I've been researching charter schools which appear to be part of a national network of schools predominantly (or entirely) run by Turkish scientists which may be linked to the Gülen Movement; more investigation is needed! (60 Minutes where are you?) Extracurricular activities at the schools seem to frequently involve Turkish clubs, involvement at Turkish competitions, and student and parent trips to Turkey.
Because I wanted to make this information immediately available to a wider set of readers, this item has been re-posted from the original at my recently launched blog "Charter Schools Scandals."
There is definitely more to come, as I have already started looking into the Texas schools and their EMO, Harmony Public Schools which is operated by the Cosmos Foundation.
Now, for my post about the...
In December 2009, concerns arose about this charter school having possible links to Turkish nationalism and the Gülen Movement. The nearly 90 schools associated with this movement have appeared in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New , Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
The Sonoran Science Academy (SSA) - Tucson is operated by the Daisy Educational Corporation, a non-profit which operates one daycare (Daisy Early Learning Academy in Tucson) and five other charter schools in Arizona: SSA-Phoenix, SSA-Broadway campus (Tucson), SSA-Ahwatukee (a Phoenix neighborhood), SSA-Davis Monthan, and Paragon Science Academy (Chandler, a Phoenix suburb).
The SSA-Davis Monthan school is the first charter school to be opened on a U.S. Air Force base and is on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson.
The DEC board members and all school administrators have Turkish names, including the daycare where the director's bio states she has a "Bachelors in Law" (?!) and was a lawyer in Turkey before she came to the U.S.
There is also a strong presence of Turkish activities at each of the schools, including at the daycare where Turkish is taught to the preschoolers (Parent Handbook, pg. 6). All of the schools have active Turkish clubs. Students participate in Turkish competitions (and here) and take trips to Turkey (SSA - Davis Monthan trip planned for summer 2010).
HIDDEN AGENDA? PARENTS RAISE CONCERNS THAT A TUCSON CHARTER SCHOOL HAS TIES TO A TURKISH NATIONALIST MOVEMENT (Tucson Weekly, December 31, 2009)
No one can knock the numbers. In recent years, students at Tucson's Sonoran Science Academy have secured stellar scores in math, science and other categories. The academy has earned glowing mentions in national magazines such as U.S. News and World Report, and in 2009, was deemed Charter School of the Year by the Arizona Charter School Association.
But some parents of children who attend the academy on West Sunset Road believe it harbors goals reaching far beyond academia. They suspect the Sonoran Academy of being part of a confederation of learning institutions secretly linked to, and advancing, the cause of Turkish scholar and Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
While most of those parents have resisted coming forward, fearing reprisal from an organization they say is known to target critics, one parent did agree to speak to the Weekly if we pledged to keep her identity hidden. The parent says she represents others at the academy who've become suspicious about the striking similarities of its educational programs to those of other schools around the United States which are operated by Turkish-born staff members.
She says teachers and administers freely circulate among these schools. At the same time, says the parent, the Sonoran Academy seems constantly to be bringing Turkish educators into the United States, and subjecting students to substitute teachers while the teachers await work visas.
According to this parent, all of these ties may lead covertly back to the Gülen movement, named for the scholar, who founded a network of schools around the world and now lives in exile in Pennsylvania. She says several Sonoran Academy parents believe the school has a hidden agenda to promote Gülen's brand of Turkish nationalism, advance sympathy for that country's political goals such as winning acceptance into the European Union, and discourage official acknowledgement of Turkey's genocide against the Armenians during World War I.
"We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools," says the parent. "They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They're calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.
"I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people," she says. "But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that's very disturbing to me."
Fatih Karatas is principal of the academy's middle school. He calls such claims ridiculous.
"We don't have any kind of connections or any kind of relations with that movement or group. A public school can not be affiliated in any way with other institutions or groups because of the regulations, because of the charters."
He also says his school has a diverse staff, native to countries ranging from Turkey to Mexico, which he considers a benefit. "But we're not promoting a certain ideology. ... These are defamatory allegations that are not based on any proof or evidence."
Still, the Sonoran Academy isn't the first Turkish-American-run charter school in United States to be accused of links to Gülen. Parents at the Beehive Science and Technology Academy in Holladay, Utah, have also raised concerns that their school is linked to this movement [Read about the Utah school here]. And according The Salt Lake Tribune, one Beehive teacher was fired when his lesson plan about World War II and the Holocaust prompted a discussion in which the school's principal purportedly questioned that genocide.
Although Utah's State Charter School Board cleared Beehive of deliberately promoting Gülen beliefs, lawmakers there have continued to probe its finances. The school-board investigation revealed that Beehive received loans from administrators at other Turkish-American schools, and from executives of the Accord Institute, a California-based organization with a Turkish-American staff. Accord provides educational consulting services and develops education models for programs for schools including Tucson's Sonoran Academy. But Karatas, calls the institute a "private organization," and says he's unaware of any ties between Accord and Gülen.
Other connections raise more questions. They include the Pacifica Institute, which operates the "Turkish Olympiads," in which Sonoran Academy students are encouraged to participate. The Olympiad contests range from essay writing and singing to poetry composition. According to its Web site, the institute was formed by Turkish-Americans in California with a mission of promoting cross-cultural awareness.
In December, the Pacifica Institute co-hosted a Gülen conference with the University of Southern California, and actively promotes Gülen beliefs on its Web site.
Indeed, the Gülen movement's own Web site seems to lay the groundwork for claims made by the Tucson parent. It discusses the group's rapidly expanding, worldwide educational facilities which have "made Gülen's network the most influential Turkish-Islamic movement both in Turkey and abroad. ... In the field of education, this part of the identity is however not stressed and teachers from outside the (movement) work at these schools as well. They may be non-Muslims and in many cases the pupils have never heard of Fethullah Gülen."
The Weekly was provided with a list of Turkish staff members that have rotated through various schools and the Accord Institute—another strategy promoted by the Gülen Web site.
Of course, all of this could be purely coincidental. But the Tucson mother says many parents feel increasingly betrayed by what they consider the Sonoran Academy's ongoing secrecy.
"Other parents say, 'I could almost be OK with this if they were out in the open about it.' But the (school) has done such a phenomenal job of keeping this a secret."
However, Karatas suggests those who make such claims are flirting with trouble.
"I'm hoping that they know that these are defamatory allegations which may put them in trouble later on. These are excelling schools. ... I hope they are aware of what they're doing."
Read the range of comments that follow the above article, and follow some of the links that the readers offer.
From an article in The Irish Times (January 2010) about Gülen schools in Ethiopia which quotes Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish professor who co-edited a book on the Gulen phenomenon and describes the movement as the "most powerful force in Turkey." He says its main goal has been the "Islamisation" of Turkish society:
Yavuz argues that there is a wider agenda as manifested by its increasingly global reach.
"The movement, which is rooted in selective vision of the glorious Ottoman past, has its own imperial vision of turning Turkey into a global power," he says.
This piece from the official Web site talks about the progress of the movement and concludes:
At that point, it should be noted that, the history of the movement in Europe and in Muslim World is quite short, but as a beginning, they have a good start in the Netherlands with almost all sorts of institutions and activities, in the United States with a striking rise in the amount of state-financed charter schools and in Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq with seven schools and despite a pretty slippery ground.
Yup, the official organization writes about there being a "movement" on behalf of another nation, and that American charter schools can be used as a vehicle for furthering its cause.
How many of the parents of the students attending these charter schools have any idea about these issues? How many of the charter schools' authorizers do? What media organization will further investigate each side of the issue and present the information to the general public?In the meantime, keep in mind that these schools are being supported by U.S. public education tax dollars.