Gülen schools place U.S. students in middle of foreign power struggle, educator says

The involvement of foreign firms in the U.S. educational system has raised questions about conflicts of interest aptly illustrated by the charter school network linked to Turkish Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, U.S. teacher Peter Greene has written for Forbes.

“Modern business is multinational, so we need to ask--how much control of our educational system do we want to send outside of U.S. borders,” asked Greene in an article urging discussion foreign players' growing influence in an increasingly privatised education sector.

“The most notable example is the schools of the so-called Gulen charter chain,” he said, referring to one of the largest networks in the United States, numbering as many as 150 charter schools.

The feud between Gülen 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 state institutions including the military and security forces.

The AKP listed the Gülen movement as a terrorist organisation shortly before the coup attempt, and since then members have been targeted in purges within Turkey and across the globe. Turkey is currently seeking Gülen’s extradition from the United States, where he has resided since 1999, but has so far seen its requests denied by the Department of Justice.

Some Gülen schools have garnered praise for the performance of students, particularly in STEM subjects. Serious concerns, however, have been raised around the practices used by charter schools to bring teachers linked to Gülen from Turkey, who are reportedly required to kick back a portion of their salary to the movement.

This and other illegal practices have been reported in detail in Empire of Deceit, a book produced by lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who Ankara hired to lobby against the Gülen movement internationally.

The Gülen movement, meanwhile, has its own powerful lobbying network in the United States with influential connections in Washington.

“At the very least, Gulen schools put U.S. students in the middle of a foreign power struggle; the Erdogan government has actively worked to undermine the chain,” Greene said.