Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The affiliation between the Gulen Movement and a large network of U.S. charter schools is now official

New mainstream sources confirm the connection between members of the Gulen Movement and a large network of U.S. charter schools (122+). The association is undeniable. At long last, the American public is gaining knowledge about the Gulen Movement's activities in the U.S. and an honest public conversation about this unusual situation can commence. Since there is no official singular Gulen Movement organization in the U.S. which provides the public with a comprehensive list of the schools operated by its members, a listing of the probable affected charter schools is presented HERE. Learn how the schools serve the movement HERE.  

1. Upcoming Rice University event: "Transnational Religious Nationalism in the New Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gulen," a presentation by Dr. Joshua Hendrick with a response by Y. [Yuksel] Alp Aslandogan, will take place at the Baker Institute on December 9, 2010.

Joshua D. Hendrick, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of international studies at the University of Oregon, addresses the conflict between Turkey’s secular and Islamic forces by explaining the organizational impact of the education and business community known as the Gülen Movement. The followers of Fethullah Gülen, one of Turkey's most famous and controversial religious personalities, attract a great deal of international attention because of the extent of their education network, which now spans over 100 countries and includes approximately 100 charter schools in the United States... [my bolding]

2. On October 7, 2010, Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, professor at the University of Houston, Department of Sociology, spoke about the financing of the Gulen Movement’s institutions at “Mapping the Gulen Movement,” a conference sponsored by Dialoog Academie, a Gulenist organization in Amsterdam. Here is a partial transcript from the video posted on YouTube.

@ 06:58 - Now also, I interviewed the top CEO’s of some of the Gulen-related institutions. I interviewed Mr. Kabaca at the bank of Bank Asya. I interviewed Mr. Dumanli at Zaman. I interviewed officials at Samanyolu TV, at Kimse Yok Mu , at schools, at Fatih University, at a lot of the media institutions in Turkey. And I wanted to know the history of the establishment of these institutions. Who put up the initial money? Where did it come from? Where did the capital come from? And then how was it sustained?

And I began to notice some patterns, some very strong patterns…

@ 08:02 - The businessmen and other people in the movement – but a lot of the real capital comes from these entrepreneurs – would put up the initial money to buy the land, to build the buildings, and operating capital for the first usually two or three years. And then gradually these institutions, and fast in my estimation, became self-supporting.

The schools [outside the U.S.] for example, charge tuition. They’re private schools and so they charge somewhere between seven and nine thousand a year in tuition. All the schools in which I interviewed also provide scholarships, for somewhere between twenty to twenty-five percent of their students who can’t afford it. But other than that, the students pay tuition, so the schools become self-supporting. Then the sponsors go to another project, in Turkey, or increasingly, outside of Turkey.

@ 11:05 - In Turkey I saw no government money going into these [Gulen] institutions. There’s a little bit in other countries.

I just came from Azerbaijan. I’m tracing the movement now out of Turkey as it’s moved around the world. For example in Azerbaijan the government put up the original land and building where the first school was built in 1993. That was the first school outside of Turkey.

So there’s some government money sometimes in the beginning of the project, but usually these buildings are so dilapidated it takes more to renovate them than they’re worth.

Also in countries like…I was in Melbourne where they also have schools. The government there supports private schools, so the Gulen schools get support just like any other private school.

Do you know in Texas we now have 25 Gulen schools? They’re called charter schools, totally financed by the state, and it’s causing problems...

3. “The Global Imam” by Suzy Hansen in The New Republic, November 10, 2010 online; December 2, 2010 in print.
Even as the movement has sprouted numerous organizations and companies, the schools have remained at the center of the Gülen orbit…Gülenists operate over 1,000 explicitly secular schools and universities in more than 100 countries…

In February 2009, the Texas finals for the Turkish Language Olympiad took place in Houston. Hundreds of students were competing to land spots in the final round…2,500 spectators cheered and waved American and Turkish flags. The hosts of the competition, two Fox-affiliate TV personalities, were both decked out in “traditional Turkish” costumes…

… As one of the young contestants, Dante Villanueva, recited a very long Turkish poem—earnestly and fluently teasing out the awkward 35-syllable words—middle-aged Turkish men in the audience wept.

There’s a decent chance that Dante Villanueva, like many of the other kids in the competition, attended a Gülen charter school. Such schools—many with fuzzy-happy names like Harmony, Magnolia, Pinnacle, and Amity—are only part of the cornucopia of cultural offerings that the movement has brought to the United States…

I asked to see a Gülen-affiliated charter school and was brought to the Harmony Science Academy, a K-12 school and one of 33 charter schools operated across Texas by a group called the Cosmos Foundation. (At both Harmony and another charter school I visited in Washington, D.C., people told me they were nervous about having their schools labeled Gülen institutions. At the same time, almost all of the Turkish men I met at these schools said they sympathized with or were followers of Gülen.) “Did you wonder why this school was founded by a bunch of Turkish men?” I asked the three mothers who’d been dispatched to give me a tour. “Totally oblivious, didn’t even think about it!” a tall, energetic woman named Colleen O’Brien immediately replied in her undulating Texas accent…

4. Motives for the GM's involvement in our public school system are suggested by Nazli Ilicak, a Turkish journalist who received a prison sentence in 2010 for criticizing a Turkish judge. Her comments appeared in Sabah (a Turkish publication): h/t Tom Stellar of the Arizona Daily Star. 
“We discussed the subject among ourselves: If 600 schools are bought this way in the United States – and that’s what the members of the Gulen movement are striving to do, - and if 200 students graduate from each one of these schools, then 120 thousand sympathizers of Turkey join the mainstream out there every year. We are trying to lobby against the Armenian genocide resolution every year. And yet, 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.”

5. Added on 11/21/2010: More admissions from another Anglo-Gulenist, Karen Fontenot. Fontenot admits that she is a member of the Hizmet Movement (Gulen Movement) and that she is on the “advisory board of Gulen schools in Louisiana.” Fontenot is the vice president of the Pelican Educational Foundation  which oversees Abramson Science & Technology Charter School (New Orleans) and Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School (Baton Rouge). Fontenot speaks at the dinner reception of “Mapping the Gulen Movement,” a conference held in October 2010 at the Dialoog Academie, a Gulenist organization in Amsterdam.
@ 0:47 – “I’ve been involved in the movement since 2005 and I’m fortunate to live with my [co-op?], my husband Dr. Michael Fontenot, and we were asked to present a paper at that conference in 2005 at Rice University...”

@1:50 – “When she [Helen Rose Ebaugh] said that members of the Hizmet Movement – of which I consider myself one, as does Father [Thomas] Mitchel, I agree with him. I’m not a Muslim and I’m not a Turk but I believe that I am a member of the Hizmet Movement. And she said ‘all the members seem to share something in common; you could recognize them.’ And I think we have to attribute that to Fethullah Gulen, because he is the one who saw a need, who communicated the vision, who has done it so eloquently, and also who has provided a place for every single member…”

@3:27 – “To conclude, I’m just going to give a personal account. A few weeks ago, somebody that I work with on the schools – I’m on the advisory board of the schools, the Gulen schools in Louisiana – and he looked at me and he said, “You would make a very good Muslim wife. And I was immensely flattered…”

This is a video about the 2009 Turkish Language Olympiad held in Houston which was mentioned above in #3. It was produced by Ebru News, a Gulenist media organization.

UPDATE ON MARCH 25, 2011: I just learned about this op-ed published April 30, 2010 by a columnist for Today’s Zaman, a daily English-language Turkish newspaper operated by members of the Gulen movement.  Some of the phrases in “A misguided crusade against pious Turks in the US” read near verbatim of what is often posted on comment boards under articles about Gulen charter schools [my bolding]:
…Since the US is a free country, why should it be a problem if pious Turks operate public charter schools, as long as they meet the legal and academic criteria? That's the case with the schools inspired by Gulen's pacifist ideas. Authorities constantly monitor these schools. Had there been any credible evidence of illegal or inappropriate activity, they would have taken the necessary punitive actions (as they should). You may find a few parents or teachers angry with the administration for various reasons at any school. Given the stereotypes about Islam, they may also try to use the “foreign” and “religious” element to bolster their arguments. However, a majority of the students, parents and local authorities believe these schools are making an immense contribution to social peace and justice in the US via education. In a country where there is a serious public education crisis, the last thing one should do is discourage successful entrepreneurs at charter schools…

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We Should Be Careful With Our Words

This is a guest post by Steve Neat, a 5th Grade Teacher in Oakland Unified and an Oakland Education Association officer.
Charter schools have a track record of inconsistency at best. A Stanford University (2009) study—the most comprehensive done yet—found that only 17% of charter schools outperformed public schools according to the tests that receive the most attention as the only evidence of effectiveness. 37% did not perform as well as traditional public schools. Charter schools, however, represent a critical step away from traditional public schools, where public money goes to a public entity run by democratically elected officials, and towards yet another privatization scam. Charter schools are private entities funded by public money. They are semi-private. Look up charter in the dictionary. It's defined as "an official document in which certain rights are given by the government to a business." "Public charter" is an oxymoron. Certainly there are some charters that are wonderful neighborhood schools, but schools of this kind could be—and have been—replicated under the traditional public school model. Charter schools have been agents of destruction in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. A parent there put it best when she said, "They stole our public schools, and they stole our democracy while we were out of town." Here in Oakland they are stealing our public education and our democracy and we don't even have the excuse of being out of town. It's not only particular charters here and there that are failing. The entire charter movement has failed, whether you call them public or not.

Time and again in the past 20 years experiment after experiment has used our students--particularly our students of color--as guinea pigs in attempts to close the "achievement gap." We do not have an achievement gap. We have a poverty gap and we have a funding gap. Of course poverty is not such an easy problem to solve, nor is the problem of adequate school funding, so we have to invent problems that have a simpler solution. The latest idea is that the problem is ineffective teachers protected by unions. So now the solution is to use test score pay to prod teachers into finally educating the children (I'm not sure what they think we've been doing). They used to call it merit pay. But since "merit" really just means "worth" or "goodness," perhaps the term was too vague. Its new name is the value-added model because however extensive is the damage done to our society by the corporate world, the business of America is business. The corporate world sets the agenda and the corporate world decides our vocabulary list. Money is made from public schools. More money could be made if schools were completely privatized and unions were eviscerated.

Just as is the case with charter schools, all evidence indicates that the value-added model (latest study coming from Vanderbilt, September this year) is not effective in raising students' test scores. So even if we start with the loaded assumption that higher scores on bubble-in, high-stakes, once-a-year tests somehow equates with education, test score pay does not improve the education of our children. Yet test score pay continues to be pushed. Even within the text of Measure L the adjective "effective" was inserted before "teachers." Why? I consult my dictionary again and I find that "effective" is defined as "bringing about the result wanted." Now isn't that interesting? What is the result wanted? That was never explained by the people who—at the very last minute inserted the word "effective" in the ballot language of Measure L. Did that word lead to the loss of the measure? It was certainly a factor, and when a vote is so close, any factor could have been the difference. The fact of the matter is the value-added model has no merit, whatever new name for it you come up with. In addition, people in positions of power in education shouldn’t throw around terms like “effective” without clearly defining what they mean.

I'm not a billionaire TV personality. I'm not a failed Chicago schools chief turned Education Tsar. I'm not a millionaire motion picture director. I'm not even an OUSD director. But I have been a classroom teacher for nearly a decade now and I'm getting very tired of buzzwords and schemes like public charter, merit pay, value-added, effective, and rigor (which I bet you didn't know actually means "great strictness or harshness"). My brother was in the Air Force for 6 years. We've had lots of conversations about euphemisms (“blue-on-blue mishap,” “insurgent,” etc.). I find it particularly offensive that some people who purport to have the best interests of our children at heart use words in the same deceitful way as people who are in the business of killing.

If they want to use words in the same way as those who wage war, then I declare a war of words on them. Every time I hear "public charter" I will say "you mean semi-private school." Every time I hear "achievement gap" I will say "you mean poverty gap, or funding gap." Every time I hear "merit pay" I will say "you mean test score pay." Every time I hear "value-added model" I will say "you mean business model." Every time I hear "rigor" and every time I hear "effective" I will ask "What do you mean?" and when they give me their answer, then I will say, "I think you need to pick a more accurate word."

I urge all of you to do the same.