California BATS are calling for an investigation of the Gulen charter chain. They invite people to sign their petition. Their post includes a list of Gulen schools, which have different names in different states but are allied with a reclusive Turkish imam who lives in the Poconos. Fethullah Gulen is a controversial leader of a political movement in Turkey, which is opposed by the Turkish government.
There are 155 Gulen schools, which makes the chain either the largest or second to the largest charter chain (after KIPP) in the nation. Gulen schools in certain states have been investigated by the FBI. They have paid for legislators to take trips to Turkey. The boards of their charters typically consist of Turkish nationals.
Some people hesitate to criticize Gulen schools for fear of appearing anti-Muslim.
But this makes impossible to have a rational discussion of the wisdom of turning over public schools to a chain controlled by foreign nationals. Would it make sense if Russian citizens began operating tax-supported charter schools in the US? Or Ecuadorians? Or Cambodians? Or any other nation?
It seems we are outsourcing public education to citizens of another nation, with no public debate about it.
Why does it matter? The primary purpose of public education is not college-and-career readiness. It is not getting high test scores. It is not global competitiveness. The primary purpose of public education is to prepare young people for citizenship in American society. That’s why taxpayers are responsible for them. Can schools operated by foreign nationals teach the essentials of American citizenship?
If foreign nationals want to open private schools in the US, that’s fine. If parents want their children to attend those schools or schools in other nations, that’s their right. They will pay for it, because it is not a public responsibility to send children to a lycee or a gesampschule.
But it is strange indeed to see a chain of schools operated by foreign nationals replacing a community’s public schools and paid for with taxpayer dollars. Public schools should be integrally connected to the society and communities they serve. The Gulen phenomenon is puzzling.