Stealth U.S. charter network linked to Gulen raises concerns

The New York Times this week published an investigative report about the financial practices of a sizable group of Texas charter schools being operated by the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic religious leader “whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name.”

While the New York Times focused on Texas schools, members of the Gulen movement have actually started schools all over the United States – approximately 120 charter schools in 25 states, mostly in urban areas. The Gulen schools constitute the nation’s largest network of charter schools.

Members of the education advocacy group Parents Across America (PAA) voiced strong concern. Sharon Higgins of Oakland, Calif., a PAA founding member who has been researching and blogging about the Gulen charter schools for more than a year, explained: “Our primary concern is not the national origin or religion of the group running the schools but the facts that they operate in secrecy, are not accountable to the public, and are not open about the nature or extent of the movement behind the charter schools in which unsuspecting parents are enrolling their children.”

Charter school parents, local communities, public officials, and charter school authorizers have been mostly unaware of the Gulen movement and its operation of the charter schools. You can find current Gulen-linked charter schools listed here:  http://turkishinvitations.weebly.com/list-of-us-schools.html

For example: there are currently three in New York state:

The New York Times’ report is not the first news coverage of the Gulen charter schools. ABC’s Cleveland affiliate reported in May on “a federal probe into Ohio charter schools involving a money trail of illegal immigration fees, as well as other payments to individuals living overseas.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer published two articles in March and April revealing that the Gulen schools are under a multi-agency federal investigation (FBI, Department of Labor, and Department of Education) for possible manipulation of immigration laws and misallocation of taxpayer dollars. It was also revealed that U.S. diplomats have expressed concerns about the large number of Turkish teachers being imported, as well as about the Gulen movement in general.

The Chicago edition of the New York Time also recently published an article about the Gulen movement’s involvement with the reopening of the American Islamic College.

Background information about the Gulen movement can be found in a recent report produced by the BBC.

The Gulen movement is powerful and highly controversial in Turkey and has been linked with suppression of free speech and the arrests of journalists.

The Gulen movement’s influence is tied to Turkey’s political leadership and current economic expansion. Articles about the upcoming Turkish election appearing in Time and The Economist both reference to the Gulen movement.

“Under [incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, the police have become increasingly powerful and are allegedly dominated by members of a tightly knit religious brotherhood headed by the controversial Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gulen. Two internationally acclaimed journalists investigating the brotherhood were detained and jailed in March and have yet to be tried. Journalists now assume that their phones are tapped — public leaks of private conversations have become commonplace.” (“Turkey’s Election: The Massive Implications of a Foregone Conclusion.” Time 03 June 2011 http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2075298,00.html )

“A new tolerance for the Muslim headscarf and an intolerance of alcohol point the way towards a more fiercely Islamist future, partly inspired by the opaque Fethullah Gulen movement, which seems strongly represented in the police.” (“Erdogan’s last hurrah (possibly).” The Economist 02 Jun 2011 http://www.economist.com/node/18772078 )

The Gulen movement is not mentioned in this MSNBC piece, but the movement is widely known to be a major force behind the rise of the more religiously conservative ruling party in Turkey.

Despite being known for its large network of worldwide schools and other organizations, including a strong presence of those entities in the US, the Gulen movement does not maintain a comprehensive public listing. As a result, independent researchers have compiled listings – and other findings about – the Gulen movement-connected charter schools that are often only known as “Turkish schools.”

For more information, check out these links:

For immediate release: June 8, 2011

For more information, please contact Sharon Higgins, Parents Across America, 510-910-4930; SharonH@parentsacrossamerica.org
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