Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Major development re the charter schools associated with the Gulen movement

The Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer article by Martha Woodall and Claudio Gatti has been spreading like wildfire.

Fethullah Gulen is a major Islamic political figure in Turkey, but he lives in self-imposed exile in a Poconos enclave and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.

As evidence, his lawyer pointed to the charter schools, now more than 120 in 25 states, that his followers - Turkish scientists, engineers, and businessmen - have opened, including Truebright Science Academy in North Philadelphia and another charter in State College, Pa.

The schools are funded with millions of taxpayer dollars. Truebright alone receives more than $3 million from the Philadelphia School District for its 348 pupils. Tansu Cidav, the acting chief executive officer, described it as a regular public school.*

"Charter schools are public schools," he said. "We follow the state curriculum." **

But federal agencies - including the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education - are investigating whether some charter school employees are kicking back part of their salaries to a Muslim movement founded by Gulen known as Hizmet, or Service, according to knowledgeable sources.

Unlike in Turkey, where Gulen's followers have been accused of pushing for an authoritarian Islamic state, there is no indication the American charter network has a religious agenda in the classroom.

Religious scholars consider the Gulen strain of Islam moderate, and the investigation has no link to terrorism. Rather, it is focused on whether hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators, and other staffers employed under the H1B visa program are misusing taxpayer money.

Federal officials declined to comment on the nationwide inquiry, which is being coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania's Middle District in Scranton. A former leader of the parents' group at the State College school confirmed that federal authorities had interviewed her…

The charter school application that Truebright filed with the Philadelphia School District in 2005 mentioned that its founders helped start similar schools in Ohio, California, and Paterson, N.J. [See HERE, HERE, and HERE.]

Shana Kemp, a School District spokeswoman, said that the district had just learned Riza Ulker, Truebright's permanent CEO, was on extended sick leave and that it would look into that. She said district officials knew nothing about a federal investigation of these charter schools.

Further evidence of the ties comes from a disaffected former teacher from Turkey who told federal investigators that the Gulen Movement had divided the United States into five regions, according to knowledgeable sources. A general manager in each coordinates the activities of the schools and related foundations and cultural centers, he told authorities.

Ohio, California, and Texas have the largest numbers of Gulen-related schools. Ohio has 19, which are operated by Concept Schools Inc., and most are known as Horizon Science Academies. There are 14 in California operated by the Magnolia Foundation. Texas has 33 known as Harmony schools, run by the Cosmos Foundation…

* Cidav previously worked at Harmony Science Academy in Austin.

** The Chicago Math and Science Academy, a Gulen charter school in Chicago, is currently presenting its case before the National Labor Relations Board claiming that it is a private school and not subject to state law. Read the whole story HERE.
News broadcast about the Philadelphia Inquirer story


Some of Cosmos Foundation’s existing and proposed school buildings in Texas



Over the past several months, the connection between the Gulen movement and its network of charter schools has been increasingly affirmed by credible sources. At the same time, an increasing number of websites and YouTube videos have been created by both anonymous sources and Gulen charter school organizations which deny the affiliation.

For instance, Kerry Mazzoni denies the Gulen movement / charter school connection on behalf of Magnolia Science Academy in a MSA produced video of February 2010. Mazzoni, a former California public official, has been employed by Government Strategies, Inc., a Sacramento based lobbying and government relations firm, since 2004. 

MSA interviewer: "Recently, there has been some blog-type press coverage that mentions Magnolia in a like that associates the school with an organization from Turkey, and says that charter schools -or Magnolia charter schools specifically- are Gulen Charter Schools. Do you know anything about that? Can you respond to that and assure parents what that means or doesn't mean for Magnolia Public Schools?"

Kerry Mazzoni: I want to assure parents and the public that I have seen no evidence of Magnolia being anything but a California public charter school.

Clearly, one affirmation of the link is found in the description on the public announcement for “Transnational Religious Nationalism in the New Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gulen,”a Baker Institute event at Rice University on December 9, 2010. This was a presentation by Dr. Joshua Hendrick with a response by Y. [Yuksel] Alp Aslandogan of the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue [one of the many Gulenist "interfaith dialogue" non-profits;  more about interfaith dialogue HERE]. The event description states:
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]
The one-hour long webcast video is HERE. Excerpts can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE. Hendrick addresses the movement's persistent denials of affiliation in the second of those excerpts.

The connection was also affirmed on October 7, 2010, by Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, a professor at the University of Houston who herself is heavily involved with Gulen movement activities. A regular speaker at events hosted by the Gulen movement, she appeared in Amsterdam at a conference sponsored by Dialoog Academie. In her presentation she stated (@ 11:56):
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...
Further affirmation is found in the New Republic article by Suzy Hansen, “The Global Imam” (November 10, 2010):
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.)…

This has now become a rapidly evolving story.

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