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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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