HOLTON: Maybe Now They’ll Pay Attention To The Gulen Schools

Wednesday afternoon the story broke in Baton Rouge media that the Kenilworth Science & Technology School had been raided by the FBI.

The FBI indicated that the raid, which evidently was conducted to gather material evidence in the form of documents and computers, was not a matter of public safety. As a result, it probably was not related to a report earlier this year that a teacher at the school was accused of having inappropriate pictures of children on his cell phone.

Had those charges stuck, that would have been the second scandal of a sexual nature involving a Gulenist school in Louisiana. Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in New Orleans was shut down back in 2011 in the wake of a scandal that started as an investigation into sexual activity involving students at the school and evolved into a possible public bribery investigation. Abramson operated under the same charter organization that Kenilworth operates under: Pelican Educational Foundation.

During the course of the investigation into Abramson, Pelican’s ties to the Gulenist movement were revealed.

By now you’re wondering what the Gulenist movement is, no doubt. The Gulenist movement is a secretive, controversial Islamist movement founded by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar with a controversial history and a great many followers and admirers in both the Islamic and Western worlds. However, a close analysis of Gulen and his movement reveals what may very well be a disturbing threat, rather than the benign movement that many suppose. (Gulen fled Turkey for the US in 1998 and settled in a massive, fortified compound in rural Pennsylvania.)

Gulen preaches peace on the one hand – while on the other hand, credible reports indicate that the Gulenists control the secret police and judicial bureaucracy in Turkey, both of which have been key to brutally suppressing recent pro-democracy protests there. But Gulen’s primary relevance to Americans comes from something quite peculiar – namely, the fact that his movement is associated with roughly 1,200 schools in numerous countries around the globe, including approximately 135 schools here in the USA. The American Gulenist schools are mostly taxpayer-subsidized charter schools and there is much to be concerned about, both in terms of their goals and operations. And Americans – and in particular those Americans charged with credentialing these schools – know scant little about with whom they’re dealing.

In reviewing the long-form literature on Fethullah Gulen, without exception, every single book about Gulen paints him in a positive, almost saint-like light. In order to fully grasp the man and his motivations, one has to read his own work – the most troubling and revealing of which is his 1998 book Prophet Muhammad as Commander.

While much of the book details the life of Muhammad as a military commander and political leader, the opening sections of the book reveal more about the author than they reveal about Muhammad, about whom much is already known and documented. The first 37 pages of Prophet Muhammad as Commander contain revealing, troubling passages that provide a window on Fethullah Gulen’s views on Jihad and warfare.

In Prophet Muhammad as Commander, Gulen explains Muslim hostility toward non-Muslims in a similar manner that most non-Muslims will find at least very curious:

“For this reason, a Muslim’s enmity towards unbelievers is, in fact, in the form of pitying them.”

Gulen ties this pity in with the concept of “compassion.” Unbelievers who deny that Allah is the only god and that Muhammad was his prophet are thought to be committing an “injustice.” Out of “compassion” for those unbelievers and to prevent them from committing further injustice, Muslims have enmity towards them and in some cases fight them as enemies.

Jihad as a concept fits in with justice. In fact, according to Gulen (page 20), Jihad is integral to justice:

“God does not approve wrongdoing and disorder. He wills that human beings should live in peace and, accordingly, that justice should prevail amongst them. It is therefore incumbent upon those who believe in One God and worship Him faithfully to secure justice in the world. Islam calls this responsibility jihad.”

Gulen then goes on to explain the various forms of jihad, including warfare. Again, on page 20, Gulen states the purpose of Jihad:

“…to establish the supremacy of His religion and to make His Word prevail.”

In the same section, Gulen then clearly articulates the aim of establishing a worldwide caliphate:

“Besides the holy struggle, the principle of amr bi ‘l-ma’ruf wa nahy an al-munkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil) seeks to convey the Message of Islam to all human beings in the world and to establish a model Islamic community on a world-wide basis.”

Most ominously, Gulen makes a call in the book that reads an awful lot like a call for the Islamic world to acquire nuclear weaponry:

“…believers should also equip themselves with the most sophisticated weaponry. Force has an important place in obtaining the desired result, so believers cannot be indifferent to it. Rather they must be much more advanced in science and technology than unbelievers so that they should not allow unbelievers to use ‘force’ for their selfish benefit. According to Islam, ‘right is might’; so, in order to prevent might from being right in the hands of unbelievers and oppressors, believers must be mightier than others.”

“An Islamic state…should be able to secure peace and justice in the world and no power should have the courage to make corruption in any part of the earth. This will be possible when Muslims equip themselves with a strong belief and righteousness in all their affairs, and also with scientific knowledge and the most sophisticated technology.”

What does all this have to do with a charter school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Well, Gulen’s most significant foreign enterprise is his network of charter schools. As such, it is important for people to be aware of the philosophy of the man who started the movement.

Gulenist Charter School Scandals

The one overriding characteristic of Gulen charter schools here in America seems to be their propensity for scandal of all sorts. Here is a partial list of articles online dealing with these scandals. In reviewing this list, ask yourself: should taxpayer money be going to a foreign organization founded by an Islamist whose schools seem fraught with scandal?

1. Turkish-Gulen Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

The FBI, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor are reported to be investigating a systematic kick-back scheme used by the charter school employees to funnel money—taxpayer sourced money—to the Gulen movement.

2. Discrimination lawsuit filed against Truebright Science Academy Charter School in Pennsylvania

Truebright is a Turkish-Gulen charter school. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in its 6 April 2013 online edition that a former English teacher at the school had filed a civil rights suit alleging the Turkish-run charter school discriminated against employees based on gender and national origin. In addition to the suit, at least nine Truebright staffers filed initial discrimination complaints with the EEOC.

Truebright’s board, top administrators and 1/3 of its teachers are Turkish.

Truebright is currently in a battle to renew its charter. The School Reform Commission voted not to renew Truebright’s charter on 18 different grounds, including poor academic performance and a lack of certified teachers. And the school is the defendant in a lawsuit long in coming.

3. Louisiana Gulen Charter School Scandal

Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans was shut down by the state of Louisiana. Among the reasoning for the decision: (i) Turkish teachers who had trouble communicating in English; (ii) Students attending courses with no teachers; (iii) Possible improprieties involving standardized testing; (iv) Allegations of attempted public bribery by Turkish organizations of Louisiana Department of Education officials.

4. Lancaster, Pennsylvania school districts rejects Gulen Charter School application

It is not necessarily noteworthy that a Gulen charter application would be opposed, or even rejected, but the reasons behind this rejection indicate oddities at best, namely errors cited in the application, including carelessness and numerous “cut and paste” segments from other charter school applications which had no relevance to the application at hand. A total lack of knowledge by the applicants of curriculum planning and a probably insufficient amount of lesson plans.(This would appear to border on fraud.)

5. Ohio Gulen Charter Schools Targeted by Department of Labor Investigation

The federal investigation which we mentioned at the outset of this memorandum is not the only mention of Gulen charter schools as targets of federal investigation. In 2011, one of the sixteen Gulen charter schools in Ohio was reportedly targeted by the Department of Labor for its use of H1-B visas. The investigation had been ongoing since 2008.

Auditors found some very unusual line item entries on the school administrator’s books, including fees paid to people living in Turkey and people never employed by the school.  There was even an item listed as $13,000 for “illegal immigration fees.”

Note also that the property owner of the schools, from which the schools lease property, is located in Turkey. That property owner gets $600,000 over 5 years of Ohio taxpayer money!

6. Peoria, Illinois Gulen Charter School Operator Denies Association with Gulen

The operator of Quest Charter Academy in Peoria, Illinois, Engin Blackstone (aka Elgin Karatas), told CBS’ 60 Minutes that his school had no association with Fethullah Gulen. However, that may have been a lie. In this article, in the comments section, the spouse of a former Quest employee claims that her husband accompanied Blackstone/Karatas on a trip to visit personally with Gulen in Pennsylvania.

 7. Massachusetts Gulen School Gets High Marks Despite Bad Data

The Pioneer Charter School of Science won praise from state education officials. But an examination of the school’s actual performance told a different story:

  • Students with disabilities experienced a high attrition rate, possibly impacting test scores.
  • The overall attrition rate among students was unusually high.
  • $84,215 of the school’s annual budget went to legal and immigration-related fees. An interesting sidenote, while Pioneer was hiring foreign teachers to fill its needs, a Boston charter school (not a Turkish-Gulen school) had openings for 58 teachers and received 4,100 applicants!
  • Only 56.7% of Pioneer’s teachers were licensed in their teaching assignment. By comparison, in local public schools, 99.5% of teachers were licensed and statewide in Massachusetts, the figure was 97.5%.

8. Loudon County, Virginia School Board Turns Down Charter for Gulen School

This received a great deal of publicity. Again, that the charter was denied is not the story. The reasons why the charter was denied is the story:

  • Significant gaps in academic and operational plans submitted by the applicants:
  • Loose curriculum
  • Questionable financial assumptions
  • Inadequate transportation plan

The Loudon school was going to be modeled after a Gulen school in Anne Arundel County that had a troubled past with questionable management practices, including financial ones. In fact the school ended up in a lawsuit with the school board over its charter.

We could easily supply a dozen more examples of Gulen schools with sketchy – or worse – administrative, ethical and academic issues. The movement has a very ugly record of performance as a charter school operator, so much so that since the Gulen movement is the largest operator of charter schools in America the repeated instances of scandal threaten the charter school movement. That’s a shame – charters in New Orleans have shown great potential for educational improvement thanks to their record in New Orleans, but the teachers’ unions and others invested in the educational status quo are seeking any angle to derail their progress. As explained visit this legal gambling sites to find out list of legal gambling websites.

And the never-ending string of scandals surrounding Gulen schools is just such an angle.

The Louisiana Connection And Wednesday’s FBI Raid

One recurring theme in all Gulenist schools is their use of the H1-B visa program to import male teachers from Turkey to teach at the schools. This activity has gotten the movement accused of discrimination, and worse. In many cases American teachers have lost out on jobs, only to find out that the Turkish aliens brought in to teach in their place could barely speak English.

Further, allegations have been made that what’s really going on with all the H1-B visa recipients brought in as teachers in Gulen schools is an intricate fleecing of taxpayers, which works like this: the going rate for charter school teachers in a given community might be, for example, $40,000 – and the state funding for a charter school would reflect salaries of that size. But in Turkey, a $40,000 salary would be considered a king’s ransom – per capita income in that country was just $15,200 last year. Therefore, the Gulen schools won’t encounter much resistance when it tells teachers it offers to import from Turkey that they’ll have to kick back a huge portion of their taxpayer-funded income to the Gulen movement – and thus that’s exactly, it’s alleged, what happens.

This caught the attention of State Representative Cameron Henry in the 2013 legislative session when he filed a bill that would have limited the number of employees hired by Louisiana state-funded charter schools who were in the country on H1-B visas. Henry’s legislation would have gotten right to the heart of the matter – with a very reasonable restriction that no more than 3.5 percent of the school’s employees be H1-B visa recipients (or 1 in 29), and that the people or groups submitting requests to start charter schools be American citizens.

Unfortunately, Henry’s bill hit hard where it hurt for some powerful, politically connected people in Louisiana. It seems that the number one donor to the Louisiana Republican Party in 2012 was none other than a Gulenist organization out of Texas. Kemal Oksuz, president of the Turquoise Council, a Texas-based group closely related to the Gulenist movement and the Harmony charter schools in that state, donated $83,000 to the state GOP, making him its largest donor during 2012.

I am not making an accusation that this donation bought the Gulen movement any special treatment by the state GOP, or the Jindal administration. In fact, members of that administration told supporters of the Henry bill that they were in favor of it.

But the charter school industry itself, which has stood by silently as this foreign influence in US education spawns scandal after scandal, didn’t share that position. In Louisiana the industry went even further, defending Kenilworth and Pelican despite the prior scandal involving Abramson. This took the form of hiring high-priced, politically-connected lobbyists to label Henry’s bill “racist” and “xenophobic.”

And the bill was killed in the House Education Committee after a host of parents with children in charter schools testified against it. This followed an interesting bit of romance the Gulen movement attempted within the state legislature the Hayride was able to expose.

It’s worth mentioning that the Executive Director of the Louisiana Charter Schools Association is Caroline Roemer Shirley, the daughter of the former governor. Shirley’s brother is Chas Roemer – the president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Earlier this year, BESE granted a five-year extension of Kenilworth’s charter – a decision which, in light of the FBI’s visit to the school on Wednesday, doesn’t look like the wisest BESE could have made.

The question is, does the charter school industry know about all of these disturbing details surrounding the Gulenist movement and its charter schools and choose to look the other way, or are they simply ignorant as to the facts?

With the FBI raid a new chapter in this saga has opened in Louisiana – and the charter school industry and lobbyists won’t be able to run interference for the Islamists any more. For many of us who are in favor of school choice and charter schools, the Kenilworth-Gulen debacle is a disaster on two levels: first, granting charters and dispensing taxpayer dollars to an Islamist movement with such a shady history is outrageous and dangerous in its own right. And second, there will be real damage from this scandal – damage those who are comfortable trapping disadvantaged children in lousy public schools will use to their advantage.



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