Charter schools started by Turkish-American educators are raising questions, reports USA Today. The schools are inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic leader who now lives in Pennsylvania.
Followers of the so-called Gülen Movement operate an “education, media and business network” in more than 100 countries, says University of Oregon sociologist Joshua Hendrick.
There are no official ties with Gülen, but “virtually all of the schools have opened or operate with the aid of Gülen-inspired “dialogue” groups, local non-profits that promote Turkish culture, reports USA Today.
While Turkish language and culture are often offered in the curriculum, there’s no evidence the schools teach Islam.
. . . The Turkish-affiliated schools focus on math and science and often appear as top scorers on standardized tests. Still, lawmakers, researchers and parents are beginning to put the schools under the microscope for hiring practices — they import hundreds of teachers from Turkey each year — and for steps they take to keep their academic profile high.
Texas parents last year accused a Gülen-inspired Harmony school of “pushing out” underperforming students.
Ed Fuller, a University of Texas-Austin researcher, found that Harmony schools throughout Texas had an “extraordinarily high” student attrition rate of about 50% for students in grades six through eight.
“It’s not hard to be ‘exemplary’ if you lose all the kids who aren’t performing,” Fuller says.
Why would Americans choose a school that stresses Turkish language and culture? Apparently, they want good math and science instruction and are willing to accept some gratuitous Turkishness. The Gülen-inspired schools enter the best students in math and science competitions, winning awards and attracting parents who want their children to excel. (The high turnover rate may reflect students who aren’t able to win awards and don’t see the need for Turkish.)
A parent gave me a link to a web site criticizing Gülen, but also said her children are challenged by their teachers and enjoy the hands-on science curriculum. She’d prefer fewer Turkish teachers and more transparency by the administration, but plans to keep her children in the school.
USA Today compares the Gülen-inspired schools controversy to the questions about whether Waldorf-inspired schools should be publicly funded. There are similarities.