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

September 7, 2013

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:


Prisons, or schools? Prisons, or mental health care? Prisons, or freedom?

December 19, 2012

Here’s one from a maybe-odd source, but with relatively good citations.

If we have limited money to spend in government, can we put spending on a balance to see where it should be spent?  This is one example out of many pending before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, today — right now, and for the coming several months.  When you hear elected representatives say “we must cut spending to reduce deficits,” you need to understand that their proposal is to cut spending for education, for job training, for employment assistance, for unemployment payments, for health care, for mental health care, for drug rehabilitation programs, but generally NOT for incarceration programs.  In short, they are saying we must cut off the education of poor kids, to build jails to house them if they run afoul of the criminal justice system after being unable to get the education and training to get a job that will produce the income that would have made them great parents and taxpayers.

If we have limited money to spend in government, can we put spending on a balance to see where it should be spent?

  • Prisons, or schools?
  • Prisons, or mental health care?
  • Prisons, or drug rehabilitation?
  • Justice, or incarceration?
No Justice For All poster, prisons vs. education - OnlineJusticeDegree.com

From OnlineJusticeDegree.com; check references listed on the chart.

What do you think?

More:


School reform: 250,000 teachers fired?

June 11, 2012

Is this any way to run education reform?

Plugging his own jobs creation bill, President Obama said that 250,000 teachers lost jobs in state budget cuts in the last few months.  NEA’s news line reported:

Obama Cites Teacher Layoffs In Push For Jobs Bill.

The AP (6/9) reports President Obama “wants Congress to help states rehire teachers and act on a key part of last year’s jobs bill.” In his weekly address, the President said “many states have been squeezed by the economic recession and have been forced to lay off teachers — about 250,000 across the nation.”

The Los Angeles Times (6/10, Reston) reports the President “renewed his push for his stalled jobs bill in his weekly address Saturday, arguing that the legislation could play a critical role in preventing teachers around the country from being pink-slipped in cash-strapped states.” He said, “It should concern everyone that right now — all across America — tens of thousands of teachers are getting laid off. … When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Our students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.” The Times notes that he cited “the shrinking pool of teachers in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

Politico (6/9, Boak) says the President “told voters to send Republicans to the principal’s office,” calling on Congress “to pass a measure to stop teacher layoffs that he first proposed last September. The $30 billion package to fill in the gaps left by slashed state education budgets failed to get a passing grade from Capitol Hill.” The President said, “In Pennsylvania alone, there are 9,000 fewer educators in our schools today than just a year ago. In Ohio, the number is close to 7,000. And nationwide, over the past three years, school districts have lost over 250,000 educators.”

The Hill (6/9, Sink) says his “messaging largely echoed his remarks at an unplanned press conference Friday at the White House. But that effort was overshadowed” by his “remark that ‘the private sector is doing fine’ in terms of job growth, drawing immediate criticism from Republicans.” The Hill (6/9, Sink) also reports the Obama campaign also released a new web video criticizing Mitt Romney “for saying Friday that the federal government shouldn’t move forward with legislation that would give cash-strapped states money for teachers and emergency responders.”

Meanwhile, The Hill (6/9, Pecquet) reports in the Republican address, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) criticized the Affordable Care Act, saying, “The President’s policies are standing in the way of a stronger economy. His healthcare law well may be the worst offender, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire workers. It’s making things worse in our economy, and it needs to be fully repealed.”

It’s difficult to find an analogy about just how contrary to wisdom is the idea of laying off teachers in a national economic recession.  Imagine Mitt Romney saying, “We need to keep Americans safe, so I propose we lay off policemen and firefighters.”   It wouldn’t make any sense.  Surely Americans would rise up in protest.

What’s that?


March 4, 2012

Ed Darrell:

You wanted evidence that Michelle Rhee’s plans in Washington, D.C., were not coming to fruition, that the entire scheme was just one more exercise in “the daily flogging of teachers will continue until morale improves?”

G. F. Brandenburg ran the numbers. It isn’t pretty.

Click the top line, which should be highlighted in your browser, to see the original post; or click here.

See more, next post.

Originally posted on GFBrandenburg's Blog:

It all makes sense now.

At first I was a bit surprised that Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee were opposed to publicizing the value-added data from New York City and other cities.

Could they be experiencing twinges of a bad conscience?

No way.

That’s not it. Nor do these educational Deformers think that value-added mysticism is nonsense. They think it’s wonderful and that teachers’ ability to retain their jobs and earn bonuses or warnings should largely depend on it.

The problem, for them, is that they don’t want the public to see for themselves that it’s a complete and utter crock. Nor to see the little man behind the curtain.

I present evidence of the fallacy of depending on “value-added” measurements in yet another graph — this time using what NYCPS says is the actual value-added scores of all of the many thousands of elementary school teachers for whom they have…

View original 255 more words


Education spending = increased wealth in the nation?

August 29, 2011

From The Condition of Education 2011, Indicator 38, Education Expenditures by Country.

A country’s wealth (defined as GDP per capita) is
positively associated with expenditures per student
on education at the combined elementary/secondary
level and at the postsecondary level. For example, the
education expenditures per student (both elementary/
secondary and postsecondary) for each of the 10 OECD
countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2007 were
higher than the OECD average expenditures per student.
The expenditures per student for the 10 OECD countries
with the lowest GDP per capita were below the OECD
average at both the elementary/secondary level and at the
postsecondary level.

Per pupil spending in the U.S. is inflated in these comparisons because it includes per pupil expenditures for college.  One might make a case that this spending could be reduced and efficiency maintained were investment in elementary and secondary education increased and made more effective.

Chiefly, here we should note that spending more on education correlates with a nation’s wealth — the more a nation spend, the wealthier it is, and vice versa.  This applies in the developed nations measured by the Organization for Economic Development, anyway.

In short:  We cut education spending at our national peril.

More data on this measure here.  Other indicators, and the complete text of the Condition of Education 2011, here.

Conflict of interest statement:  My office published these reports in my time at the Office of Educational Research and Improvement; I have no affiliation with these data any  more.


Save Our Schools: Teachers march on Washington, no pitchforks, torches, tar or feathers

July 29, 2011

Save Our Schools and other teacher groups organized a march on Washington, a four-day affair to get attention to problems in schools and gain support for education-favorable solutions.

Will their voices be heard over the debt ceiling hostage crisis?  Is it more than coincidence that many of the politicians attacking education lead the effort to ruin the nation’s credit and sink our economy?

Here’s an explanation from EDWeek’s  Politics K-12 blog:

Teachers Converging on Washington for 4-Day Schools Rally

By Michele McNeil on July 28, 2011 5:54 AM
By guest blogger Nirvi Shah

UPDATED

Today kicks off the four-day Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, a gathering and rally in Washington, D.C., organized by teachers who say they are fed up with test-driven accountability for public schools—and, increasingly, for teachers.

The group, which maintains that it is a grassroots, from-the-ground-up organization, hopes to send a message to national and state policymakers about their displeasure, as well as highlight a variety of principles for improving public education. The group has developed a series of position papers outlining its views on high-stakes testing, equitable funding for all schools, unions and collective bargaining, and changes to curriculum, among other issues. For the most part, the position papers aren’t yet at the level of detail of formal policy prescriptions, and it remains to be seen whether such proposals will emerge from the gathering.

March organizer Sabrina Stevens Shupe said however that policy proposals aren’t necessarily the goal of the events. “What we’re talking about is creating the right conditions, not prescriptive policies,” she said.sosrally-tmb.gif “There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to save anything,” she added, referring to attempts to craft education reforms for the last 30 years.

The big event happens Saturday, when thousands of teachers and supporters of the cause are expected to rally and march at The Ellipse, near the White House. (About 1,000 people have indicated they’ll attend via the movement’s website, but registration is not required, and organizers believe 5,000 to 10,000 marchers will turn out.) The group will wrap up with a closed-door meeting Sunday at which participants will try to determine how to keep the momentum from the rally going. (Movement organizers haven’t disclosed the meeting’s location, and it is not open to press.)

Watch this blog and our issues page for developments from the movement’s events today and through the weekend.

The movement began with a small group of teachers, including Jesse Turner, who walked from Connecticut to the District of Columbia last August to protest the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top. Their efforts predated actions by state legislatures across the country this spring to curb teachers’ collective bargaining powers and tenure, noted Bess Altwerger, a member of the movement’s organizing committee, who hosted a reception for Mr. Turner last summer. She said the shortcomings of the American public education system do not lie with teachers.

“This has been framed as somebody’s fault—either the parents’ fault or the teachers’ fault,” Ms. Altwerger said. “The fault lies with an education policy that does not work.”

Eventually, both of the nation’s largest teachers unions threw their financial and philosophical support behind the movement.

The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have donated about $25,000 each to the effort. The bulk of the rest of the donations have come from one-time gifts provided through the Save Our Schools website. Conference organizers estimated that they’d raised over $125,000. After this weekend, they will have to begin fundraising efforts anew to keep their work going.

Taking Message to Obama Administration

Three organizers of the SOS March met Wednesday for an hour with senior-level Education Department officials, including two press officers and the deputy chief of staff. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in attendance for about 10 minutes, and described the meeting as a “good conversation.” He added that “there is a lot of common ground out there.”

(Read the rest of the story from Politics K-12.)

With some luck, a few thousand teachers will show up.  With greater luck, a few thousand other people, concerned parents, perhaps, will join them.

In much of the nation teachers are still stuck fighting for jobs.  Here in Texas, for example, the Texas Lege didn’t get a budget out until June, including dramatically slashed funding for this coming school year.  In some Texas districts we still face layoffs before school starts in just over two weeks.  Many of us don’t have clear assignments, and many more of us will lose basics of teaching, like preparation time, breaks, classrooms, paper, books, and pencils.

Considering the trouble created by political attacks on education in state legislatures this year, much of the attacks wholly unnecessary, it’s a wonder the teachers don’t show up with pitchforks, torches, and tar and feathers.

It’s a crazy world out there.  Help make some sense somewhere, will you?


Teachers meet in Austin June 7, to plead for Texas children and education

June 6, 2011

Yeah, this video was first created for the April 2 teacher demonstrations in Austin; but the Texas Lege got filibustered at the last minute.  Now the Lege is in special, emergency session.

They still plan to begin the dismantling of Texas public education.  After the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Texas did not follow the errors of Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia, shutting down some or all of the state’s schools rather than education students of color.  As a result, Texas students leapt ahead of their counterparts in those states.

But today, in 2011, the Texas Lege plans two years of budget cuts that will kill Texas education reform efforts and backtrack on 20 years of progress.

Teacher groups ask Texas teachers to go to Austin June 7 to protest budget cuts.

It may be like Canute speaking to the sea, the Texas Lege is that stone deaf (water deaf?) — but if Texas teachers don’t stand up for education and Texas kids, who is left to do it?  Niemöller is dead.  Who is left?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,333 other followers

%d bloggers like this: