Introduction to Gulen charter schools
by C.A.S.I.L.I.P.S. - Citizens Against Special Interest Lobbying in Public Schools CASILIPS on Twitter, Slideshare
Note that this website has two companion websites:
A Guide to the Gulen Movement's Activities in the US and Gulen in the International Press
What is a Gulen charter school?
A Gulen charter school is a publicly-funded charter school that was founded and is run by individuals who are secretly followers of a Turkish imam named Fethullah Gulen. Gulen's followers are called Gulenists, and collectively they form a worldwide covert network called the Gulen Movement. The key defining feature of Gulen charter schools is that control of the schools' policies and (most importantly) finances lies entirely in the hands of Gulenists. This allows the Gulenists to use the schools in ways that further the Gulen Movement's goals. The infiltration of the Gulen Movement into our publicly-funded education system has been made possible by a perfect storm of very lax charter school regulation; the current political climate favoring expansion of charter schools; the Gulenists' unparalleled skills at marketing, deception, and intimidation; the presence of influential sympathizers in our government and in academia; and an extreme reluctance on the part of many journalists, academicians and government officials to involve themselves in this issue for fear they might be labeled as Islamophobic or xenophobic.
Where are the Gulen charter schools, and how many are there?
The list of names of Gulen charter schools currently in operation in the US is given here at our companion site, which is about the Gulen Movement. Another blogger is also keeping count of the number of schools. At last count (Sep 3, 2012) 135 are currently in operation, in 26 different states, and the Gulenists are actively proposing and founding new ones (at least 28 are currently in the works, and another 107 are known to have been attempted but never materialized).
What sort of information can I find here?
One of the most controversial aspects of these schools has been the public denials made by Gulenist administrators that there is any connection with the Gulen Movement. Many of the pages here are compilations of evidence that a strong connection exists. Other pages explore additional issues of concern about these publicly-funded schools. Our companion site, A Guide to the Gulen Movement's Activities in the US, has more information about the Gulen Movement in general, as the charter schools are only one aspect of this movement's growing influence in our country and around the world. For updates, follow CASILIPS on Twitter.
What are the characteristics of Gulen charter schools?
The following characteristics apply to nearly all of the over 100 Gulen charter schools across the country. Some exceptions exist; for example, the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania charter school appears to emphasize languages instead of the usual math/science emphasis. Some of the newer Harmony schools in Texas have names suggesting themes such as art, nature or political science. Nevertheless, there are strong commonalities among all these schools.
- Emphasis on math
- School advertised as emphasizing science, yet laboratory facilities are inferior to comparable schools and science classes have minimal or nonexistent experimental component
- Small select group of students receives intense math coaching and attends numerous math competitions, including Mathcounts; awards generate much positive publicity for school
- Free after-school tutoring; in a few cases Gulenist teachers tutor in students' homes
- Automated online information system for students' grades and assignments is highly touted as allowing for parental involvement, yet system is not kept current, and may be inconsistent, inaccurate or difficult to navigate
- Emphasis on science fairs; for most students science project is mandatory
- Students encouraged to participate in ISWEEEP (Gulenist-run science fair); hotel stay in Houston paid by school. Similar for the GENIUS competition in Oswego.
- Students have much higher chance of winning awards at Gulenist competitions (ISWEEEP, GENIUS, others) than students from schools unaffiliated with the Gulen Movement
- Robotics clubs; participation in robotics competitions
- Home visits offered to all families
- Major emphasis on awards, mostly won by small fraction of the students
- Unusually high scores on standardized tests, even with very challenging student demographics
- Classes divided according to ability in math
- Turkish language classes; Turkish mandatory in some grade levels; very limited selection of foreign language classes besides Turkish
- Turkish culture emphasis, e.g., Turkish dance clubs
- School-sponsored Turkey trips
- Large number of Turkish/Turkic teachers
- Participation of students in Turkish Language Olympics
- Unusually high number of H1B visa applications
- Many teachers have poor English skills
- High teacher turnover
- Gulenist teachers spend unusual amounts of time with students in extracurricular activities or socializing
- Sleepovers, especially for select group of students participating in math competitions
- In communications with parents, school awards and achievements are relentlessly emphasized and not put into perspective relative to other non-Gulenist schools
- Chronic problems with special education compliance
- Turkish/Turkic teachers and administrators have no work experience in education outside of the Gulen school network
- School not under local control
- Application forms are excessively detailed, requiring information that legally cannot be used to determine admission
- Relentless promotion of school through frequent press releases
- Press releases and news articles emphasize the activities of small group of students in after-school clubs or extracurricular activities; no mention that most students do not participate in these activities and have a very different experience in the regular classroom
- Continual courting of public officials by administration
- School administration nearly exclusively Gulenist males of Turkish or Turkic ethnicity
- Hiring practices favor Gulenists over equally qualified American teachers or administrators
- Achievements of female teachers minimized or ignored
- Opportunities for career development much greater for Gulenist teachers and administrators than for American employees
- Parental involvement encouraged in principle, but steered towards fundraising and supporting school; administration is authoritarian while attempting to appear otherwise
- Character education classes
- School inaccurately claims to have few or no discipline or bullying problems
- Gulenist teachers often highly inexperienced in classroom management
- In some schools, excessive use of out-of-school suspensions for discipline
- No trained school counselors
- School uniforms required; must be purchased from school
- Dwindling enrollment with each successive year of high school
- Sophisticated school security systems in established schools
- In geographical areas where chain of schools has been established, flagship school is usually of higher quality
- Administrators persistently deny any connection to Gulen and the Gulen Movement, despite massive evidence showing this connection
- Administrators persistently deny Connections to the nationwide network of Gulen charter schools and worldwide network of Gulen schools, despite massive evidence showing this connection