.” GM-associated news agencies periodically feature reports about Gulen charter school students participating in movement-sponsored cultural events (e.g. here, here, and here).
School operators have been asked if their schools are tied to the Gulen Movement. The responses have always been ambiguous (also here,here, and here) or flat denials (also here, here, and here). Strategic ambiguity and being secretive are noted GM operational styles.
The movement’s secretive nature has been troubling to outsiders, and even “mindboggling” to some who know them well. As one expert stated, “… [the Gulen Movement’s] structure, ambitions, and size remain opaque, making assessment of its impact and power difficult…,” and added, “Fethullahci are often loath to declare themselves openly as such.” Another noted, “…some [Fethullah Gulen Community] members publicly deny affinity or membership with the movement.” And a Turkish observer remarked, “No society would tolerate this big of an organization being this untransparent.” When the GM has been exposed involuntarily or criticized, it has been known to respond with evasive measures or defensive attacks.
Because of our charter school system, the United States is the only country where the Gulen Movement has been able to establish schools which are fully funded with public money. In other countries the movement’s schools are private, supported with tuition and himmet. A researcher explained that himmet is a religious donation collected from members who are assured “…that it goes to a ‘faithful’ cause (e.g., to pay for a student’s scholarship, to provide start-up capital for a new school, to send a group of influential Americans on a two-week trip to Turkey, to sponsor an ‘academic’ conference devoted to Fethullah Gulen, etc).”
Gulen charter schools regularly take students to Turkey. The movement’s interfaith dialog and Turkish culture-promoting organizations also provide Turkey trips to academics, journalists, politicians and other public officials (e.g. here, here, here, here, andhere). Tours include sightseeing as well as visits to GM-affiliated institutions (news outlets, schools, etc.).
A special feature of these guided “cultural immersion” trips is at least one visit to the home of a Turkish family, with up to three different home visits within nine days. A GM insider once explained that hosting visitors is a way for members to contribute to the cause. It is extremely likely that American travelers don’t realize that their experience in Turkey has been carefully designed to be a concentrated and sustained exposure to the social and political views of one religious group. It’s also likely that they do not understand exactly why their trips were made to be so inexpensive, or even free.
Gulen’s official website contains many articles about his teachings and opinions, including those on education and secrecy. The movement portrays itself as a promoter of dialogue, tolerance, and understanding, but it is intensely controversial in Turkey. Controversies include the movement’s involvement with creationism and other issues connected to its conservative religious agenda, claims about framing political opponents, intimidating the press, infiltrating police and military forces, and being connected to the arrest of prominent journalists (also here).
Concerns about this group have arisen in other countries, too, especially about their schools being used to recruit members, and spread Turkish culture and fundamentalist religious ideas (e.g. here,here, and here).
To read this article in full, go to the Washington Post.
And this from the New York Times:
It was one of six big charter school contracts TDM and another upstart company have shared since January 2009, a total of $50 million in construction business. Other companies scrambling for work in a poor economy wondered: How had they qualified for such big jobs so fast?
The secret lay in the meteoric rise and financial clout of the Cosmos Foundation, a charter school operator founded a decade ago by a group of professors and businessmen from Turkey. Operating under the name Harmony Schools, Cosmos has moved quickly to become the largest charter school operator in Texas, with 33 schools receiving more than $100 million a year in taxpayer funds.
While educating schoolchildren across Texas, the group has also nurtured a close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants. The businesses include not just big contractors like TDM but also a growing assemblage of smaller vendors selling school lunches, uniforms, after-school programs, Web design, teacher training and even special education assessments.
Some of the schools’ operators and founders, and many of their suppliers, are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name. Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states, one of the largest collections of charter schools in America.
The growth of these “Turkish schools,” as they are often called, has come with a measure of backlash, not all of it untainted by xenophobia. Nationwide, the primary focus of complaints has been on hundreds of teachers and administrators imported from Turkey: in Ohio and Illinois, the federal Department of Labor is investigating union accusations that the schools have abused a special visa program in bringing in their expatriate employees.
But an examination by The New York Times of the Harmony Schools in Texas casts light on a different area: the way they spend public money. And it raises questions about whether, ultimately, the schools are using taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gulen movement — by giving business to Gulen followers, or through financial arrangements with local foundations that promote Gulen teachings and Turkish culture.
To read this article in full, go to the New York Times.
To follow is an interview with Ms. Higgins titled:
Charters, Privatization Of Education & The Gulen Schools In The US: Sharon Higgins Speaks Out
There was also the 60 Minutes expose on the Gulen Movement and charter schools and Sharon Higgins had this to say about the report:
60 Minutes should have independently verified the Harmony administrator’s claim that the chain has a waiting list of ~30,000 students. Unless such numbers can be independently verified, the waiting list figures offered by charter schools are hearsay and should be viewed as a marketing strategy.
60 Minutes should have mentioned that Gulenists are Creationists. Especially since the schools boast about providing superior science education, one is left to wonder if and how the schools provide instruction of evolution.
60 Minutes did not perform due diligence when reporting about Harmony’s test scores. The data analyses byEd Fuller about Harmony’s high student attrition and CASILIPS about Harmony’s unimpressive comparative SAT scores (which were both available online during the show’s production) should have should have triggered the necessary skepticism!
60 Minutes did not go into the Turkish cultural instruction, a main feature of ALL Gulen movement schools and a feature which is NOT presented to authorizers in the charter school applications. For instance, why are students at the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School taught to perform a Sufi religious ritual? Look quick (!) before the Gulenists delete this video. Scrubbing websites after revelatory material has been exposed is quite often done.
To read this entire article, go to the Perimeter Primate.
I will leave you with this video that I originally posted in 2012 that describes the big picture on the privatization of our public schools, the connections in terms of big money and “non-profites” and touches on the Gulen charter schools.
Who Is Behind The Privatization Of Education: Education, Privatization, Bill Gates, Broad, KIPP, Pearson, EdWest And The Gulen Schools
A massive national and international organized plan to privatize education has been implemented over several decades. Billionaires, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the Pearson corporation among others, have infiltrated hundreds of governmental bodies including school boards, city councils and our local, state and regional governments. They seek to turn our education system into a profit center worth tens of billions of dollars. This also includes the Gulen Islamic cult led by Imam Fethullah Gulen, which runs the largest chain of charters in the United States funded by public money. We will also look at the criminal conflicts that have allowed politicians to personally benefit from using their public positions to profit from their votes and actions. This forum will look at how this has come about, who did it, how it is affecting us and who is profiting from it at the cost of public education and finally how to stop this attack on our public education system.
Kathleen Carroll, Lawyer and Whistleblower At Commission On Teacher Credentialing
Please send your comments and concerns to the Washington State Charter School Commission via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Dora Taylor
More on Gulen charter schools from Diane Ravitch’s Blog: