Jan 16 2019

Gülen-linked U.S. charter schools at center of ''David-and-Goliath'' battle - analysis

Members of the Gülen movement question the millions of dollars they say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has spent lobbying against the movement’s American charter schools while critics of the group say they are involved in murky network of schools, media holdings, and other organizations, journalist Menachem Wecker wrote in an article for Education Next journal.

The feud between Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric and leader of the Gülen movement, and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) reached international proportions after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, which Ankara blames on followers of the preacher nested in Turkey’s state institutions, including the military and security forces. 

The U.S. charter school network linked to Gülen has been raising eyebrows as Ankara claims the charters are funding a global political syndicate that threatens the country’s stability.

Ankara has hired Amsterdam & Partners, an international crisis law firm with offices in London and Washington, D.C., to undermine Gülen’s influence in the United States and abroad by investigating and attacking American charter schools said to be linked to the 77-year-old cleric, Wecker wrote. 

Noting that accounting for the scope of the charters in the U.S. is difficult  as the school leaders typically do not acknowledge any official links between their programs and Gülen, Wecker underlined that a 2011 New York Times story called them “one of the largest collections of charter schools in America,” while Politico more recently estimated the network has grown to about 200.

Attracting attention for the strong performance of some campuses and alleged financial irregularities at others, the allegedly Gülen-affiliated schools have also invited questions about the role of religion on campus, the article noted.

Citing the example of Harmony Public Schools, which operates 54 Texas charters, and boasts a 100 percent college-acceptance rate, Wecker said its only one of numerous schools linked to Gülenists making different headlines.

The schools were the subject of a 2014 FBI raid, the article said, with 19 schools in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois associated with reportedly  Gülen-inspired Concept Schools, accused of abusing special travel visas to bring Turkish nationals to the United States, skimming from school budgets to funnel money to Gülen, and indoctrinating students with Islamic teachings, among other claims.

Apple Educational Services, which is linked to Gülen, has been flagged by the Office of the New York State Comptroller for questionable contracts with Gülen schools, it noted.

As Ankara pursuits a world-wide crackdown on the group, it is becoming increasingly evident that this is a ‘’David-and-Goliath-type of battle,’’ Wecker wrote.

“Gülen is at the same level as Russian organized crime, and we need to wake up before this guy is teaching a million American students. Right now, he’s teaching 80,000,” Amsterdam has said.

For the United States the primary questions should be whether students are succeeding and if taxpayer dollars are wisely spent and determining whether a particular school’s existence fuels a simmering conflict in Asia Minor is no job for a local board of education, in Anaheim or anywhere else, Wecker wrote.