Turkish cleric once linked to Fulton charter schools linked to coup attempt in Turkey

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound, Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Saylorsburg, Pa. Turkish officials have blamed a failed coup attempt on Gulen, who denies the accusation. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

Four years ago, the AJC reported on reclusive Turkish cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen movement. The story examined the Gulen movement’s connection to public charter schools, including three operating at the time in Fulton County.

Now, Gulen is back in the news. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the exiled cleric of directing a recent coup attempt from his home in the United States.

As the AJC reported today:

U.S.-Turkish tensions escalated Saturday after a quashed coup in Turkey, as the country’s leader bluntly demanded the extradition of a U.S.-based cleric he accused of orchestrating the violence. Another senior official directly blamed the United States.

At the center of the controversy stood Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue. Erdogan accused Gulen of directing the coup attempt and in a televised speech Saturday, he requested that Washington hand over Gulen.

Gulen quickly condemned the attempted military takeover, which left dozens dead. He is understood to maintain significant support among some members of the military and mid-level bureaucrats. His movement called Hizmet includes think tanks, schools and various media enterprises.

A former ally of Erdogan, whose increasingly authoritarian rule he now criticizes, Gulen told reporters at his Pennsylvania compound he knows only a “minute fraction” of his legions of sympathizers in Turkey, so he cannot speak to their “potential involvement” in the attempted coup.

The AJC reported in 2012 on the Gulen link to the Fulton County Science Academy, Fulton Science Academy High and Fulton Sunshine Academy, all of which have since lost their charters. The middle school closed in July 2012 and reopened as the Fulton Science Academy Private School.

The AJC reported at the time:

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.

 

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22 comments
Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

Don't you think that the Gulen Charter Schools network (estimated to be about 160 schools) is proof positive that public education in America has lost its way?  Public taxpayer funds are provided to these (and other charter schools and networks). These funds are raided from traditional public school resources and given to the charters. No accountability of how these funds are used is provided to the public. There are several hard questions here that need answers:

1) Why is a foreign national's charter school network intrusted with the the education of America's children IN OUR OWN COUNTRY. 

2) Why are foreign, uncertified teachers imported to teach our children- not just from Turkey, but from India, Haiti, Jamaica, and elsewhere?

3) Why are Charter Schools permitted to take public taxpayers money and then, when asked to account for their use of public funds, they declare that they are "private schools" and do not have to answer to the public?

4) Are the publically funded Gulen Charters an undisclosed source of funding for Gulen's political activities in Turkey and elsewhere?

5) Why haven't the Gulen Charter Schools in Texas and many other states been reported in the National Media since the Turkish Coup and the Turkish demand for sending Gulen back to Turkey?


FritzA
FritzA

I have a memory of this same school group trying to get the City of Alpharetta to fund their new buildings so that Alpharetta could become a science and tech corridor?  Wondering why that wasn't mentioned or am I mistaken?

Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

Sunshine Academy, Fulton Math and Science Middle, and I think maybe the STEM high school all have been Gulen charter schools. The first two lost their charters with Fulton. The middle school became private and the elementary school closed. I believe they lost their charters because of contract violations and financial misdeeds.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

They have financial issues that they could not sort under the deadline set by the Fulton school board.

newsphile
newsphile

Why anyone could have thought a Turkish-run charter school was a good idea is mind boggling.  How can we expect to remain a free country? 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@newsphile 

From what I have read after this recent attempted coup, Gulen represents the secularist wing in Turkey that opposes the extremely conservative Islamist viewpoint of their President. So I don't think there was ever the danger of "radical Islam" taking over these charter schools, which seems to be your fear.

Very interesting--I can remember when this issue of the Gulen connections to these charter schools first came up on this blog.

lrga
lrga

A Texas representative has asked their Attorney General to investigate the Harmony school network in that state. A complaint against these Gulen-affiliated schools raised many of the same issues uncovered in the Fulton audits. Suspect visa use and questionable contracting. The FBI has raided Gulen schools in other states. Glad these schools no longer use taxpayer dollars in Georgia.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Your becoming very predictable with your lack of anything of worth to say in your response. Instead you want to insult, belittle or bait in order to make yourself look clever.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@lrga Exactly. I, too, am thankful that his schools in Georgia no longer receive funding from the public. The FBI has raided some of his other 160 schools dotted around the country so it remains to be seen what the outcome will be of those investigations will be. 


Unfortunately the lack of transparency allows the privately-managed charter schools to run amok with tax-payer money. Once the money goes behind the the invisible wall, the tax payers don't get to see where and how it is being spent. What we do know is that the privately-run management companies that run and promote for the promulgation of the charter industry has been shown to be neither fiscally responsible (dual-systems) and has been shown to allow for widespread fraud and corruption. Since laws in many states are written to shield them from the transparency that we have and expect from our public schools it was estimated that the amount of fraud and waste in the charter industry was $1.4 billion for 2015. 


http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2.pdf

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

You really are a do as I say and not as I do person. What a narcissist! You replied to my post. And, just to be clear, you don't get to decide what , when or why I choose to read a post. Your desperation for attention is showing.

newsphile
newsphile

@Astropig Doesn't Texas still have some of his schools?  When federal tax dollars support a cause, some of those dollars are coming from my pocket. A huge problem with the charter school system is that there is absolutely no oversight and no one knows what's happening until there's an out-of- control situation, which isn't all that infrequent.

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile @Astropig


Well. by the same logic,we could "link" the spate of killings over the weekend to the recently announced school in DeKalb that is named after Barack Hussein Obama.I mean, he used to be an urban rabble rouser in the murder capital of the nation-Chicago. He has several charter schools named after him all over the country.


Apparently,the intent of this piece (throw shade on charters) was aimed squarely at the right audience.Pavlov would be proud.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Astropig @newsphile Not quite. Naming a school after a US president is a far cry from creating and staffing a school in accordance with an established movement: 

Per the AJC story:


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."

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile @Astropig


Weak,really lame attempt to tar charters with this guy's momentary notoriety. I'd expect to see this in a weekly local shopper paper.These schools are out of existence now,which is the way the system should work-if they don't do the job,close the doors.

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HotDawg
HotDawg

That was a coup that would have been better for the U.S. and Turkish relations, had it been successful.

Turkey is being taken over by radicals and it's current leader is not as strong an ally for the U.S., as past leaders.

It is an important country in the region that needs to maintain strong ties with the U.S.

newsphile
newsphile

@HotDawg But, no tax dollars should be given to foreign entities/individuals for educational purposes.  Putting someone from Turkey in charge of schools is giving the minds of our children to someone whose culture is not that of a democracy. 

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile @HotDawg


"But, no tax dollars should be given to foreign entities/individuals for educational purposes.  "


Would you please tell that to the governments of several central american countries? We educate a lot of their kids.

HotDawg
HotDawg

I was speaking specifically of the coup in Turkey.

Not of this guy exiled in Pennsylvania, or his school crap here.

Again, the coup would have been better for America, had it succeeded.

Tom Green
Tom Green

I'm sure the state government will be just as successful with vetting which entities they hand tax-money over to, for charter schools, as they have been with standardized testing.