Gulen schools: A quiet Turkish invasion of U.S. education? Is this a problem?


I would have sworn I’d posted in these issues before, but looking back through the archives, I discover I haven’t.

An interesting, perhaps odd, religious cult with Islamic roots moved into the United States several years ago, and started setting up schools for the public.  Hitching on the radical right wing’s creation of public school-killing charter programs, and riding a wave of donations from devotees of the sect, the Gulen movement set up at least one foundation, floated some bonds to build facilities, and established charter schools.  There are 40 of these schools in Texas.

Dallas Morning News photo:  The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn't ready to open for students.

Dallas Morning News photo: The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn’t ready to open for students.

My first experience a few years ago came with notice of complaints in the Midland-Odessa area about Islamic schools in the area.

Texas Education Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said the TEA has not received any complaints or unfavorable reports about the schools, which have also received good reviews in U.S. News and World Report.

Local school district officials in Midland and Odessa seemed baffled by the claims.  The flap died down.  It was during one of the creationism eruptions in Texas curricula wars, though, and I called the schools to see what they taught in science.  I got hold of a fellow in Houston who claimed to be the science coordinator for the dozen or so schools then existing in Texas.  He said he was not Muslim, and he told me that the schools do not teach creationism.  In high school, they use the Kenneth Miller-authored texts, and teach evolution.

At that time a facility being constructed near our home, which I had assumed was part of the Wycliff Bible Translating Institute nearby, put up a sign advertising that it would be opening as a charter school.  The Harmony School of Nature and Science sits in the boundaries of Duncanville ISD, but was obviously aimed at pulling students from Dallas ISD and Grand Prairie — or anywhere else parents in Texas are willing to drive from.  I know a few people whose children attend the school, and basically, they like it.  The school seems particularly adept at dealing with very bright special-needs kids.

In efforts to provide a fully-rounded education, our local Harmony School helps sponsor a Cub Scout Pack, which is a program I fully support (don’t get me going on National PTA’s stabbing Scouting in the back . . .)

Not all is rosy.  Officials of the foundation that supports and guides the Harmony schools say their sole intent is to improve education in the U.S., and it’s difficult to find any kind of unsavory indoctrination going on, the reality is that Harmony is becoming a large education system in Texas (and other places) — and some complaints unusual in the U.S. War on Education, or War on Teachers, or War on Children, create ripples.  Some teachers have complained that Turkish nationals get out-of-proportion pay packages to teach in the schools, and that good teachers are being replaced with Turkish nationals.  Some conjecture that this is being done solely to get a lot of Turkish nationals and followers of this particular sect into the U.S. — an enormous, elaborate, and U.S. taxpayer-funded scheme to get around U.S. immigration laws.

Diane Ravitch‘s education blog — the most important education news outlet in the nation right now — carried a post yesterday about more controversy; here’s part of the post (you should read it all at Ravitch’s blog)

Sharon R. Higgins is a parent activist in Oakland, California, who manages multiple websites as a concerned citizen. One is “charter school scandals.” Another is the Broad Report. Third is a compilation of articles about the Gulen movement.

Sharon has long wondered why so many districts, states, and the federal government have turned over a basic public responsibility to foreign nationals, who hire other foreign nationals, and export hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Her concern is not nationalistic or xenophobic. It is about the civic and communal nature of public education.

She writes: “On Saturday I spoke at the “Expose the Gulen Movement” protest rally held on a farm in the rural, rolling hills around Saylorsburg, PA. We assembled less than two miles from the compound where Fethullah Gulen lives. Gulen is considered to be one of the two most powerful men in Turkey. This is the video of my speech, starting at 00:45 min.

http://new.livestream.com/…/AbdEylemVakti/videos/28766474

Earlier that day, Gulenist operatives had driven around to take down the signs that organizers had posted to help guide protesters to the rally. The day before, a man from “the camp” (Gulen’s compound) also attempted to bribe the owners of the farm in an effort to prevent us from using their place.  [continued at Ravitch's site]

I offered my experience in a comment there, but the links snagged it — so I’m repeating it here, with the links restored:  My response at Dr. Ravitch’s blog:

Texas is wholly baffled by the Gulen movement, including especially the teacher-bashing GOP education “reformers.” Hypothetically, they favor the public-school-blood-sucking charters. But things are sometimes different on the ground.

In Texas, the schools are known as Harmony schools. We had a flap several years ago when some charter school advocates discovered, to their dismay, that the schools don’t teach creationism instead of evolution (point in favor of Harmony).

At the time, TEA and local district officials I spoke with were completely unaware of the size of the group establishing and backing the schools.

Today their website lists 40 schools across Texas ( http://www.harmonytx.org/default.aspx ) in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Brownsville, Midland & Odessa, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Laredo. Parents I know have been happy with the attention their kids get, and the care paid to science and math education. Complaints in Odessa some time ago centered around the Muslim teachers, but that flap died down.

But — is this trouble? — at least one school in Dallas County (about two miles from me) has been unable to get an occupancy permit to start school this year. Students are being bused to other locations, I understand — but code officials think it may be months before the building can be certified. Does this demonstrate a lack of financial planning and ability on the part of the foundation? Does this indicate animosity from Dallas code officials (public schools in Texas are essentially exempt from local code enforcement, and some districts, like Dallas, take unfair advantage of this; what I know of the difficulties at the new Harmony building are common, never-fixed features of schools in Dallas ISD — I don’t have the full story).

Here’s the notice on the school’s web page [since removed, I think; can't find it this morning, but this is direct quote, verbatim]:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Even with all our best efforts, we have some additional inspections that will not be completed in time for the start of school Tuesday, September 3. Therefore, we have made alternative plans to accommodate our students for this week. Please drop off your students as you normally would here at the Harmony Nature Campus by 7:50 a.m. for elementary and 8:00 a.m. for middle and high school. We have reserved buses to safely transport students and staff members to the following Harmony Public Schools campuses within our district:

Grades K-3 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Fort Worth.
Grades 4-6 students will have classes at the Harmony Science Academy-Euless.
Grade 7 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Grand Prairie.
Grade 8 students will have classes at Harmony School of Innovation-Fort Worth
High School students will have classes at Hurst Conference Center.

*Harmony Science Academy Fort Worth – 5651 Westcreek Dr. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 263-0700
*Harmony School of Innovation Fort Worth – 8100 S. Hulen St. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 386-5505
*Harmony Science Academy Euless & Harmony School of Innovation Euless – 701 S. Industrial Blvd. Euless, TX – (817) 354 – 3000
*Harmony Science Academy Grand Prairie -1102 NW 7th St, Grand Prairie – (972) 642-9911
Hurst Conference Center: 1601 Campus Drive Hurst, Texas 76054

Dismissal will remain the same: elementary at 2:50pm and middle/ high school will be at 3:15pm at the Nature campus. There will be no afterschool club and aftercare this week.

Please complete and bring the attached permission slip tomorrow with your child. We will also have extra copies for you to sign in the morning. Students should not bring all their supplies tomorrow.

Some of those bus rides are about 30 miles.

Here’s information from the blog on city issues of the Dallas Morning News (this has not hit the education desk, I don’t think): http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/2013/09/southern-dallas-charter-school-that-failed-city-inspections-still-not-ready-to-open.html/

Interesting how this group from Turkey managed to figure out where below-radar-level is in all of these states.

Diane, with 40 — or more — schools in Texas, are you sure your total of 146 schools is correct? Has anyone checked the foundation’s 990 forms lately (I’ve not looked in a couple of years). Is there just one foundation, or several?

In Texas these schools are operated by the Cosmos Foundation.  These schools have won explicit support from Texas right-wing “education reformers” like Sen. Dan Patrick, demonstrated by legislation passing the Texas Lege this year,  and have implicit support from right-wing campaigns against Texas public schools which end up promoting Harmony Schools, which have a comparatively politics-free and religion-free curricula agenda.  One might wonder whether the Texas CSCOPE controversy, and the McCarthy-esque witch hunt to find communists among Texas teachers, is not a well-designed campaign to allow expansion of Harmony Schools and other charter school organizations whose very existence might provoke higher scrutiny and public controversy, were there not other political shiny objects distracting people.

There will be more to come; check the blogs noted above, and please check back here.

Update:  Harmony lists 40 schools in Texas with 24,247 students.  In student enrollment, that makes Harmony the 51st largest school district in Texas (out of 933), larger than Denton ISD (23,994), Birdville ISD (23,545), Pflugerville ISD (22,763), Judson ISD (22,040), and Midland (21,736), but smaller than McKinney ISD (24,442), Lamar ISD (24,637), Laredo ISD (24,706), or McAllen ISD (25,622).  Duncanville ISD is about half that size, at 12,902; Dallas ISD has 157,143 students, second to Houston ISD’s 204,245 students. (Schooldigger statistics)

Update, September 8:  Cosmos Foundation — the group operating Harmony schools in Texas — showed 2011 income of just over $168 million, according to the IRS 990 form available through the Foundation Center.

Update 2, September 8: Harmony Nature and Science notified parents late Saturday that the school will be open Monday — which means no buses.  Looking for news reports to confirm.  Here’s a screen capture of the announcement at Harmony’s website:

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

More:

6 Responses to Gulen schools: A quiet Turkish invasion of U.S. education? Is this a problem?

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Like

  2. DickInfidel says:

    Texas Harmony Schools. http://www.harmonyparenttruth.blogspot.com

    THe defense contractors in Texas love Gulen and so do all the politicians that gert kick backs, among the favorite is the free trips to Turkey. http://www.gulenpoliticians.blogspot.com

    Like

  3. Ed Darrell says:

    At the TFN Insider, Steven Schafersman posted this on a July 2012 article on the Gulen movement schools in Texas:

    Steven Schafersman
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I have looked into Harmony Schools and they are perfectly legitimate and don’t teach Islamic culture or religion. What they do teach is mainstream math and science and they do it rather well. When I lived in Houston for 23, Arabs from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine were among my best friends. These men excelled in engineering and math because they had excellent math educations in their home countries. Unlike our students, they were not aware that math is too hard to learn. Harmony Schools have this attitude also. More charter Harmon Schools would be an asset to Texas.

    What many don’t realize is that there is a limit on charter school charter in Texas and Christian private schools were the first to reorganize as public charter schools to get this public money for themselves (along with some secular charter schools, of course). By the time other ethnic groups and nationalities, such as Moslem, Sikh, Korean, Vietnamese, and others organized to get their own charter schools, the charters had run out and their requests for charters were denied. I discovered this by accident while reading the minutes of SBOE committee meetings that are only available in printed form at Board meetings in Austin. The only way to get charters today is to pick up those abandoned by early charters that have failed. A school has to have influence on the State Board to get one of these and it helps to give big campaign donations to Board members with seniority such as Bradley. These schools are usually excellent and teach rigorous and legitimate science and math, so I wonder why Bradley would support them.

    Schafersman is a long-time advisor to the SBOE (well, would be if they’d listen to him), and activist for good science education. He’s the head and main force behind Texas Citizens for Science.

    Like

  4. […] Gulen schools: A quiet Turkish invasion of U.S. education? Is this a … […]

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  5. […] is a follow up on my earlier post on the Gulen schools, Cosmos Foundation, Harmony […]

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