Does @EducationNext still get it WRONG on Gülen charters?
I am glad that Harvard’s EducationNext changed the original language in this piece about the Gulen charter schools and Turkey that incorrectly argued that the NAACP had rescinded its call for a charter school moratorium by stating that it had not been “renewed.” They have now taken that language out of the article online, but they still have not issued a public correction for the misinformation (For more see also: Breaking News: California NAACP calls for investigation of ALL Gülen charters). However, Mark Hall, Director of the Killing Ed film, has several other issues that he feels it’s important to raise with the piece. Are more corrections necessary?
I feel compelled to respond to the inaccuracies and the omission of facts in a recent article in EducationNext which may lead your readers to a false conclusion.
The article, “Turkey’s Fight Against U.S. Charters,” discusses the network of taxpayer financed charter schools operated by the Gülen Movement, a transnational religious cult originally from Turkey. The title of the article itself is misleading – suggesting that the Government of Turkey is somehow against charter schools in general in the United States. This is untrue; the only schools Turkey is interested in are those founded by members of the Gülen Movement. Many of the established facts about this relatively new and mysterious cult are outlined in my documentary film, “Killing Ed: Charter Schools, Corruption and the Gülen Movement in America” which was released in March, 2016 and independently produced. I first learned of the Gülen Movement in 2005 after witnessing the group’s intense influence on politicians in Texas. When I began production on the film in 2011, not much had been pieced together about how the Gülenists operated in America. However, enough research and factual evidence now exists to connect the cult’s religious and political goals to the lucrative operation of its charter schools in the USA.
Here are the facts: the Gülen Movement operates over 173 taxpayer financed charter schools that enroll 83,000 students in locations in 26 states. Several new schools are opened each year. This makes the group the second largest charter school operator in the nation. In 2017, these schools received an estimated $729,000,000 in tax funds. Additionally, in Texas where the lack of funds for traditional public schools is currently being debated, over $645,000,000 has been issued in state-guaranteed bonds for the 63 charter schools identified as Gülen-affiliated. A significant portion of the funds the Gülen Movement receives are diverted through various means (bid rigging, inflated lease backs, ‘consulting fees,’ mandatory tithing by Turkish H1-B hires, etc.) to the non-educational, political goals of the cult. Followers who have left the Gülen Movement have outlined how significant amount of these tax dollars are kicked back through various methods to Fethullah Gülen and others leaders of the Gülen Movement at its headquarters in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
These funds are used for the group’s well-financed operations to influence U.S. political leaders, academics and journalists often through the activities of the Gülen Movement’s many non-profits (e.g, Raindrop Turkish Houses, interfaith dialogue groups, sister cities programs, political awards events, ‘free’ trips for influential members of a community, etc.). The schools also support many ancillary businesses in catering, curriculum development, after school care, and transportation. One identifying feature for the Gülen charters is that throughout the USA they have administrators that are Turkish (or Turkic) followers of imam Gülen and often have significant numbers of uncertified teachers from Turkey that are members of the cult. An estimated 2,990 employees of the Gülen charters in Texas are H1-B visa holders, displacing local teachers and administrators from potential jobs.
Underneath the headline, this questionable statement is made: “an autocrat declares war on high-performing American schools.” First of all, whatever you may think of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the ‘high-performing’ US schools are all operated by Gülen Movement followers who are political adversaries to the democratically elected government of President Erdoğan. Secondly, It is highly misleading to state that the Gülen Movement’s charter schools are ‘high-performing.’ As thoroughly recounted in “Killing Ed,” the most in-depth investigation into the operations of the cult’s school in New Orleans was conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011. After a state charter authorizer was offered a bribe by a Gülenist from Houston, a team of educators was ordered into the failing Abramson Science and Technology Charter School where they found improprieties ranging from pay, gender and racial discrimination to poor treatment of special needs students. In addition, classrooms with children watching television while their Gülenist H1-B teachers were off campus. From the dozens of teachers I’ve interviewed who taught at charter schools of the Gülen Movement, these issues are not uncommon. After the Louisiana DOE report was completed, the Gülen Movement lost its charter to operate Abramson and the school shut its doors. A similar investigation into the Gülen-affiliated “Harmony” and “School of Science and Technology” charter schools in Texas was never completed. The Texas Education Agency looked at 2 of the 10 issues with the schools and then stopped, stating that they had no authority to investigate further. (The pro-charter environment in Texas has protected the Gülen schools from rigorous oversight – a ‘perfect storm’ that allows the misuse state funds). Various studies of charter schools in general have shown that they are no better or worse than public schools. The Gülen charter schools fall into this category and should not be lauded as ‘high-performing.’
Thirdly, the only ’war’ that Erdoğan has encountered with the Gülen schools in America would be the failed coup attempt in Turkey that was declared by members of the Gülen Movement and most likely approved by imam Fethullah Gülen himself in 2016. This tragic event led to the deaths of several hundred peaceful citizens and more than 2000 injuries. Although we are learning more about the details of the cult’s involvement in the coup attempt, an American academic conference was held in late 2016 that included well-regarded scholars on the Gülen Movement to review the matter. Joshua Hendrick, Hakan Yavuz, Bayram Balci and eight other experts concluded that Gülen’s followers in the Turkish military instigated the violent coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 (their research has been published in “Turkey’s July 15th Coup – What Happened and Why” by the University of Utah Press). Why would Americans want to support a cult group that attempted to overthrow a foreign government? Were U.S. tax funds intended for the Gülen charter schools used for the coup?
It is very troubling that an institution like Harvard’s Kennedy School would publish such an incomplete analysis of the Gülen Movement’s charter schools in the U.S. I would ask for the correction of the errors made in the article. Also, rather than solely including former Gülen hire, Caprice Young in your podcast, could you choose to include a critic of the Gülen charter schools to add needed balance to this issue? Many are outside the Washington policy bubble and have been directly affected by the group. Academics Hakan Yafuz – no friend of the Turkish government – or Professor Dani Rodrik of the your own institution would also be good sources of information to counter the pro-Gülen slant of the article in EducationNext.
The Gülen Movement and its charter schools deprive local public education of desperately needed funds. They are a political and religious group that should not be receiving U.S. tax dollars. This matter affects American education and public policy in a very serious way – and should be discussed in depth with clarity and accuracy.
Mark S Hall
“Killing Ed: Charter Schools, Corruption and the Gülen Movement in America”
Visual Truth Projects, Inc.
Austin, Texas USA
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