Archives for category: Gulen Charter Schools


Howard Blume wrote an illuminating and straightforward description of two schools in Los Angeles that share the same space. One is a public school—Curtiss Middle School— the other is a Gulen charter school, part of the Magnolia chain. The charter invaded the public school, and appropriated many of its classrooms and facilities.

They have similar students (although about 40% of the charter students are drawn from outside the district); they have similar programs; they get similar results.

In what universe does this duplication of effort make sense?

He writes:

Under state law, charters — which are privately operated — are entitled to a “reasonably equivalent” share of space on public school campuses. The Los Angeles Unified School District says Magnolia already occupies its fair share, and though the district could choose to provide more space, it won’t — for reasons officials have not clearly explained.

Nowhere are the challenges and tensions of such forced collaborations more acute than in L.A. Unified, which has more charters — 225 — than any other school system.

Access to district campuses is important to charters because land and construction costs are prohibitive. And the competition for students has become especially intense as overall enrollment in L.A. Unified has declined, threatening the viability of many schools. New charters continue to open — their growth funded by philanthropists — and they now enroll nearly one in five district students.

Los Angeles Unified has sharing arrangements at 80 campuses, more than any other district because of its size and because the California Charter Schools Assn. repeatedly has pursued litigation to enforce state rules.

But one school’s success often is seen as being at the expense of the other. Parents and teachers at numerous schools have led unsuccessful protests to keep a charter off campus. At some campuses, the district has gone so far as to demolish outdated and outlying buildings, which increases playground areas while also deterring charters from claiming available classroom space.

To school board member Richard Vladovic, putting a charter on an unwilling L.A. Unified campus almost never pans out.

“What I’ve seen is animus,” said Vladovic, who represents the Carson area and recently began a one-year term as board president. “I think it’s real bad for kids.”

The complications run big and small.

Magnolia has to throw out unopened milk every day because it doesn’t have access to refrigeration in the cafeteria.

The district-run school no longer has a band, but if it wanted to revive the program — which is in line with district goals — it would have a problem. The charter has the wing with the music rooms.

Magnolia has a band but objected to the district’s designation of a music room, with built-in risers, as its classroom for disabled students, because some of them have mobility problems.

To work around that, the charter swapped access to the library for possession of an empty space that used to be a weight room adjacent to the gym. That room has its own bathrooms and the floor is flat.

The two principals are cordial in managing day-to-day issues, although Magnolia Principal Shandrea Daniel has a list of things she’d love to improve. Her assigned “science lab,” for example, has only one sink and lacks such built-ins as Bunsen burners and an eyewash station.

And the small central area between Magnolia’s classroom buildings is where Curtiss keeps its dumpsters….

At first glance, Curtiss Middle School, with a drab two-story main classroom building, doesn’t look like much of a prize. But with nearly 20 acres, both programs have access to an expansive grass field — a rarity at many district campuses. The children from the two schools stay separated in their own halves and use the gym at different times….

Curtiss, which serves grades six through eight, has its virtues, including a partnership with a local community college that allows eighth-graders to earn college credits, coursework in robotics and computer coding and a new “maker’s space,” in which students carry out class projects that involve hammers, saws and recycled materials. In physical education, students can use rowing machines, an exercise bicycle and a StairMaster.

But the notable growth has been at Magnolia, which started about 10 years ago and peaked at about 510 students this year — at least 40 of them from the Curtiss attendance area. Magnolia takes particular pride in its athletics and its music program and a technology focus that includes a robotics team and computer coding classes. The school’s grade span is six through 12, which allows it to offer Advanced Placement courses in computer science and other subjects.

Students at each school perform similarly on state standardized tests. Both are split fairly evenly between black and Latino students from low-income familie…

Several years ago, L.A. Unified faulted Magnolia schools for importing nearly 100 teachers and other school employees from Turkey in possible violation of rules on overseas hires.

Magnolia has discontinued this hiring, but L.A. Unified refused to reauthorize the charter of Magnolia Science Academy 3. The school was on the verge of being closed until the L.A. County Office of Education stepped in to renew the charter. The county office now oversees the school, but L.A. Unified must still house it — an arrangement that rankles some in the district.




Angie Sullivan teaches in a Title 1 elementary school in Las Vegas. It is underfunded. The state is willing to fund failing charter schools but not pay for the public schools that most children attend. Angie wants to know why.

She recently learned that Soner Tarim wants to open a charter in Nevada. This is the same man who wants to open a charter in rural Washington County in Alabama and set off a firestorm of controversy. This is the same man whose proposal for a new charter chain was just rejected by the Texas State Board of Educatuon.

Angie writes:

Google:  Soner Tarim lawsuit
Why is Soner Tarim pictured at Switch with these local Nevada folks?   
Soner Tarim is a constantly under investigation all over the United States.  As soon as he gets caught – he goes to the next place. 
Someone in the NVDOE needs to be accountable for this and fired.   
Google:  Soner Tarim lawsuit
Folks in other states are contacting me to warn Nevada.   This huge charter scammer keeps reinventing himself and opening charter shells in various states to try to attract investors.  
Why is he opening new charters in Nevada?   Who gave permission for this?   He been kicked out of so many other states?  Does anyone in charge have google?  
Google:  Soner Tarim lawsuit
80% of Gulen Schools have been closed across the world for good reason.  
Alabama just kicked Soner Tarim out for fraud, hiring and other sketchy practices.  


The New York Times wrote an article about the misuse of federal money. 
Memphis denied their application – School of Excellence. 
List of Gulen Charters- Soner Charters are listed as low performing and closing or denied. 
Are they funding a terror group using Texas education money?  


This is bad. 
We have no education money and this is what we do with the money we have?  Fund a scammer?  
He uses local folks to scam the Nevada Tax Payer?  
Google:  Soner Tarim lawsuit
We do not have money to waste like this.  I’m not convinced the Gulens we have are honest or doing an education service.   Please. Make.  It.  Stop. 
I am
The teacher,



Larry Lee has been following the saga of the Gulen charter that plans to open in a rural county in Alabama.

In this post, he notes that the Texas State Board of Education turned down the same charter leader that Alabama’s charter commission approved.

He wonders what led a bipartisan majority in Texas to reject the charter application.

Texas has many Gulen charters. Why did they reject this one?


In a nail-biter, the Texas State Board of Education turned down a request to authorize a Gulen-affiliated charter school by a vote of 8-5.

The applicant was Soner Tarim, who is leader of the Harmony Charter chain and applicant for a charter school called Woodlands Hills Charter School in rural Washington County in Alabama.

Gulen charter schools always deny that they are Gulen charter schools but they are typically led by Turkish men and have a board dominated by Turkish men and a large number of Turkish teachers who have visas.

Soner Tarim was hoping to start a new charter chain called Royal. After the state board turned down his request, he promised to appeal the rejection.

The Gulen charter chain is the second largest in the nation, after KIPP.

It is odd, don’t you think, to outsource community public schools to a foreign entity?

To learn more about the Gulen schools, see Mark Hall’s documentary “Killing Ed.”

To See a list of Gulen schools, see Oakland parent activist Sharon Higgins’ website.




One of the abiding mysteries of charter world is the Gulen charter chain. The schools use different names, like Harmony or Magnolia or Sonoran, but they have certain characteristics in common. The board is dominated by Turkish me. Many of the teachers are Turkish, in the US on visas. The schools teach the Turkish language. But when asked if they are Gulen schools, the head of the school (usually Turkish) insists they are not.

Recently the state of Alabama approved a Gulen charter to open in a rural county, despite intense local opposition. The new principal was identified only as “Amy O.” The CEO, Soner Tarim,  is Turkish. He previously was CEO of a Gulen charter in Texas. But he insists that the new charter, Woodland Prep, is not a Gulen School. Neither was the previous one. Imam Fethullah Gulen lives in seclusion in the Poconos.

Our blog poet wrote:

The Shadow Knows”

The Shadow knows ’bout Amy O’s
Turkish cults in Turkish clothes
The Shadow knows ’bout Gulen schools
Gulen books and Gulen rules
The Shadow knows ’bout Gulen money
Gulen milk and Gulen honey
We don’t know, but The Shadow knows
‘Bout exiled Turks in the Poconos


Valerie Strauss investigated the strange case of the charter school that was approved to open in rural Alabama, over the objections of the local mayor and despite the rejection of its proposal by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. The deed for the building is held by a Utah holding company. The principal is described as “Amy O,” with no last name. The school will be operated by a charter chain based in Sugarland, Texas, whose CEO was co-founder and CEO of the Harmony charter chain. Harmony is widely believed to be a Gulen school, but like all Gulen schools, it claims not to be affiliated with Imam Fethullah Gulen. As a general rule of thumb, schools that have Turkish leaders and a significant number of Turkish teachers working on Hb1 visas are almost certainly Gulen schools.

A charter school in a rural county of 17,000 people in Alabama, built and owned by a Utah holding company, operated by a Turkish CEO from Sugarland, Texas. The locals are scratching their heads. So am I.

This bears watching.

This is a fascinating interview in which Larry Lee, an educator in Alabama, asks film-maker Mark Hall about how he became interested in school reform, charter schools, and the Gulen charter schools.

Mark Hall made the documentary “Killing Ed” about the Gulen charter schools, which he has shown in dozens of communities.

Lord knows he didn’t do it for the money.

He become interested and had to track down what happened and why. Why did a Turkish imam, living in seclusion in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, create a large chain of charter schools, staffed mainly by Turkish teachers?

If  you google the film, you can contact Mark Hall and arrange a screening in your community.



Yesterday I wrote about the decision to approve a Gulen charter school in rural Washington County by the Alabama Charter School Commission, despite the fact that the state paid the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to review the proposal and they turned it down. There is little or no demand in the county, which has good public schools, for a charter. The CEO of the charter plans to pay himself $300,000 a year to run a school for 240 students, plus a commission on other sources of income.

The good news is that Mark Hall will bring his film “Killing Ed” about the Gulen schools to Washington County, Alabama, on April 29 for a screening.

At least the public will find out what is coming their way.

You should see it too.


Larry Lee is a native Alabamian who is an expert on rural schools. A few years ago, he wrote an excellent report about the rural schools of the state and how communities help them, take care of them, treasure them.

When he learned that the state charter officials granted a charter to a Gulen school in Washington County, he did some checking and this is what he found. 

“If you are looking for peace and quiet and not many neighbors, my advice is to head for Washington County, AL.  The first county north of Mobile County and bordered on one side by Mississippi and the Tombigbee River on the other, the last census showed only17,629 population.  For a county that covers 1,080 square miles, that is a density of 16.3 people per each one of them.  By comparison, density in Jefferson county is 592.

So it meets all of anyone’s definitions of “rural.”  And like most rural counties, its public school system is a major part of community life.  The Washington County school system has seven schools in five communities.  Communities that are remote from one another.  Chatom is the county seat.  From Chatom to Fruitdale is 14 miles, to Millry is 13 miles, to Leroy is 21 miles and to McIntosh is 26 miles.  These are where schools are located.  It’s easy to understand why 59 buses travel 3,200 miles a day ferrying students.

And I can testify from personal experience that there is not much except lots of pine trees, a few houses and some small churches between any of these sites.  Like the majority of rural school systems, Washington County is losing enrollment.  Twenty years ago there were 3,798 students.  Over the next ten years this decreased by six percent.  But in the last ten years, the decline was 24 percent.  During the last decade McIntosh high school dropped from 344 to 272.  That is 43 percent.

All of which leads to this question: why does Washington County need a charter school?

It’s a question on the minds of many local residents, the majority of whom don’t think they do.

Yet, because folks on the Alabama Charter School Commission apparently failed to do their homework and realistically consider the impact of a charter on a declining system, Woodland Prep has been approved to open this coming school year.

At best, it is a very questionable decision and one that leaves lots of people in Washington County wondering who is setting the rules and who are abiding by them.

For example, the charter law passed in 2015 says the charter commission should “take into consideration the quality of school options existing in the affected community.”  Washington County got a B on the state’s latest A-F report card.  The same score as Shelby and Baldwin counties, two of the top systems in Alabama.  (Of the state’s 67 county systems, only ONE received an A.)

So this is not a failing system, nor a C system or a D system.  It has an excellent career tech program with the only pipe-fitting program in Alabama.  They offer health science, building science, welding and  pre-engineering/drafting.  They also have dual enrollment courses with Coastal Alabama Community College.  Enrollment  has grown from 112 in 2013-14 to 192 last fall.

The law also says the commission should “require significant and objective evidence of interest for the public charter school from the community the public chart school wishes to serve.”   However, such support is almost non-extent.

Harold Crouch is in his sixth-term as mayor of Chatom.  He told me that not a single parent has told him they plan to send their child to the charter.  “I am opposed to the charter, my council is also and I don’t know a single public official in the county who supports it,” says the mayor.

Crouch also thinks those involved with the charter school have been overly secretive about what they want to do.  He  met with the charter board one time.  They wanted the city to give them a prime piece of property for the school site.  He told them they would have to make a proposal to the city council.  They refused to do so.

“This is not in the best interest of the county,” he adds.  “Our resources are too critical now.  We are struggling to do the things we need to do now.  Bringing in another school and taking money from the system we have makes no sense.”

The school system’s annual budget is $27.3 million.  Because a charter gets money intended for the local system, at 260 students (which is what their application says enrollment will be the first year), this would be a hit to the system of at least $1.5 million or more.”

Larry Lee went to Washington County and talked to local residents. No one understood why their county is getting a charter school run by a guy from Texas.

It will be interesting to see how many people sign up for this charter. Wouldn’t it be great if it opened with 2 students? Then it wouldn’t have the funds to pay Mr. Soner Tarim the $300,000 that he expects. And the charter school would go away and give up on its plan to grow its portfolio in rural America, dividing communities and defunding their  public schools.

The Gülen charter schools are one of the biggest chains in the U.S. They have about 160 or more schools. They usually claim they have no connection to Imam Fethullah Gülen, but they can be identified by the unusual number of Turkish teachers in the school, many using H1B visas; by the preponderance of Turkish men on their board of directors; by their inclusion of Turkish language in their curriculum; and by their preference to award contracts to Turkish-owned contractors, even when those firms were not the low bidder.

The Gulen schools call themselves by different names, but they are all somehow connected to a reclusive imam who lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

I don’t know whether the Gülen schools are good or bad schools, I just think it odd to outsource what are supposed to be American public schools to foreign nationals.

The conservative journal EdNext, funded largely by the conservative Hoover Institution, defends the Gülen charters and critiques those who would dare to criticize them. 

Should we outsource community public schools to Saudi Arabia? to Russia? to China? to North Korea? to Brazil?

Where would EdNext draw the line? Or do they think there should be no line at all? Why should America have public schools?

American public schools are supposed to teach civics, democratic values, and history. Can we turn that over to teachers who have never studied American history or civics? Is it a good idea to outsource our public schools? According to EdNext, yes.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the Gulen charter school movement, I recommend Mark Hall’s film, “Killing Ed” and parent activist Sharon Higgins’ investigative reporting about the Gulen schools. 

Some Gulen schools have been investigated by the FBI. Here is a 2012 report in the New York Times that EdNext won’t mention.

The writer was Stephanie Saul.

A group of three publicly financed charter schools in Georgia run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish imam, have come under scrutiny after they defaulted on bonds and an audit found that the schools improperly granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses and groups, many of them with ties to the Gulen movement.

The audit, released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta, found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.

“I would just question how those vendors were selected when price in many instances wasn’t part of the decision making,” said the Fulton County superintendent, Robert Avossa, who criticized the schools for conflicts of interest. “And those are public dollars.”

Gulen followers run more than 120 charter schools nationwide, making the loosely affiliated network one of the nation’s largest public charter school operators. Despite clear connections, the schools generally deny any affiliation with the Gulen movement, a powerful religious and political force in Turkey whose leader, Mr. Gulen, views establishing schools as part of his mission. While some of the charter schools have been praised for their academic performance, their business practices have raised questions.

The New York Times reported last year that the group’s 36 Texas schools had granted millions of dollars in construction and renovation contracts to firms run by Turkish-Americans with ties to the movement, in some cases bypassing lower bids from firms with no connections to the movement. The Texas schools also awarded deals for cafeteria food, after-school programs and teacher training to organizations affiliated with Gulen followers.

The Georgia audit, posted to the Fulton County Schools Web site Tuesday evening, focused on the Fulton Science Academy Middle School in Alpharetta, Ga., a 500-student school that was recently denied a renewal of its public charter. The school, which had received $32 million in public funds over the past 10 years, said it would operate as a private school. While the audit does not lay out all of the relationships between contractors and the movement, a chart shows connections between the people running the schools, some of the vendors and Gulen-connected groups.

Dr. Avossa said that the audit’s findings had raised concerns about the group’s two other public charter schools in his district: Fulton Science Academy High School and Fulton Sunshine Academy, an elementary school.

He said a full audit would be conducted of those schools “to gauge whether similar wrongdoing is taking place.”

The three schools have enrolled 1,200 students representing a cross section of students in the Fulton County district.

Wells Fargo Bank, trustee of a $19 million bond issue by the schools, told investors on May 15 that the three schools were in default on those bonds. The bank said the default was caused by the group’s failure to disclose in its bond offering last year that its middle school charter renewal might have been in jeopardy. “The failure to disclose the ongoing concerns with Fulton Science Academy’s charter renewal petition constituted an omission of material facts in the public statement,” Wells Fargo said.

A default gives the bondholders the right to demand immediate payment, possibly requiring a liquidation of some school assets. The bonds are trading at about 70 percent of face value.

Concerns about governance and transparency were partly behind the district’s rejection of the Fulton Science Academy Middle School’s demand for a 10-year charter renewal. The school was named a “blue-ribbon” school last year by the federal government for its performance and appealed unsuccessfully to the state.

Kenan Sener, the school’s principal, said that the audit contained significant inaccuracies and that the school would issue a statement on Wednesday, after fully reviewing the document.

Nationwide, the charter schools have pursued an aggressive expansion plan, much of it financed by public bond issues, with the Texas schools borrowing more than $200 million through bond offerings.

In Texas, the group’s spending has been the focus of investigations by the State Legislature and the Texas Education Agency. The federal Department of Education is also investigating the Texas schools, apparently focusing on allegations of discrimination against Hispanic special education students in enrollment. The schools have denied wrongdoing.

One criticism of the schools involves their reliance on teachers imported from Turkey while teacher unemployment in the United States remains high. The audit said the Fulton Science Academy Middle School had paid $75,000 in immigration-related expenses for such employees.

Although the schools are inspired by Mr. Gulen and teach Turkish language and culture, they do not teach religion.