Gulen schools need investigated
By Guido H. Stempel III | Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 5:26 pm
We expect charter schools to be different, but to say the Gulen Charter Schools are different is a considerable understatement.
There are 19 in Ohio, and they are owned by Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic cleric from Turkey.
Gulen has been a political activist, but he is out of favor with the present regime in Turkey. He now resides in a rural community in eastern Pennsylvania. U.S. immigration officials tried to deport him a few years ago, but in 2008 he applied for and received a green card. So we have 19 schools in Ohio run by an immigrant who does not reside in Ohio. The schools are in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.
Most of the Gulen schools in Ohio go by the impressive sounding name Horizon Science Academy. Their web sites are impressive.
Ohio was the first state that Gulen started schools in, back in 1999, but he now has 139 schools in 26 states as well as schools in a number of other countries. His schools have been investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education.
Most administrators and many of the teachers are Turkish, and there is some suspicion that there have been violations of U.S. immigration laws. The Turkish employees are expected to pay 40 percent of their salaries back into the Gulen organization.
Because the Ohio legislature allows charter schools to operate in secret, it is difficult to assess what the Gulen Charter schools are doing.
Is there a religious slant to the curriculum? When they apply to operate in Ohio, they say there isn’t, but what they say and what they do may not be the same, and there is little oversight of these schools by the Ohio Department of Education. Some observers feel the Gulen operation is a religious cult.
How much of Ohio taxpayers money do they get? It’s not public information, so we can only guess. I will open the guessing at $25 million, but it could be twice that.
You cannot find out who their board members are or when they meet. You also cannot find out how they spend the money. Some Gulen schools in other states are suspected of favoring Turkish vendors and not following normal bidding procedures.
There is one piece of public information — how they do on the state proficiency tests. The Department of Education reports an overall figure that includes math scores, science scores and progress toward graduation. The figures are rather conclusive. Seventeen of the 19 Gulen schools get an F. One gets an A and one gets a B.
I find it difficult to understand why the Department of Education and the Legislature are not investigating the Gulen schools. Of course, the Legislature has given charter schools special status. They are not examined as closely as public schools, and the regulations are so broad that it is difficult to prove that a charter school is doing anything wrong.
Yet here we have group of schools owned and operated by someone who is not a citizen. They get millions of tax dollars and perform poorly. There is a religious connection that is unusual, if not unique. It is time to start asking some hard questions.
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Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Ohio School report card for Horizon Science Academy get an F