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:


More unintentional humor from Texas conservatives: Can’t read charts on economic systems

April 1, 2013

Mural in Adams Building of Library of Congress, Jefferson on Education

Mural in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress,m with Thomas Jefferson’s views on education, and education’s importance to liberty. (Click for larger version)

Under the standards for social studies the Texas State Board of Education promulgates, Texas high school kids must learn to read charts and extract information from them.

In the criticism of the small-school curriculum planning system, CSCOPE, conservative critics demonstrate both that they are not as smart as a Texas high school kid, OR they don’t know feces in economics.

Note the chart; it’s a fuzzy picture, but it shows an arrow indicating which economic systems have more government involvement, or control, or “interference” in Texas conservative talk; and note the comments:

So, in other words, the conservatives worry because a chart shows that socialism and communism have “more government control and planning,” and the conservatives come unglued.  They read the chart incorrectly; generally conservatives can be counted on to favor less government control in economic matters, which this chart shows is a virtue of free market economics systems.

Let me repeat:  They read the chart incorrectly.

Worse, there’s a guy who professes to teach economics in a California college who says he doesn’t teach this stuff.

What do they want, what does he teach?  That communism offers more economic freedom from government regulation than free enterprise?

Clearly they didn’t bother to read the chart.  These critics are the epitome of knee-jerk reactionaries:  If there is a word about something they don’t like, they assume the entire piece is tainted and biased against them.  If you said, “We say the Pledge of Allegiance every day as a defense against communism,” they’d claim you’re teaching communism.

BUT, this sort of criticism got Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Mars, to call for an investigation, a witch-hunt, of the group that works to provide curriculum helps especially to smaller districts who don’t have curriculum planning staffs; SBOE and the directors of the Regional Education Centers agreed.  Directors of the Regional Education Centers have bent over backwards to be open about what goes into CSCOPE, and how each lesson and each unit, and each test is aligned with Texas standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Yeah, I know:  The chart could have been done differently.  But this is EXACTLY the sort of stuff the Texas Education Agency favors on standardized tests students must pass to advance and graduate, to make sure students read the questions, and the charts.

Are you as smart as a Texas high school student?  Then you’re smarter than the critics of CSCOPE, at least in this case.

Still, CSCOPE, in an well-intentioned effort to be open about the curriculum materials they provide, and whether there is any bias in them, released this statement on their support of free enterprise:

CSCOPE Response to Lesson Regarding Economic Systems

CSCOPE strongly believes in the greatness of the free enterprise system and how it has helped build our country into the envy of all other nations. Free markets are a critical part of our American way of life. It is important to note that the activity in question is in a high school course and not in a grade 6 lesson. This twenty-minute activity is part of a six-day lesson on various economic systems at the high school level that are state required teaching standards set forth by the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education requires students to learn the following economic systems in World History:

  • WH.18: Economics. The student understands the historical origins of contemporary economic systems and the benefits of free enterprise in world history. The student is expected to:
    • WH.18A: Identify the historical origins and characteristics of the free enterprise system, including the contributions of Adam Smith, especially the influence of his ideas found in The Wealth of Nations.
    • WH.18B: Identify the historic origins and characteristics of communism, including the influences of Karl Marx.
    • WH.18C: Identify the historical origins and characteristics of socialism.

Furthermore, the State Board of Education establishes student expectations that focus on social studies skills. For the World History unit referenced above, the following social studies skills are included:

  • WH.30: Economics: The student communicates in written, oral, and visual forms. The student is expected to:
  • WH.30C: Interpret and create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information.

The goal of this activity is to address the content and skills standards that have been adopted by the State Board of Education, and it is absolutely not promoting a way of life contrary to what we value as Americans. In this activity, students examine four different flags, beginning with the US flag, and analyze the colors, the design, and the graphics as symbols of each country’s characteristics and economic systems. Students then design a flag to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of socialism, as the standard requires (WH.18C).

CSCOPE has a significant emphasis on the free enterprise system. The other economic systems are only addressed as required by State Board of Education. Additionally, every lesson and activity in our system is customizable. The teacher in the classroom is the final authority on whether or not the lesson should be customized for his or her students and community.

CSCOPE would also like to reassure parents and community members that there is a comparable activity in the lesson that focuses on free markets where students are asked to read about characteristics of free enterprise in The Wealth of Nations, complete an analysis chart, and discuss with their classmates the characteristics and benefits of the free enterprise system. In addition, in Texas History, World History, US History, and US Government courses, students are engaged extensively in studying the principles of the US free enterprise system and the role it plays in American society. Furthermore, Texas graduation requirements specify that students take an economics course, and this course focuses entirely on the American free market system.

CSCOPE staff takes great pride in helping educators teach the standards established by the State Board of Education. This dedicated staff works each day to ensure that teachers have the best resources available to help Texas school children succeed, and they continually focus on improving the system for the districts they serve. We are committed to helping every parent and community member better understand CSCOPE. Please contact CSCOPE through the http://www.cscope.us site if you have further questions or concerns.

The exercise with flag making is pretty lame, to me — with no note of irony that CSCOPE nor their critics would notice, it offers the grand opportunity to read all sorts of symbolism into the U.S. flag that was never intended by the flag’s designers, nor by any tradition.  That’s a pro-free enterprise bias if it occurs, however, and not a pro-communist or socialist bias.

One may wonder if the references to Adam Smith and Wealth of Nations threw the critics; more than once I’ve been confronted by a yahoo at a meeting in Texas who argues that we in the U.S. don’t need any foreign influences in our laws or economy, like that “socialist” Adam Smith!  (To be fair, he published in England . . .)

The charges from “Sharon” can’t help but remind you of that famous political smear campaign against then-U.S. Sen. Claude Pepper, of Florida, in which his opponent called him “Red” Pepper, and accused him of ::GASP!!:: matriculating while a student in college — and not just matriculating, but matriculating in public!

Yes, this is an attempted political smear of CSCOPE, Texas teachers, and Texas education.

P.S.:  I’d love to have a copy of that chart in a readable form; if you have access to the chart, especially to information that indicates where it really comes from (it looks like CSCOPE, but it’s fuzzy here), please send me a copy.  Thanks.

More:

Comments from people and groups who appear not as smart as a Texas high  school student:

And the original?  Screen shot from Glenn Beck’s show:


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