Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My charter school research & the Gülen Movement

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...

Sonoran Science Academy - Tucson

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).



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.


The Perimeter Primate said...

"Muslim radical lives in the Poconos -- but it's not what you think," April 18, 2010, Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, PA)


"Fethullah Gülen remains a radical figure for many Muslims," April 27,2010, Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, PA)


The Perimeter Primate said...


In this piece, the word charter school is never used but the description definitely fits the schools in this network. Excerpts:

- Then I looked at the teaching methods or the curriculum at these schools in order to come up with a set of principles that constitute the design of Gulen Inspired Schools.

-...he (Gulen)is not directly involved with any of these schools except one or two he visited in Turkey

- Gulen disapproves naming the institutions established for education, charity or dialogue as Gulen Institutions or Gulen Movement in its entirety.

- The common language used in all schools is English, that is, almost all subject areas are taught in English. The educators do not only teach basic math, science and technology, but go the extra mile, and help students to attend international math-science fairs and competitions. Most students at Gulen Inspired Schools are decorated with medals from International Science and Technology Olympiads [visit the websites of the schools and look at the home pages, where such participation is posted].

- these schools do integrate the modern sciences and technology with the traditional wisdom. Educators at these schools utilize both the modern concepts and traditional methods together in order to educate the whole-child. The curriculum is designed around the state-of-the-art technology and sciences whereas the extracurricular activities expose the children to global ethical and moral values.

- motivation of the entrepreneurs establishing these schools can best be articulated by the concept of sincerity, as they are not pursuing any missionary goals or any hidden agenda, but only actualizing the basic principles of charity and reaching out to others.

- Most of the Gulen Inspired Schools are run by non-profit organizations supported by donations from decent, honest, hard working businessmen. [for example, read the articles about Beehive school in Utah to learn about the private contributions that it received]

- Most teachers travel to far distant countries and cities, some to places that they have never even heard of. Some work in very poor conditions on minimal wage. Some do have the appropriate facilities but not all. But they all do volunteer in after hours and help with extracurricular activities, and none give up due to any of the obstacles that come with this territory. Some have switched careers to education from engineering or social sciences, so they continue on learning new methods and ways to improve their teaching. [the primary career theme in the bios of board members is engineering]

The Perimeter Primate said...


GÜLEN-INSPIRED SCHOOLS AND SMOS by Muhammed Cetin (December 9, 2009)

- The adversarial coverage has brought the schools, their financial accountability and leadership to the fore, displaying them in a negative light.

- Probably because of its transnational growth since the 1990s, the financing of the Gülen movement is occasionally queried in newspaper and journal articles. There has been little detailed study of the finance issue, but all academic research on this issue so far has made clear that each institution and project network in the movement is legitimate and transparent in book-keeping and accounting and that all financial management is done at the local level and subject to local regulatory inspection.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Paper delivered by Sheryl Santos on Saturday, November 4, 2006 at the Second International Conference on Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethulla Gulen movement in Thought and Practice (http://www.fethullahgulenconference.org/oklahoma/program.php) . Santos was the dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech at the time (2003-2009). From the tone and content of the paper, she appears to be a Gülen follower. Note the reference to charter schools and how the educational philosophy meshes with that of the Turk-run schools.

Excerpts (http://www.fethullahgulen.org/conference-papers/the-fethullah-gulen-movement-iii/3476-the-urgency-of-educational-reform-in-the-united-states-of-america-lessons-learned-from-fethullah-gulen.html)

- So, it is very difficult to imagine that a nation such as the United States, with a decentralized education system in which each state operates its schools independently, will ever achieve consensus about what and how children are to learn. However, based upon the writings and teachings of the imminent Turkish Islamic scholar and philosopher, M. Fethullah Gülen, I feel compelled to make the case for a higher order of thinking to pervade all educational institutions in United States.

- It is believed that there are about 700 Gülen inspired schools throughout the world.

- Nevertheless, I believe that all public schools, including public charter schools serving a diversity of students, can benefit from the prototype and the philosophical underpinnings of Gülen inspired schools.

- Another important feature of Gülen educational philosophy is that science and technology do not have to be divorced from one's spirituality or faith. Hence, there is a heavy emphasis on technology and science in these schools around the world. Gülen inspired schools participate in science fairs and competitions throughout the world, oftentimes with great success. A case in point is the Willow International School (aka Turkish College) in Mozambique. [the name "Willow" is also used or the EMO in California. Note the board members: http://we-team.org/about/about.html]

- Gülen's ideas about the role of science and its connection to the Divine laws of the Creator are completely consonant with the totality of his views about education.

- I am not certain how, or if, one's attitudes about science is limiting the choice of academic majors in the U.S., but it is observable that many professors of engineering and the hard sciences in American universities were international students prior to employment. Also, there is a severe shortage of science and math teachers in the United States as well, and tests reveal that students are not excelling in the public schools in these subject matter disciplines.

caroline said...

Interesting that one of those schools is in your Oakland hometown, and their website lists their big school trip to Turkey:

Bay Area Technology School (Bay Tech) 4521 Webster St. Oakland,CA 94609


(Pretty funky test scores, I note.)

The operators of this school attempted to start a charter here in San Francisco, but our Board of Ed turned them down.

nikto said...

Sometimes it appears that Private Charter School operators are so favored and deferred to, they could open up a full-blown radical muslim madrasa, and the corporatists-privatizers would be pleased, and the love & support from politicians would be total and unconditional.

Arne Duncan would give a speech along the lines of,
"...and even America's most dire enemies, like Bin Laden, have better ideas about how to educate our children than our failing public schools and teachers unions..."

I honestly think they could rationalize it away.

With the privatizers, relativity rules.

And I'm not talking about Einstein.

The Perimeter Primate said...

See additional information under comments at


Anonymous said...

Good for you for exposing the Gulen Schools, this is very big. If I had your e mail I would send you their movement chart with all of their foundation names.
Some of the names are: Cosmos, Concept, Accord, Raindrop, Interfaith Dialog and many many more. The trips to Turkey are called at some of the US Gulen Schools a trip to "europe" which Turkey is NOT in Europe. It is classified as Asia Minor. Istanbul was constaniople a christian city (and in europe) before the Ottoman Turkish invasions. you can check out their 990 IRS tax returns for free at www.guidestar.com. Teaching kids to speak, sing and dance in Turkish is Turkification. Many of their performances are on UTUBE. Gulen is a master of propaganda and OWNS the media to control information (Zaman, ERBU TV) and those high test scores the schools boast about? Ha Ha they are all awards from Gulen sponsored contests. Many ex-Teachers and parents of ex-students from Gulen schools are coming forward.
www.charterschoolwatchdog.com is an excellent site.
They have been in the news lately for Beehive Academy (UT) is CLOSING. AND Harmony Schools (TX) channel 7 in Tx reported on them yesterday.

Anonymous said...



FEEL the love!!!

thelma said...

Charters are school choice. We should have choices when it comes to educating our children. Check out this website. www.leavechartersalone.com

Mr. Curious said...

Some illuminating information can be found in the short interview with a group of Gulen-inspired educators working at U.S. charter/public schools, entitled "Gülen and U.S. Educators" and conducted by an academic, at the following link: http://gulenandcharterschools.blogspot.com/p/gulen-and-educators.html