Archives for category: Charter Schools

Bill Phillis, a veteran warrior for public schools and equitable financing of them, wrote the following in response to a court case that will be heard on September 23. Does a for-profit private corporation own all the assets of the schools it manages?

Who owns school facilities, equipment, technology, furniture and other assets purchased with taxpayer’s money? White Hat Management? The privately-operated White Hat charter school board? The public?

Over the past couple of decades, citizens of Ohio have, through taxes, purchased more than 1,000 new school buildings, complete with furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns this vast investment? Duh–the public.

September 23, 2014 will be a pivotal day in Ohio history. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether a private company owns real estate, facilities, furniture, equipment, technology, and other assets that were purchased by taxpayer money extracted from school districts. The Supreme Court’s decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences. Historically, taxes devoted to public school infrastructure has been owned and controlled by the public.

For the past couple of decades, while taxpayer money was being used to rebuild Ohio’s public school infrastructure, state officials have extracted $7 billion from school districts to fund privately-operated, so-called “public” charter schools. A portion of that $7 billion financial drain on public school districts has been used to purchase charter school furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns these assets? The public? Individuals? Private corporations?

It would be absurd for public policy to allow private ownership of the new 1,000 public school buildings or any other school district assets. But, White Hat Management and some if its charter school allies, including the Alliance for Public Charter Schools, argue for private ownership.

The lower courts supported the claims of White Hat Management. It is quite interesting that the State Attorney General supported the claims against White Hat Management in the lower courts but has since dropped out of the case.

Also of interest is that the Attorney General’s Chief Operations Officer is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for School Options and Finance and thus had administrative oversight of the Office of Community Schools.

Oh what a tangled web state officials weave—the taxpayers do they intend to deceive.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition asks, where is the outrage?

He writes:

“Charter school operators argue that public tax money becomes private when it reaches the borders of charterland

“Real estate, facilities, equipment, education materials and all other assets purchased by public school districts, obviously, belong to those political subdivisions-not private individuals. Down in charterville, school operators and their charter school allies claim that assets purchased with public tax dollars are owned, not by the public, but the private companies.

“For-profit companies that operate charter schools attempt to shield themselves from transparency and accountability, including public audits, by claiming that tax dollars become private at the moment the tax dollars are transferred to private hands.

“White Hat Management Company, in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court, contends that school property purchased with public tax dollars belongs to White Hat. Hence, real estate, facilities, equipment, educational materials and other assets which were purchased with public dollars would become private property. White Hat, not only turns a profit from its charter school operations, but claims to own publicly-purchased assets.

“An August 9 Akron Beacon Journal article indicates that several non-profit advocacy groups have filed briefs with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of White Hat’s position. It’s all about money, ideology and politics-not education.

“Over the past 15 years charter-promoting state officials have created an out of control monster that intrudes on the rights and funds of school districts. Ohio’s students and taxpayers are the losers.

“Where is the outrage?”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A
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Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Ra Rmanuel has not disguised his dislike for public education or his love for charter schools. After all, he closed more public schools at one time –50–than any other school district in U.S. history.

Well, how about this? An independent report found that Chicago public schools outperformed Chicago charter schools, especially in reading, but in math as well.

“Austin community activist Dwayne Truss said neighborhood schools are burdened by negative stereotypes.

“There’s heavy marketing that somehow neighborhood schools are a horrible place and charter schools are better,” Truss said, adding, “we don’t have that advocacy in the political arena to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, we need to look at these numbers.’ ”

Ruth Conniff of “The Progressive” reports that the FBI is becoming more assertive in its investigation of criminal behavior by charter schools. Charter schools receive millions of dollars of public money with minimal accountability. In some states, they have gone to court to fight public audits, claiming that the schools are public but the organization running them is a private corporation.

Conniff reports: “From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.”

She adds:

“Charter schools are such a racket, across the nation they are attracting special attention from the FBI, which is working with the Department of Education’s inspector general to look into allegations of charter-school fraud.

“One target, covered in an August 12 story in The Atlantic, is the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who runs the largest charter-school chain in the United States.

“The Atlantic felt compelled to note, repeatedly, that it would be xenophobic to single out the Gulen schools and their mysterious Muslim founder for lack of transparency and the misuse of public funds.

“It isn’t the Gulen movement that makes Gulen charters so secretive,” writes The Atlantic’s Scott Beauchamp, “it’s the charter movement itself.”

“Kristen Buras, associate professor of education policies at Georgia State University, agrees.

“Originally, charter schools were conceived as a way to improve public education,” Buras says. “Over time, however, the charter school movement has developed into a money-making venture.”

“Over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a national push to privatize public schools, pushed by free-market foundations and big education-management companies. This transformation opened the door to profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public funds.”

And more:

“”Education entrepreneurs and private charter school operators could care less about innovation,” says Buras. “Instead, they divert public monies to pay their six-figure salaries; hire uncertified, transient, non-unionized teachers on-the-cheap; and do not admit (or fail to appropriately serve) students who are costly, such as those with disabilities.”

“Rebecca Fox Blair, a teacher who helped to found a small, alternative high school program in Monona, Wisconsin, says she was struck by the massive change in the charter school movement when she attended a national charter school conference recently.

“It’s all these huge operators, and they look down on schools like ours,” she says. “They call us the ‘mom and pop’ schools.”

“There are now more than 6,000 publicly funded charter schools in the United States — a more than 50 percent increase since 2008.

“Over that same period, “nearly 4,000 traditional public schools have closed,” writes Stan Karp, an editor of Rethinking Schools. “This represents a huge transfer of resources and students from our public education system to the publicly funded but privately managed charter sector.”

“And all that money has attracted some unscrupulous operators.”

One big-time operator is K12, whose CEO was paid over $4 million last year. K12 is active in the corporate-advocacy group ALEC. The corporation, listed on the New York stock exchange, was founded by the Milken brothers.

“ALEC added K12 to its corporate board of directors just before its national convention in Dallas at the end of July.

At the Dallas meeting, ALEC also trumpeted the launch of a new charter school working group. Among the measures the group discussed:

* Legislation to exempt charter school teachers from state teacher certification requirements, and allow for charter schools to be their own local education authority.

* A bill to give charter schools the right of first refusal to purchase or lease all or part of unused public school properties at or below market value, and avoid taxes and fees.

* A controversial measure proposed by Scott Walker in Wisconsin to create a statewide charter school authorizing board, bypassing local authority over charter schools, even as charters drain funds from local districts.”

In addition to the investigations cited by Conniff, the FBI raided the offices of The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, whose CEO was eventually indicted for numerous violations of the law.

Also, June Brown, the founder of the Agora charter school in Pennsylvania, was investigated by the FBI, indicted, and charged along with other executives for the theft of $6.7 million from three charter schools. When she was tried, the jury cleared her on some counts, deadlocked on others, and federal prosecutors vowed to retry her. A local newspaper reported on the trial:

“Two of Brown’s co-defendants pleaded guilty before the trial, while two others were acquitted…..

“The case is the fifth federal prosecution of local charter school operators in seven years, raising questions about the regulation of the growing charter school movement.

“Before 2008, Brown collected full-time salaries as the chief executive officer of three charter schools she founded. In addition, two management firms she owned collected millions in fees for services to the Agora Cyber Charter School, which she also established.

“Prosecutors charged that Brown provided little or no services to Agora in return for the money.

“Neither Brown nor her co-defendants testified in the case. Defense attorneys argued that the charter schools achieved excellent outcomes for students and that Brown’s compensation, while perhaps generous, was not illegal. They also argued that prosecutors had not proved that June and other officials had falsified documents to cover up financial fraud.

“Several witnesses testified that forged signatures and fabricated documents were used to support Brown’s claims for compensation.”

Why do we see the same story in state after state? Wherever for-profit charter schools exist or wherever state law allows charter schools to hire for-profit management companies, someone is making a lot of money that was supposed to go for educating students.

The latest story comes from Florida, where for-profit charter entrepreneurs are making big dough.

Noah Pransky of WTSP writes about the financial success of for-profit Charter Schools USA.

“Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are authorized by – but not operated by – each school district. For each student who “chooses” a charter, his or her school gets state dollars that would have otherwise gone to the school district.

“Charter Schools USA (CUSA) has been operating charter schools in Florida for 20 years, including recently-opened schools in Hillsborough County: Woodmont Charter, Winthrop Charter, and Henderson Hammock Charter. Although charter schools sometimes struggle financially at first, CUSA eventually collects a 5% management fee from each to provide administration and guidance.

“But 10 Investigates found a much bigger pot of money CUSA has been able to tap into: rent. When the company helps open a new school, its development arm, Red Apple Development, acquires land and constructs a school. Then, CUSA charges the school high rent.

“For example, Winthrop Charter in Riverview may struggle to balance its budget this year thanks to a $2 million rent payment to CUSA/Red Apple Development. The payment will equate to approximately 23% of its budget, even though CUSA CEO Jon Hage has been quoted as saying charter school rent should not exceed 20%.

“Both CUSA and Winthrop Charter officials tell 10 Investigates that the schools are operated as nonprofit entities, and robust FCAT scores and happy parents are proof of success.”

As long as the scores are high and the parents are happy, who cares what happens to taxpayers’ dollars?

Pransky interviewed Pat Hall of the League of Women Voters, which published a study critical of the financial dealings of the charter industry:

“But among CUSA’s critics is the League of Women Voters, which recently released a study suggesting a troubling lack of separation between a charter school’s advisory board and for-profit management companies. It also indicates charter school teachers aren’t often paid as well and profits all-too-often play a role in educational decisions.

“That means that children aren’t getting what they’re owed by the public funding,” said Pat Hall, a retired Jefferson High department head and Hillsborough County’s education chair for the League of Women Voters.

“The study also revealed school choice creates a higher risk of disruption to a child’s education, as “statewide closure rate of charters is 20%” and “Charters are 50% of all F-rated schools in 2011.” In the last week, last-minute problems displaced a hundreds of charter school students from St. Petersburg to Delray Beach.

“Hall acknowledges many charter schools are teaching children in unique and successful ways, but says Charter Schools USA isn’t offering students anything that’s not available in public schools. She adds that the schools are so focused on FCAT fundamentals, they forego many traditional aspects of the school experience.

“While many CUSA schools may not have amenities such as a library or cafeteria, a company spokesperson said moving those amenities to the classroom can improve a student’s learning atmosphere.”

Daniele Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune reports that charter schools in Néw Orleans are ill-prepared by large numbers of new students from Central America, and the students and their families are confused by the city’s choice system.

One school saw its Spanish-speaking enrollment jump from 10 to 53 in one year, 20% of its students. “That’s a gargantuan challenge for a small school that six weeks ago didn’t have instruction materials in Spanish or a full-time English as a Second Language teacher.”

“Immigrant students are also arriving in a system under fire. VAYLA last year filed a federal civil rights complaint describing deep gaps in schools’ abilities to serve Spanish-speaking families. In one school, a 5-year-old said she had to translate for her parents at report card meetings because there was no staff member to do so, the complaint said.”

The problems are exacerbated by the city’s Balkanized school “system.” Nearby parishes with central offices and zoned schools are handling the problems of new immigrants with better planning and coordination of services for the students.

Since most of the schools in Néw Orleans are independent charters, no one has an accurate count on the number of new students from Central America.

“The rapid rise of students needing help learning English this is fall means they are spreading to many more schools, observers said. Lacking official numbers from the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune contacted officials representing more than 60 of the city’s 83 schools to inquire about their enrollment.”

“Part of the reason why some schools are particularly saddled by a large number of new English-learner students, while others get a few, is the New Orleans enrollment system. The “school choice” process is complex and challenging even for families that speak English and have months to decide. Recently-arrived immigrants had neither.”

As late enrollees, the students had to go wherever seats were available. Assignments “were made regardless of whether the schools had teachers and resources available to handle ESL students.”

The downside of NOLA’s almost-all-charter system is that there is no central office to plan or coordinate the response to changing conditions. Every charter is on its own, and every student is also.

In an in-depth article that appears in the journal “In These Times,” journalist George Joseph describes a campaign by business leaders to take advantage of an obscure provision in state law and use it to turn Dallas into a “home rule” district. This would be a prelude to turning Dallas into an all-charter district.

The business community already controls the school board. The campaign for “home rule” has the support of mostly unnamed funders, except for billionaire John Arnold, who lives in Houston, not Dallas. Arnold has causes about which he is passionate: public sector pensions (he is against them), charter schools (he is for them) and Teach for America (Joseph says he has given TFA more than $20 million). Arnold supports the leading advocacy group for “home rule,” which is ironically called SOPS–Support Our Public Schools.

Why the heavy-duty campaign for charter schools in Dallas? Joseph speculates that at bottom the campaign is about gentrification and real estate. The home-rule plan is not supported by Dallas’s black and Hispanic population. In a recent school board race, an opponent of home rule won overwhelmingly.

The media loves the story of miracle schools. Imagine that! A school where 90% or more pass the state tests! Where 100% graduate. Where 100% are accepted into four-year colleges. Michael Klonsky once said to me, miracles happen only in the Bible. When the subject is schools, miracle claims should be carefully investigated.

With that caution and skepticism in mind, we turn again to a post by a researcher who works for the New York City Department of Education and must remain anonymous. This is the same researcher who chastised the media for ignoring attrition rates at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools. In posting that article, I failed to capture the links to documentation (a terrible oversight, I admit). I include his/her links at the bottom of this article.

Ed Reformers Are Most Like (a) Pinocchio (b) Beavis:
Getting to the Bottom of the Reformer Distaste for Honest Analysis

My short essay examining some of the dishonest claims about Success Academy’s data led to interesting debate on this blog.[1] Some of that discussion illuminated the dishonesty with which education reformers approach data and facts. I’ll limit this essay to the dishonesty reformers display in the charter school debate.

Reformers tend to make two very different arguments about charter schools. Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests. When it is pointed out that, as a whole, charters do no better than public schools on standardized tests [2], reformers will quickly turn their attention to specific charter chains that, they claim, do indeed produce much better standardized test results. So what’s the deal with these chains? Well, in every case that has been subjected to scrutiny their results are extremely suspicious. Here is a short list of examples:

1. Achievement First in New Haven had a freshman class of 64 students (2 students enrolled later), and only 25 graduated- a 38% graduation rate- yet the school claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 62% attrition rate. [3]

2. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) had a freshman class of 144 students and only 89 12th graders- a 62% graduation rate- yet the school (and Arne Duncan) claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 38% attrition rate. [4] As a 6-12 charter chain, DSST also manages to attrite vast numbers of their middle school students before they even enter the high school.

3. Uncommon Schools in Newark disappears 38% of its general test takers from 6th to 8th grade.[5] Another analysis found that through high school the attrition rate was, alarmingly, much higher “Uncommon loses 62 to 69% of all males and up to 74% of Black males.”[6]

4. BASIS in Arizona- “At…BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale…its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%.” [7]

5. The Noble Network in Chicago- “Every year, the graduating class of Noble Charter schools matriculates with around 30 percent fewer students than they started with in their freshman year.” [8]

6. Harmony Charters in Texas- “Strikingly, Harmony lost more than 40% of 6th grade students over a two-year time.” [9]

7. KIPP in San Francisco- “A 2008 study of the (then-existing) Bay Area KIPP schools by SRI International showed a 60% attrition rate…the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.” [10]

8. KIPP in Tennessee had 18% attrition in a single year! “In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.” [11]

In every case these charter chains accepted students that were significantly more advantaged than the typical student in the district, and then the charters attrited a significant chunk of those students.

Success Academy in New York City plays the same game. It accepts many fewer high needs special education students, English Language Learners, and poor students. [12] It attrites up to 1/3 of its students before they even get to testing grades and then loses students at an even faster pace. It selectively attrites those students most likely to get low scores on standardized tests. [13] It is legally permitted to mark its own exams (as are all New York City charter schools) while public schools cannot. It loses 74% of its teachers in a single year at some of its schools. [14] The author of the Daily News editorial that sparked the initial blog commented “even in the aggregate that wouldn’t seem to account for” the results. It is entirely unclear what he means by “in the aggregate.” But it is clear that he has his arithmetic wrong. A charter chain that starts with an entering class that is likely to score well on standardized tests, then selectively prunes 50% or more of the students who don’t score well on standardized tests and refuses to replace the disappeared students with others, can easily show good standardized test results with the remaining students. Any school could do this. It’s really not rocket science.

Charter advocates usually first give argument #1 a try. When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation. The problem with argument #2 is that we don’t need charters to cream students (public schools could do that too…if it were legal), and charters as a sector are not doing anything innovative. Kicking out half of your class is no innovation, nor is it hard to create an environment that will encourage the half least likely to succeed to quit. The Navy SEALs have been doing that for years.

At the policy level these two different arguments have led to much confusion. It is often unclear what charter advocates are defending as they switch back and forth between the two arguments. This makes it difficult to have sensible public discussion about charters and leads many to accuse charter advocates of hiding their true motivations (from privatizing education for profit to breaking unions).

It is time that education policy makers demanded an honest accounting of charter practices. Metrics must be produced by every district clearly showing the demographics of charter school students, the attrition rate, and general data on which students are attrited. It is critical that the demographic data be as detailed as possible (e.g. specifying level of special education need, distinguishing between free and reduced price lunch, specifying level of English Language Learner status) since the charter sector and its advocates have in the past used broad categories to cover up important differences (e.g. claiming to serve the same numbers of English Language Learners as public schools while only serving advanced ELLs, claiming to serve the same number of poor students as public schools while serving much higher proportions of reduced as opposed to free lunch students, claiming to serve the same number of special needs students as public schools while serving only students with minimal needs).[15] With honest data in hand, the more important conversation about good teaching practices, engaging curricula, and effective students support services can begin. It is this conversation that will truly improve education for students. It is also the conversation that professional educators want to have.[16]

[1] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/22/is-eva-moskowitz-the-lance-armstrong-of-education/
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/24/the-bottom-line-on-charter-school-studies/
[3] http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/30/another-big-lie-from-achievement-first-100-percent-college-acceptance-rate/
[4] http://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/arne-debunkin/
[5] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/truly-uncommon-in-newark /
[6] http://danley.rutgers.edu/2014/08/11/guest-post-where-will-all-the-boys-go/
[7] http://blogforarizona.net/basis-charters-education-model-success-by-attrition/
[8] http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/04/no-bull-in-chicago.html
[9] http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/tx_ms_charter_study/
[10] http://parentsacrossamerica.org/high-kipp-attrition-must-be-part-of-san-francisco-discussion/
[11] http://www.wsmv.com/story/22277105/charter-schools-losing-struggling-students-to-zoned-schools
[12] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/12/fact-checking-evas-claims-on-national-television/
[13] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/28/a-note-about-success-academys-data/. The high attrition rate before testing in 3rd grade may explain the data pattern noted in this http://shankerblog.org/?p=10346#more-10346 analysis.
[14] http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/5156/why-charter-schools-have-high-teacher-turnover#.U_gqR__wtMv
[15] http://edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2013/the-charter-expulsion-flap-who-speaks-for-the-strivers.html
[16] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/when-dummy-variables-arent-smart-enough-more-comments-on-the-nj-credo-study/ I leave it as an open challenge to Ms. Moskowitz to voluntarily share this date (scrubbed of identifying student information of course) so that independent researchers can examine the Success Academy results. If she declines to do so we can only wonder what she is hiding.
[17] I wanted to end on a positive note so I add this comment as a footnote. We can expect that reformers will resist allowing the national conversation to go in this direction since they have so little to contribute to it. So many have so little classroom experience and so little time in schools that they will do all they can to make sure the conversation does not turn in this direction. If it did, they’d be out of a job. So we can expect that, as long as reformers maintain their power base, the national conversation about education will be limited to accountability, choice, standards, VAMs… anything but discussion of actual classroom and school-level practices.

Success has its privileges. This is certainly true when it comes to Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain Success Academy.

Juan Gonzalez of the Néw York Daily News reports that Moskowitz has moved her corporate headquarters from Central Harlem to Wall Street.

In addition, he reports:

“The new offices will cost her organization $31 million over 15 years, according to its most recent financial report.

“The same report shows Moskowitz received an eye-popping $567,000 during the 2012-2013 school year. That’s a raise of $92,000 from the previous year, and more than double the $212,000 paid to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

“That made Moskowitz the city’s highest-paid charter school executive last year. Her spokeswoman said Moskowitz’s current pay is a less lofty $305,000, with her bonus to be determined at year’s end.”

According to the SA website, during the “ 2013-2014 school year, we are serving 6,700 scholars at 22 schools.”

Earlier this year, Moskowitz humbled Mayor De Blasio when he tried to deny part of her request for new schools, offering her only five of the eight schools she sought. Her hedge funds backers unleashed a $5 million TV blast against the Mayor. With the support of Governor Cuomo, the Legislature required the city to pay the rent of all charter schools and required him to approve all those charters that had been authorized by Mayor Bloomberg’s board in its last days. Eva got what she wanted, and the Mayor retreated.

Writes Gonzalez:

“As a result, the school system is spending $5.3 million this year to house the three new Success Academy schools in buildings owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.”

Progress Ohio reports that the many thousands of secret government cables released by Wikileaks contained references to the Gulen charter schools, a number of which are being investigated by the FBI for unknown reasons. The Gulen charter chain is the largest in the nation.

State Dept. Notified CIA, National Security Council About Suspicious Charter School Visas

The U.S. State Department raised serious and repeated concerns about Turkish charter schools in America, sending cables to the CIA, Secretary of Defense and the President’s National Security Council. Special attention was paid to the large number of Turkish nationals with questionable credentials seeking visas to teach at schools such as Ohio’s Horizon Science Academies, which are linked to a controversial Islamic faith leader.

A review of over one hundred diplomatic cables made available at WikiLeaks found numerous warnings about underqualified applicants for teaching visas. One cable states that applicants “might be using the reputation of the school as a cover to get to the US.” Another, ominously observed there is “considerable debate” about whether members of their faith movement were “a threat to secular governments.”

Background

Fethullah Gulen is an exiled Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. He is currently the subject of an extradition request[1] on charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government.[2] Gulen has millions of well-organized followers in central Asia and his organization is said to have “some of the characteristics of a cult.”[3] Gulen’s followers founded and administer a number of charter schools, including Ohio’s Horizon Science & Noble Academies.

These schools import the majority of their administration staff and many of their teachers on work visas from Turkey and neighboring countries. Secret diplomatic cables show that the “evasiveness” of the applicants and their “uneven at best” qualifications left State Department employees “uneasy.”They voiced these concerns to the top levels of government and even suggested the Department of Homeland Security should investigate the schools.

Memos Back Ohio Teacher Testimonies

Teachers who had worked at Dayton’s Horizon Science Academy made headlines last month when they told the state school board about apparent test tampering, attendance padding, Turish teachers who could barely speak English and even an incident when parents were not told their adolescent children were caught having oral sex at a school function.

Many of the teachers’ observations are supported by the cables. In one memo, the US consulate observed Turkish visa applicants with an “inability to speak English” and a “lack of understanding of basic math concepts (when they were going to teach math or science subjects).”

In another memo, federal officials note that Gulen schools in Turkmenistan can only employ teachers who are “fully qualified in the field.’’ Teachers employed by traditional public schools in Ohio must have a college degree and teach in the area or grade level in which they are licensed. Ohio charter schools, however, are exempt from that requirement

This led ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg to ask, “Why are Ohio charter schools not required to employ only qualified teachers?Taxpayers should be outraged these schools are hiring teachers who aren’t even qualified to teach in their home countries.”

Rothenberg continued, “America’s top intelligence and diplomatic personnel confirmed what a panel of Ohio teachers told the state board of education: Many of the teachers and administrators at these schools are unqualified, and students and taxpayers are suffering because of it. The only entity that doesn’t seem to understand the severity of the problem is the state school board.’’

Excerpts from Secret Cables

Over a quarter million previously secret diplomatic cables were published by WikiLeaks. ProgressOhio review approximately one hundred of them referencing Fethullah Gulen and found the following:

“There is considerable debate whether the Gulen movement represents a threat to secular governments. Skeptics argue the Gulenists seek to transform societies from the inside-out by developing sympathetic elites in a country’s government and business circles. […] Gulenists’ penchant for secrecy raises questions. For example, Gulenists seeking U.S. visas at the Embassy often are evasive about their religious views and their work-related duties in the U.S. (NOTE: Many U.S. visa applicants at the Embassy seek to work at Gulenist-linked schools in the U.S.)”[4]

“…there are concerns that Gulenist charter schools in the U.S. are capitalizing on the local successes to petition for visas for marginally qualified temporary workers.”[5]

“While on the surface a benign humanitarian movement, the ubiquitous evasiveness of Gulenist applicants — coupled with what appears to be adeliberate management of applicant profiles over the past several years — leaves Consular officers uneasy, an uneasiness echoed within Turkey by those familiar with the Gulenists.”[6]

[I]n summer/fall of 2008, the consular section received a number of visa applications for highly-skilled temporary workers (H1B) to go teach in charter schools in the U.S. The applicants all had in common a tie to a Gulenist school, either in Turkey or in Turkmenistan. Their qualifications were uneven at best. Some were bona fide teachers with several years of experience and advanced degrees. Others claimed teaching experience by assisting, volunteering, or substituting at a Gulenist school (language center or high school) in Turkmenistan. These minimally-qualified applicants prompted further investigation, and it turns out that the charter schools in the U.S. are also part of the broader Gulenist movement. The minimally-qualified applicants, petitions were returned to DHS for revocation based on a lack of qualifications, such as theirinability to speak English, possession of degrees not related to the subjects that they intended to teach and further lack of understanding of basic math concepts (when they were going to teach math or science subjects).[7]

On the other hand, we are concerned by the link with charter schools in the U.S. that have petitioned for marginally-qualified H1B candidates … These applicants were simply not convincing…might be using the reputation of the school as a cover to get to the [United States]. Post, after discussions with others in the region that see similar applicants, recommends that these H1B candidates receive a high degree of scrutiny before any visas are approved…. Further, Consular Affairs, Fraud Prevention might, in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, wish to investigate or audit these Turkish-run charter schools in the U.S. for compliance with U.S. immigration law.[8]

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