Fulton controversy: Shedding light on the Gulen network of charter schools

UPDATE at 1:30 Wednesday: Staff writer Nancy Badertscher would like to hear from parents on their feelings about the Fulton Science Academy Middle School, its two sister schools and the new audit. She would like parents who would speak on the record about the schools.  If you can help, please contact her at nbadertscher@ajc.com.

The AJC has an interesting story today about the surge in Turkish-run public charter schools, such as the three in Fulton County.

Charter schools are public schools that operate under contractual charters. One of the three Fulton charter schools, the Fulton Science Academy Middle School, will cease to be a charter school at the end of this month and try to continue as a private school in which parents pay tuition.

The school is in the news now because of a highly critical audit of its financial operations released yesterday by the Fulton County district, which is trying to figure out what resources in the charter school belong to the county and which belong to the school.

Here is an excerpt of the AJC story: Please read the full story before commenting:

FSA Middle School operates in concert with two other Fulton charter schools, an elementary school and a high school. The three campuses are part of a nationwide trend that began with Turkish-run private schools in New Jersey and Brooklyn in the 1990s and rapidly grew with an emphasis on charter schools in the early 2000s. More than 130 Gulen movement-affiliated charter schools now operate in 26 states and Washington, D.C.

American schools influenced by the Gulen movement have no official connection to one another, experts say. Instead, they are part of a massive global social network of faith-based organizations, businesses, and schools run by Turks. Inside Turkey, the Gulen movement coalesced as a counter to rigid secularism, which for decades barred all religious influences from the political sphere, say researchers who have studied the phenomenon. Those origins help explain what can look to Americans like evasiveness, they say.

Turkish-run charter schools in the U.S., including the Fulton Science Academy, rely heavily on Turkish administrators and teachers, many of whom are brought to the U.S. on work visas. The schools conduct business largely with Turkish-owned companies, promote Turkish culture and language, and routinely take students and parents on overseas trips to Turkey.

In recent years, scholars, bloggers and news organizations have increasingly raised questions about how Gulen-influenced charter schools use public money and their ties to Turkish religious and political groups. A New York Times report in June 2011 examined the rise of Texas charter schools tied to Turkey. A 2010 USA Today article found that “virtually all of the schools have opened or operate with the aid of Gulen-inspired ‘dialogue’ groups, local non-profits that promote Turkish culture.”

For William Martin, an expert in religion and public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute, the schools’ connection to the Gulen movement isn’t up for debate. Martin, who has traveled to Turkey with Texas-based school officials, believes the schools should be transparent about their ideological origin.

“I have told them, ‘why do you say there is no connection? Why don’t you just say we are people inspired by Fethullah Gulen and one of the things he teaches is education and the importance of science?’” he said. “They said, their lawyers [advised them] that is what they should say. I said ‘Your lawyers are doing a disservice.’ I think some of them are coming around to see that.”

The overarching mission, say academics such as Martin, is more about commercial and economic development than religious proselytizing. Martin flatly dismisses the notion that the schools are promoting a Muslim agenda.

“The bulk of the people in that moment are Anatolian businessmen. It’s really a very enterprising, entrepreneurial movement that wants Islam to have a seat at the table,” he said. “The idea that these are madrasas secretly trying to convert people to Islam and impose Sharia law on children is simply false. There is no evidence of that.”

For parent activists such as Sharon Higgins, an Oakland-based blogger who has tracked the growth of Turkish-run charter schools in recent years, the concern is less about religious policy and more about schools using taxpayer dollars to benefit other Turks, she said.

“We do know that they are giving all of their business to their friends in the network. This is a web of people who are all interconnected in their own little world, keeping things to themselves and doing favors for each other and tapping into all the tax money they are getting,” she said.

Higgins believes the schools should operate as private schools. “That’s what they should have done all along,” she said. “What bothers me is the use of public money to be deceptive.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

36 comments Add your comment

BC

June 6th, 2012
11:22 am

Here we go….

Political blogging in 1…2…3…

SPARKY

June 6th, 2012
11:54 am

Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

AngryRedMarsWoman

June 6th, 2012
11:56 am

“We do know that they are giving all of their business to their friends in the network. This is a web of people who are all interconnected in their own little world, keeping things to themselves and doing favors for each other and tapping into all the tax money they are getting,” she said.

Is she talking about the Turks…or APS…or Dekalb County Schools…or Clay-Co…or Gwinnett…or, or, or, or….

Goose wingman

June 6th, 2012
12:40 pm

This is what happens when you are not part of the in club. If you do get the bid as a non Gulenite you will get ripped off. Forced in to bankruptcy as a matter of killing off the competition. The goal is to dominate in all parts of business. Schools construction politics etc.

http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/lawsuit-jr-johnson-v-cosmos-foundation-and-solidarity.html

Dunwoody Mom

June 6th, 2012
1:29 pm

And the quiet from the legislators since this broke is amazing!! Here are these men and women who are obsessed with having the public pay for these Charter schools and *crickets*.

Attentive Parent

June 6th, 2012
1:31 pm

“Charter schools are public schools that operate under contractual charters.”

Contract and charter are synonyms. A more accurate way to describe charters as with any contracts are the rules the parties have agreed to abide by. Instead of the law and regulation providing the overview as with a traditional public school, the charter defines the terms of operation. Except the law and regulation are still out there to an unappreciated and to some extent unknown degree.

So it’s a matter of the charter laying out the rights and obligations of the parties. Because it’s public other rights and obligations can pop up unexpectedly, That may be part of FSA’s problem. One side is in a much better position to appreciate all the potential liabilities and pitfalls than the other.

It’s like Fulton’s new charter. It is full of words that have a very specific meaning if you are an ed insider or an extremely well read outsider. The terms would not be picked up on as having a contrary to expectations meaning by virtually anyone else reading the document.

Guess which meaning governs? Once signed it’s those unappreciated meanings. The intentions of the taxpayers and the school board and the parents and the administrators cease to matter. Although the admins could revert to using the common meaning of the terms.

Likewise the accreditors like SACS have virtually dictatorial powers as long as everyone fears the threat of losing accreditation as endangering property values. They have standards that also guide the everyday operations of the schools in unexpected ways. One side is familiar with how that really works. The other is not.

In other words, transparency in education may make a nice slogan but without a glossary of terms attached to the charter, and applicable terms and regulations, and copies of the relevant accreditation standards, one side to the transaction is flying blind. And it is the side paying all the bills.

Parent

June 6th, 2012
1:34 pm

AngryRed is so right. It is all about helping out “friends and family” and it happens everywhere. It is so sad that many adults in charge of school systems see running a system as a chance to make money and not focus on educating children. The children should not be an afterthought.

wishing

June 6th, 2012
1:45 pm

The selling of America.

Historically, parts of the American politique have sold mineral rights, air wave rights, and water rights to businesses. Frequently, the buyers were well connected businesses. This process has been expanded.
Now, Congress in general and the GOP in particular have decided to begin a whole-cloth sale of America. They started by selling prisons, then military functions, then (when they couldn’t get private school vouchers passed) they began selling schools. Georgian is also selling our roads and highways, and threatening to sell Medicare services.
The GOP has declared war on the US Government and all public assets. They have decided to privatize everything, ostensibly for greater efficiency, but really to make money for their friends.
Does it surprise anyone that public school funds are going to private, charter schools (while public school teachers are fuloughed!)? The State already has a private school tax credit boondoggle which includes a federal deduction, a state tax credit and scholarships for donors’ children. It is really a swindle of public funds for private schools. What do you expect? It is just another example of the sale of America. Soon, the public will have no assets. National Parks will be taken over by private companies, the entire military will be privatized to mercenaries, Social Security, Medicare, and the public’s ‘representatives’ (politicians) will openly declare who their clients actually are: big businesses.

Pardon My Blog

June 6th, 2012
2:28 pm

@wishing – Sorry but your attack on the GOP specifically does not hold water. Sounds as if you are using this to further a particular party’s agenda.

Personally, I don’t think there ought to be tax dollars going to Charter schools, Montessori schools or Private schools. Instead that money, that is designated for public school education, should be utilized better in the local schools instead of enriching certain entities.

Pardon My Blog

June 6th, 2012
2:34 pm

I should have said “Instead that money, which is designated for public school education, would be better utilized in the local schools instead of enriching certain entities”.

RBishop413

June 6th, 2012
2:53 pm

Why is it that no where in this article is the word Islamic every used? I don’t think for one minute that anyone would stand for taxpayer dollars supporting Christian charter schools, but Islamic ones? Sure! And while we are at it, lets write whole articles on the subject and never mention even once that they are Islamic schools. I bet the average Fulton County taxpayer has no idea.

Maureen Downey

June 6th, 2012
3:11 pm

@RBishop, Nationwide, there is no indication that religion plays a role in what is taught or how in these schools. That’s why they are not Islamic schools. They are schools that have teachers who may be Islamic, just as there are hundreds of charter schools that have teachers who are Christian or Jewish. That does not make the charter school a Christian or Jewish school.
Maureen

William Casey

June 6th, 2012
3:39 pm

I am a Deist. Didn’t make Chattahoochee or Northview “Deist schools” when I worked in them.

ChristieS.

June 6th, 2012
3:43 pm

From what I understand about the Gulen schools in America, about the only thing I really complain about is the fact that they’re using the visas to bring in teachers from Turkey instead of hiring our own math and science professionals. The H1-B visas are supposed to be used when a company cannot find Americans to fill the position. That isn’t the case, for the most part. We have plenty of very well educated math/science technologists who are out of work and would work at a school like this, especially for a one- or two-hear contract. Admin and HR people grow on trees here; there is no reason to import them. That revolving door between Turkey and the US is more than a bit egregious, in my opinion.

ChristieS.

June 6th, 2012
3:45 pm

grr…one- or two-year contract. Sorry about that.

Prof

June 6th, 2012
3:47 pm

@ RBishop413. From what I can tell from the news article, the issue is not whether these schools are proselytizing for Islam, but whether they are getting public tax dollars as charter schools and sending it to Turkey. According to the full article in the paper this morning, the middle school received $3.7 million in tax dollars this year, and more than $30 million over the last 10 years. That’s our tax money that didn’t go to the local public schools, and evidently went abroad.

another comment

June 6th, 2012
3:52 pm

One of my friends made a big mistake over 30 years ago of marrying one of these Turks. I helped her get a divorce starting two years ago. She wasn’t allowed to tell her family or friends she was married to him for the first 6-7 years. Not until after he got his Green Card off her. All his Uncles Idea. She thought he loved her because he bought her roses and candy at first. He used her over the course of years to get green cards and citizenship for all of his relatives, Mother, Father, 4 brothers, sisters, uncle, aunts etc. Then they didn’t even bother to invite her to any Holiday dinner’s because she was not Muslim. They would rudely come over and speak Turkish in front of her.

She worked the entire marriage, the husband spent a good 15 years going to Georgia State to get a B.A. and M. S. in Finance. He and he brother’s would work waiting tables at the Buckhead like top Resturant in Buckhead. She caught him cheating with one of the other employees at the Resturant, while she was in the hospital having a c-section having their first son. Then he would later try to gamble her business away, but the bank called her. Finally, she almost had a heart attack when she intercepted the 4th foreclosure attempt on their house of 20 years. She had used her own money to pay it out of Foreclosure the other 3 times.

I helped go through stuff with the attorney, and found some bank statements where he had been sending money to a Turkish bank account in his name since at least 1999. That is as far back as I had the certificates. He had forged his wife’s name to obtain a house for his brothers to flip. They forged her idenety to put utilites on. They never paid the bills. They ruined her credit. Every thing was for his Turkish family and not for his American Family. We found he had even bought a house in Turkey. Then he broke into the house while they were seperated and stole all the baby pictures, china and everything.

His parents went back to Turkey and are collecting Social Security and living like kings and queens all off the his fleecing her for a green card then citizen ship.

I and several of our friends spent years trying to tell our friends that these Muslim Turks were only out for their own. She wondered wwhy we would not even come to her house, anymore. We couldn’t stand the site of this jerk.

The absolute worse thing was their second son has autism and this guy wanted, or wants nothing to do with him.

Dr. Proud Black Man

June 6th, 2012
4:05 pm

@another comment

And your little story about your friend’s divorce is relevant to this article because…..???

American Teacher

June 6th, 2012
4:11 pm

We shouldn’t forget about the spokesperson for the school Mr. Tom Deeb and his self interests in insuring the Gulen Movement succeeds in America and in the oil rich Turkic Nation of Azerbaijan;

For those of you who are curious about Tom Deeb:
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tom-deeb/4/184/b11
Tom Deeb’s Linkedin page which describes his work at Raytheon which has HUGE ties to the Gulen community. See next posting for this information. Not to mention his work with AZERM

http://www.edtp.az/en/static/11/
Tom Deeb as the Principal Advisor for AZERMs

http://www.amchamaz.org/domains/amcham/assets/file/newsletter/Impact11.pdf
pg 6 of this American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan features Tom Deeb and his work in Azerbaijan. See photo of Tom Deeb

Now about the Gulen Movement and Azerbaijan connections

http://www.cpc-ew.ro/occasional_papers/008.pdf
Here is a paper by the Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning about the Gulen Movement’s use of Azerbaijan in lobbying

http://browardnetonline.com/2012/05/state-representative-clarke-reed-to-attend-the-cultural-and-economic-tour-in-baku-azerbaijan/
Here is an article about the Gulen group Turquoise Council which is hosting over 150 American state legislatures, mayors and others to “oil-rich” Azerbaijan

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64018
Eurasia Article about the Gulen Movement’s Islamic influence in Turkic Azerbaijan.

ChristieS.

June 6th, 2012
4:21 pm

It’s all about the money. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Gulen movement or Charters USA. It’s all about the profit-making opportunities. The single color that is accepted virtually around the world is US banknote green. Why shouldn’t offshore companies move into the lucrative niche of privatizing US education? They’re being invited to do so.

Georgia and education not compatible

June 6th, 2012
4:59 pm

@ Dunwoody Mom

I was thinking the exact same thing yesterday but I thought I would give politicians a day to at least say, “OUR PLAN IS DIFFERENT,” yada, yada, yada…

Perhaps they are formulating a magnificent response…

Ron F.

June 6th, 2012
8:32 pm

Except for the blaming of only one political party, wishing got it right above. This is yet another example of how bad stewardship of public funds is possible, if not probable, when a private enterprise is handed that money without oversight. If we complain that our public schools waste money, and they have a lot of oversight, then what should we expect of those we give the money to without any accountability?

Prof

June 6th, 2012
9:06 pm

@ American Teacher, June 6, 4:11 pm.

There’s another angle to consider that I’ve noted in posts to the other blogs-threads on this subject, and that’s the possible connections between the Gulen Schools and Hamas. Google “Gulen Movement and Hamas” for some interesting materials, including “A Guide to the Gulen Movement’s Activities in the U.S.” that’s aimed at charter school advocates:

http://www.turkishinvitations.weebly.com/gulen-kimse-yok-mu-and-hamas.html/

Prof

June 6th, 2012
9:20 pm

Weird. I just clicked the link I gave above, and got “404-page not found,” but with an embedded link that sends you to the correct page. Worth reading.

Tom Deeb

June 7th, 2012
11:37 am

To those who wonder about American Teacher you can find more blogs under the pen name MarkMunoz. The person has several others as well.

As I commented before thank-you for highlighting some of my work in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a nation that has supported the US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is proud country with a long heritage and when the US government asked for support on the war on terror they gave and some lost their lives.

For the record I am not a member or a supporter of the Gulen Movement. I am an American citizen who works abroad on many US government sponsored projects in over 25 countries. As a part of that work I represent American values including freedom of speech.

So to the American Teacher or MarkMarkMunoz keep writing and try to keep false allegations and personal attacks to a minimum on this blog if possible.

For those who believe that because an American is of Turkish origin they must be a part of the Gulen movement I say does this make all Americans who are of German descent Nazis, or Americans of Russian descent Stalinist, or Americans of Arabic descent terrorists.

For those who believe that because a school’s administration is partially of American — Turkish decent it must be Gulen affiliated — wow what can I say — I thought this type of labeling died with Joe McCarthy.

Dunwoody Mom

June 7th, 2012
12:53 pm

There will little to no response from our legislators on this, I don’t believe. Despite the fact that a study came out that showed charter students do not fare any better than children in traditional public schools DURING their obsessive push to bring charter legislation to vote carried on. Despite the fact that almost every public school district is grabbling with financial issues, the GA Legislators continued on with their obsession with charter schools blatantly ignoring the crisis all around them in our traditional public schools. And yet, those same legislators claim they are not trying to destroy public education – can they say this with a straight face?

If you keep up with the charter school movement nationwide, you will understand that what has gone on with FSA is happening all over this country. The charter school legislation and movement in Florida has created a huge crisis in that state, but Rick Scott continues on. What happens when this fad is over? What happens when the companies behind the charter school movement decide there is no enough money and abandon these schools and children?

Prof

June 7th, 2012
2:28 pm

@ Tom Deeb, 11:37 am. What is your evidence that “American Teacher” at 4:11 pm yesterday is Mark Munoz?

I’m assuming that you mean the Mark Munoz who is Professor of International Business at Millikin University in Illinois, not the American-Filipino wrestler. The former has excellent credentials for making his “allegations” that he backs up with links. Most of those links give evidence to the Gulen Movement and its Azerbaijan connections, so they’re relevant to this discussion.

Joseph O'Reilly

June 9th, 2012
1:02 am

You need to think globally when it comes to STEM education. Most good quality Math and Science teachers work in better paying jobs or in County schools that pay more. There is a great need for dedication to work for nationally competitive events like Science Olympiad ,Robotics ,Math counts that leave teachers to work after school weekends holidays with or without students to get the success. STEM education can be taught from International teachers to increase quality reduce the cost like Information Technologies.
I am just curious if there will be article about Chinese instructors at Georgia Tech or Indian faculty members at UGA complaining there are a lot of unemployed people replaced by them.

Prof

June 9th, 2012
10:52 am

@ Joseph O’Reilly. But these were STEM teachers of elementary and middle school children, not University students! Are you really arguing that there were no qualified American teachers of math or science for those age groups?

Look, admit it—this was immigration fraud, in which foreign workers took jobs from qualified Americans.

Back to Private school

June 9th, 2012
11:12 am

Prof, FSA MS was a public school. The money went to fund the best Middle School in Fulton, based on ITBS and CRTCs scoring.

Back to private school

June 9th, 2012
11:55 am

Prof, unfortunately it is not fraud. The USG allows companies to kick Americans to the curb and bring in foreign workers. I have seen this in action at so many companies that to me it now looks like standard US business practice. Maddening, but certainly not something limited to FSA MS.

Prof

June 9th, 2012
12:26 pm

Foreign workers are only issued federal “green cards” or work visas if their employer states that there are no qualified American workers for the position. Usually this applies only to highly trained technical workers. Again, these were math and science teachers for elementary and middle school students. It’s ridiculous to argue that there were no qualified American teachers to do this, particularly during a time of teacher layoffs in Georgia of several years’ standing.

I don’t believe that the University System of Georgia (USG) does this, and in any case that’s irrelevant. It’s against federal immigration law. It’s apparent that the FSA, these teachers’ employer, did not tell the truth on their applications for their foreign workers’ green cards.

Prof

June 9th, 2012
1:26 pm

P.S. International University graduate students who work as part-time Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants in the USG are in a completely different category from the full-time teachers from Turkey who were hired by FSA. Those USG international students are considered students, not workers, by immigration authorities. International faculty brought in have special academic skills or qualifications. The training, experience, and expertise required to teach University students are very different from those required to teach K-6 students.

American Teacher

June 9th, 2012
4:06 pm

Dear Mr. Tom Deeb;
No wonder you have made a fine mess of your school. You continue to push blame onto others.

When are you going to accept responsibility of your school’s failure and business shortcommings.

The audit will continue to the other 2 schools, and lets hope that Tom Deeb can truly help steer the school in a position of being a partner with the school district rather than divided with them.

As Mark Munoz posted, your school is CLOSED, he had some great suggestions for you to move forward. Your motives, business dealings in Azertijan are important as it is part of the ongoing investigation of the networks that are benefiting from American money intended for education.

I would agree with Prof and Mark that you start using your time and resources to move forward with the private school and beg the community for forgiveness by admitting your mistakes and how you will use this to improve. If you keep trying to divide the community you will lose.

Festivals, campaign contributions, marketing videos, etc., will not help they will only draw more attention to your bad behaviors. You cannot lie or hide from them with this, you must face them head on. Wells Fargo will not be so nice.

American Teacher

June 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

No one is suggesting that all Turkish Americans are part of the Gulen Movement. In fact, a great deal of Turkish professors were born in the USA or Germany that I know. They do not recognize the Gulen Movement or it’s philosphies, they believe Gulen is destroying a secular country in Turkey and is using the same terrible tactics in the USA as they have in Turkey. Except in the USA we have such a thing as Freedom of Speech. In Turkey, if anyone speaks up the Gulen controlled police will have them arrested. Especially if they mention Fethullah Gulen or his Army.

Tom Deeb, I wish you the best of luck and hope that you can take some of these many suggestions that the community would be looking for and turn your lemons into lemonade.

My2Cents

June 9th, 2012
11:42 pm

Apart from the questionable use of h1B visa teachers – as one of DCSS BOC members said once – the first year they are learning how to get to school and find their way around, the second year they’re becoming proficient in American English and the third (and final) year of their visa term they can actually perform the duties they were brought over to do. We have class-room ready teachers available and do NOT need this. Children who have attention issues and auditory processing issues – and there are a surprising lot of these – are NOT served well by this situation. BUT – don’t forget – this is not occurring only in this charter school, there are plenty already in the DCSS system. I firmly believe that teaching staff should come from the community and if they are not directly from the community they should intend to become a part of the community. Think about it for a minute and consider the benefits of this. Yes, cultural diversity is good but the cost of having foreign teachers is beyond any actual benefit.