PAA’s Sharon Higgins on 60 Minutes Gulen Charter Schools report

My response to 60 Minutes’ piece on the Gulen Movement

Those of us who have been aware of the Gulen movement’s stealth involvement in an enormous network of publicly-funded charter schools are pleased that CBS News finally gave the situation wide national coverage. However, the 60 Minutes segment broadcast last Sunday, May 13, left out a number of important things.  [NOTE: They (and you!) should be following @CASILIPS on Twitter.]

What 60 Minutes omitted

60 Minutes should have independently verified the Harmony administrator’s claim that the chain has a waiting list of ~30,000 students. Unless such numbers can be independently verified, the waiting list figures offered by charter schools are hearsay and should be viewed as a marketing strategy.

60 Minutes should have mentioned that Gulenists are Creationists. Especially since the schools boast about providing superior science education, one is left to wonder if and how the schools provide instruction of evolution.

60 Minutes did not perform due diligence when reporting about Harmony’s test scores. The data analyses by Ed Fuller about Harmony’s high student attrition and CASILIPS about Harmony’s unimpressive comparative SAT scores (which were both available online during the show’s production) should have should have triggered the necessary skepticism!

60 Minutes did not go into the Turkish cultural instruction, a main feature of ALL Gulen movement schools and a feature which is NOT presented to authorizers in the charter school applications. For instance, why are students at the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School taught to perform a Sufi religious ritual? Look quick (!) before the Gulenists delete this video. Scrubbing websites after revelatory material has been exposed is quite often done.

In addition, 60 Minutes should have reported some of the recent stories about other Gulen charter schools.

For instance, the charter renewal for Truebright Science Academy in Philadelphia – the school closest to Fethullah Gulen’s (former kids’ summer camp) compound in the Poconos, the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center – was recently rejected on several grounds, including low academic performance, lack of certified staff, and high turnover of administrators.

And Fulton Science Academy Middle School in Georgia also recently had its charter renewal rejected, along with its appeal to the state, despite having been recognized as a Blue Ribbon Award-winning school. A number of serious concerns had been noted having to do with shadowy governance, conflicts of interest, multiple failures of compliance, and six-million dollars of missing bond money. As the director of the state’s Charter Schools Division wrote: “In fact, the deeper we dug through all the materials FSA submitted… the more questions we had and the more we realized the depth and breadth of the reasons FCS [Fulton County Schools] could have denied FSAMS.”

Then there were the stories about the two Gulen charter schools in Louisiana. Last summer, one school had its charter revoked (Abramson Science and Technology School) for numerous complaints including the attempted bribe of a public official, failure to report sexual incidents, teachers completing student science projects, withholding resources from special ed students, and more. Complaints were also made about the other school (Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School) having a high number of uncertified teachers, poor handling of special education, and even the existence of a “prayer room” at the school. Both of these schools (along with Gulen charter schools in Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, plus the School of Science and Technology schools in TX — all states in which the Gulen movement calls its South-Central region) are operated in partnership with the Cosmos Foundation, operator of the Texas Harmony schools featured on 60 Minutes.

Fethullah Gulen’s lame excuse for self-exile Sorry but I (a former critical care R.N.) do not buy Fethullah Gulen’s excuse for needing to be in the U.S. year after year for medical treatment. His supposed diabetes, heart and kidney problems are not rare conditions. Rather they are extremely common ailments which could be treated by plenty of doctors in Turkey who are currently managing thousands of patients with similar diagnoses. Istanbul, for instance, has a Gulen movement-associated center which provides the most advanced medical treatment for Mr. Gulen’s type of ailments.

Besides, Saylorsburg, the location of Gulen’s compound in the Poconos (the mountain forest of northeastern Pennsylvania) is not exactly known for its close proximity to a world renowned medical center for patients who have, as Mr. Gulen is portrayed, exceptional needs.

Spokesman Alp Aslandogan

Alp Aslandogan (full name Yuksel Alp Aslandogan) seems to have been made the movement’s spokesperson for U.S. audiences. Aslandogan must be fairly high up in the Gulen movement’s hierarchical brotherhood and is not just any “businessman” as 60 Minutes stated.

In 1999, Aslandogan, Harun H. Solak , Zekeriya Baskal, Ahmet H. Aydilek and Melen M. Dogan submitted an application to Milwaukee Public Schools for the Wisconsin Career Academy. This charter school was approved and has been operating since 2000, but this year the Milwaukee School Board voted to end its agreement with WCA. The school is in the process of changing into a private school (Wisconsin College Preparatory Academy) so it can tap U.S. tax dollars via the Milwaukee Parental Choice voucher program.

Aslandogan is the president of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog (a classic Gulenist “dialog” organization) as well as a director of Texas Gulf Institute, a Gulenist college now called North American College. Why Aslandogan may have created the alias “Yuksel A. Conger” at one point is not known.

Aslandogan appeared at an event called “The Gulen Movement” which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington D.C. in June 2009. He also appeared at an event with Joshua D. Hendrick at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in December 2010 (“Transnational Religious Nationalism in the New Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gulen.”) Audio and video presentations and accompanying text are available online.

Much more needs to be exposed

There is a long list of highly concerning things about the Gulen movement that 60 Minutes didn’t expose, like its “strategy of seduction” of parents and public officials, their free/inexpensive stealth propaganda trips to Turkey, their building of madrassas and mosques in Albania and South Africa, etc.

The bottom line for me is that NOTHING about the Gulen movement or their schools can be trusted. Watch this video if you want to hear me go into it more (filmed on Saturday, May 12, one day before the 60 Minutes broadcast).

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