ICYMI: Turkish charter schools on “60 Minutes”

The national news program “60 Minutes” had a piece Sunday on the growing number of public charter schools connected to Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Turkish Islamic cleric that preaches a moderate form of Islam from his retreat in Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains.

North Carolina already one charter school that falls in this category – the Triad Math and Science Academy — and a second slated to open this fall in Raleigh, the Triangle Math and Science Academy.

(The [Raleigh] Independent had an excellent article back in January about the proposed Raleigh charter school and is well worth a read.)

Click here to see Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” piece.

Tolerance and an emphasis on the sciences are the main tenets of the Gulen movement, which have been connected to 130 charter schools run by Turkish immigrants around the country, according to the 60 Minutes piece.

Students at the schools tend to test better than their public school cohorts.

Religion, and specifically Islam, aren’t taught at the public schools, though some of the more xenophobic and Islamophobic critics of the schools have focused on Gulen’s prominence as an Islamic cleric and questioned if the schools leaders have motives other than educating American children.

In her piece, Stahl broached two of the major worries about the Gulen-inspired schools – that the charter schools are improperly using teacher work visas to bring Gulen followers into the U.S. on work visas, and that the public charter school’s teachers kickback part of their salaries to support the Gulen movement. Neither has been proven, though federal probes have looked into the improper visa allegations in other states.

Lesley Stahl: And that the whole idea is just to get Turks to come into the United States and this is an easy avenue for them.

David Dunn: Which is just categorically not true.

David Dunn of the Texas Charter Schools Association says that because of a deficit of qualified Americans, the schools bring in math and science teachers from Turkey, as this list of visa applications indicates. Problem is –

Lesley Stahl: We’ve seen that some of these visas for Turkish teachers to come here are for English – for them to teach English. How does that make any sense?

David Dunn: I’m not aware of that. I don’t– I can’t, I can’t comment on that. I don’t know. I have not looked intimately into the visas they bring in.

Lesley Stahl: We have English teachers in this country.

David Dunn: English teachers are typically not part of the critical — or the deficit.

One interesting aspect of these schools that wasn’t dealt with in depth in the piece is how the public school money flows to vendors that have connections to the Turkish leaders of the schools.

The Texas where many of the contracts and services of the Harmony network schools are kept within the Turkish immigrant community, according to this June 2011 New York Times article.

DM Contracting was only a month old when it won its first job, an $8.2 million contract to build the Harmony School of Innovation, a publicly financed charter school that opened last fall in San Antonio.

It was one of six big charter school contracts TDM and another upstart company have shared since January 2009, a total of $50 million in construction business. Other companies scrambling for work in a poor economy wondered: How had they qualified for such big jobs so fast?

The secret lay in the meteoric rise and financial clout of the Cosmos Foundation, a charter school operator founded a decade ago by a group of professors and businessmen from Turkey. Operating under the name Harmony Schools, Cosmos has moved quickly to become the largest charter school operator in Texas, with 33 schools receiving more than $100 million a year in taxpayer funds.

While educating schoolchildren across Texas, the group has also nurtured a close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants. The businesses include not just big contractors like TDM but also a growing assemblage of smaller vendors selling school lunches, uniforms, after-school programs, Web design, teacher training and even special education assessments.




  1. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 10:41 am

    What benefit is there to the American public to fund Moslem charter schools? It seems to me this violates the separation of church and state and therefore public funds should not be used.

  2. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 11:20 am

    What benefit is there to the American Public to fund a Moslem charter school??? Good question, let’s ask the Muslim Americans…

    The article clearly states: “Religion, and specifically Islam, aren’t taught at the public schools, though some of the more xenophobic and Islamophobic critics of the schools have focused on Gulen’s prominence as an Islamic cleric and questioned if the schools leaders have motives other than educating American children.”

  3. Sarah Ovaska

    May 15, 2012 at 11:30 am

    George, thanks for pointing that out. There’s a lot of Islamophobia floating around this issue, and it’s fairly clear that religion isn’t taught in these schools.

  4. Sarah Ovaska

    May 15, 2012 at 11:39 am

    It’s also really worth watching the 60 Minutes piece, it was very well-researched, balanced and quite informative.

  5. Levent Koc

    May 15, 2012 at 11:41 am

    60 minutes was quite unbiased. But some attributes they used were misleading in my opinion such as Imam, cult, etc. All of these have been explained many many times in may web sites.

  6. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 11:42 am

    The article mentions importing Turkish teachers, that should not be allowed. The public has no interest in funding foreigners to teach when we have capable citizens who can teach. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I had no idea this was going on. I will urge my legislatures to stop funding these schools immediately.

  7. Levent Koc

    May 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I understand the concerns about foreign teachers. Local authorities may work with federal authorities to determine about bringing foreign labor force. If people are getting visa, how can we blame visa holders. They do not get, they are given.
    However, what makes America America is diversity. diversity without new immigrants is not sustainable.

  8. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Levent, we have teachers who are unemployed in NC. It makes no sense at all to bring in foreign teachers when we have them here. We are talking about the prudent use of American taxes. There is nothing gained for the taxpayer in funding foreign teachers.

  9. James

    May 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Frank & George

    I went to the 60 minutes Web site to see the video and there was an advertisement I had to see before I could watch the piece. You Know… they do this on youtube too. You have to wait for the advertisement to finish. What is amazing is that this advertisement was talking about some education program the Exon corporation has for teaching science. It was talking about how the US is #17 in the industrial world for science eduction.

    So do you still say we don’t need these successful science schools?
    If Turkish teachers can get the job done so what.
    Importing Turkish teachers….?
    They come here by getting “Legal” H1 visas.

    Look at the results….
    If a school system has 20000 students and 30000 in the waiting list….
    You think those parents are stupid?
    They want what is best for their kids that is why they send them to these schools.

    You think you are the only one who is watching these schools closely?
    50000 students and their parents have visited these schools.

    You think law-enforcement did not have time to investigate anything during last 10 years?

    I trust 50000 students and their parents who have given their vote of confidence to these schools.
    In case you read it wrong it is not 5 it is 50000


  10. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    You’re preaching to the choir. I understand why parents are going to home schooling, private schools or charter schools, they are not satisified with the public schools. As a taxpayer, I have a keen interest in funds being spend wisely. Hiring foreign teachers makes no sense whatsoever.

  11. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    “Hiring foreign teachers makes no sense” Businesses (public or private) aren’t beholden to the Public to hire US born teachers. Its called the “Free Market”. If those Turkish teachers ask for lower wages, aren’t tied to any kind of union, and/or have better skills, why NOT hire them???

  12. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Give me a break! Do you really believe those foreign teachers receive any less pay than the going rate for American teachers? That’s just plain dumb to allow the hiring of foreign teachers when NC citizens are out of work.

  13. Nichole

    May 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    My kids go to Harmony School of Innovation in San Antonio TX! It’s the best thing I ever did for my kids. My daughter who is in 4th grade has been in 6 schools and my son who is in 1st had been in 2. We were military and moved a lot. Its the best school my kids have been in to date. When we came to TX we learned that the only thing the public schools teach u is how to pass the state tests. They were not learning anything. I learned about Harmony through a flyer that was sent in the mail. The best thing I ever did was apply for the school. Both of my kids are very happy and straight A students. I’m proud to say that my kids go to Harmony. I know that my kids are getting a higher education at young age and that is all that matters to me. I had seen about the in other post about the teachers being from Turkey. Let me tell u that there is only like 5 in my kids school including the principle. Its lower pay and longer hours. Every teacher has to do mandatory tutoring until 5 pm when the school gets out a 3. Not only that but they also have clubs and special events that are mandatory too. They have a hard time finding teachers who are qualified and are willing to put in the time. So why not bring them here to this country to teach our students. We are society of many people! I see nothing wrong with it!

  14. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Frank – Perhaps… Regardless, the issue belies the point – the State has no control of hiring when it comes to Charter Schools. That is one of the “benefits” of the Charter School system – those particular schools can administer themselves in any manner they feel will best serve their particular curriculum w/o State oversight… “plain dumb” might be totally right, but its also “perfectly legal”… If we support Charter Schools, this is what we get…

  15. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    If you are correct, then we need to amend the charter school rules to add the requirement that all teachers shall be American citizens. I’ve started the ball rolling on my end by contacting my Senator Tommy Tucker and my representative Bill Brawley. I see the benefit in having charter schools. For most parents the public schools are ok through elementary, beyond elementary, student discipline becomes a major problem.

  16. Kemal

    May 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    This movement doesn’t represend Turkey as a whole. In order not to cause any damage to the Turkey’s image, allegations should be investigated. As a Turk, I even find the idea absurd, teaching English to American students in the U.S., no matter how great they memorize the grammar.- Unless they are next Nabokovs.

  17. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Frank – why would you want to place such a restriction on Charter Schools??? What’s wrong with allowing a school to find the teacher it feels is best for its students??? Its not like the kids are forced to go there, it is completely by choice. If a parent doesn’t want a foreigner teaching their child, the solution is simply to send them to the next school. I see many pros and cons in the Charter system. Hiring of foreign teachers is not a Con, whereas reducing the freedoms of Charters would be counter-productive, IMO… BTW, these schools must meet minumum guidelines, failure to do so means loss of public funding. Listen to me?!? It sounds like I’m supporting the Charter system (I actually do not). LOL!

  18. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Kemal… 2 Lira says no one on this thread knows who Nabakov was…

  19. Nichole

    May 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Please read!! This is an email i received!

    Dear Harmony Parent,

    A segment of the May 13 television news show 60 Minutes included references to Harmony Public Schools (HPS) of Texas that may have left some inaccurate impressions. Please note the following facts about Harmony Public Schools, all of which were shared with 60 Minutes before the show was broadcast:

    HPS operates charter schools in Texas only.
    HPS are non-profit, open enrollment, Texas public schools, free to all students living in their respective independent school districts or surrounding districts.
    HPS is overseen by the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education, and follows the same rules and regulations as any other public school in Texas.
    HPS are not part of a national network of charter schools.
    HPS are not affiliated in any way with any religious or political organizations, including the so-called Gulen movement.
    HPS do not teach religion in any form.
    Approximately 16 percent of HPS teachers are on H-1B temporary work visas due to the well-documented shortage of qualified math and science teachers in the U.S. These teachers go through a rigorous, multiple agency U.S-government visa process before being approved to teach in the U.S.
    Of the more than 1,800 HPS employees, we have two teachers on H-1B temporary work visas who teach English. Both are graduates of an English language or literature program, and meet state and federal definitions of being “highly-qualified” to te ach.
    The former teacher from Ohio who alleged that her husband was required to give a portion of his paycheck to an unnamed organization has never had any association with HPS whatsoever.
    In addition to having two schools ranked in Newsweek’s 2011 list of “Top 500” High Schools in America and “Ten Miracle High Schools,” three HPS campuses made U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High Schools 2012 Rankings.”

    Thank you for your continued interest in Harmony Public Schools. We remain confident that the more factual information people have about HPS, the more people will understand our philosophy and mission: Excellence is our standard, we expect every student to perform to the highest standards, and we believe that every child can achieve excellence in the classroom, and in life, if we nurture, develop and challenge them.


    Dr. Soner Tarim, Superintendent

    Harmony Public Schools

    Houston, TX

  20. Elif Ucan

    May 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Soner is a liar. He himself was quoted in the Texas Monthly as “being influenced by the teachings of Fethullah Gulen”
    On that “inflated waiting list”

    Soner cannot keep the number straight.


    Pull up their 990 tax returns on their WEB of numerous Gulenist NGOs and it is suspect that $$$ millions go into the promotion of Turkey, travel expenses, PR, Advertising and marketing. This is money that should be spent on education of our children. Learning the Kolbasti is hardly a worthwhile necessity.

  21. Elif Ucan

    May 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Gulen’s brand of mystical “Sufism” and his own social, political, economic Turkocentric emphasis is not mainstream Islam. In fact, many of us do not recognize this as Islam in it’s ideology. It is a CULT. Gulen has not faired well in Islamic countries, they do not embrace this Turkic nationalism they have been kicked out of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia. Under investigation in many places besides the USA.
    Additionally, he has had his books translated in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and more and it just isn’t accepted amont the other members of Islam.

  22. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Elif, thanks for the information. I had no idea this kind of stuff was going on. So much underhanded sneakiness! It is really pathetic.

    George, I am a taxpayer who will fight back. I don’t like taxpayer funds used for foreigners of any kind. If I had my way, we would zero out the foreign aid budget.

  23. Nichole

    May 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Funny thing is there is no proof that Harmony has any ties with the Gulen Movement. So many people try to tie it but they cant. As far as the other schools Harmony has no national ties with any of them. The teacher was in OHIO not TX who was saying they had to pay 40% off his pay. Harmony is only in TX!! My daughter was lucky to get in the beginning of the school year. The popularity of the school has grown from Aug to now. It took 4 months to get my son into the school and he was on the sibling wait list. I do know that the San Antonio article was written in the beginning of the school year. I know for a fact that the wait list has grown since then. This school has only been open for 2 years. It went from like 190 students to over 400 in one year. Why cant the numbers climb. Parents want there kids to get a better education. Im one of them. Im a divorced single mother of 3. I bust my ass every day for my kids. I cant afford a private education for all 3 of them. Charter schools are a blessing to those of us who want a better education for our children but cant afford to pay for it. My kids get it every day by attending Harmony. If u would see the regular public schools here in San Antonio you would do anything that u could to get your kids out of the system. Drugs, gangs, and pregnant teens is all u see. I will not sit back and watch my children fall short because of failing systems that has cut back all the teachers and raise the classroom size do to budget cuts. No thanks.

  24. George Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Frank – that’s your perogative… I’ll make note of your xenophobia though…

    Question, how do we know Elif isn’t lying??? And if religion isn’t being taught in the schools, what does it matter? And if religion is being taught in the schools, why isn’t the State doing anything about it through the Authorizer process???

    However, it sounds like the Charter System is being taken advantage of, and that law-makers are allowing it to happen… How many non-religious Christian Charters have similar dirty laundry I wonder… When there is lack of proper oversight by the State, this is what happens… Hey, maybe that’s why I’m opposed to the Charter to begin with!

    Have a nice day everybody!

  25. Frank Burns

    May 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    George, you are welcome to make notes from my comments and send them to the thought police.

    You do make a good point regarding some oversight of Charter Schools is certainly called for. From Nicolle’s notes, obviously the parents are pleased with Charter Schools, but sometimes the bad things tend to be glossed over.

    I’m very suspicious of hidden agendas with groups like this one. Elif raises some good points that merit closer examination.

  26. Alex

    May 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I’m amazed that Esmay didn’t weigh in on this topic . Is he sick or just running around collecting pots and pans ?

  27. Sahin

    May 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    You can get more information about Gulen Movement at Gulen Movement and Gulen Official Page

  28. Mark

    May 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    The problem with hiring so many teachers on H1B Visas is that when a student goes to a charter school, that money is taken away from the student’s public school. Therefore the public school loses that money and has to cut teachers. So in a round about way, they are taking the jobs of local teachers. If the Turkish teachers are really giving 40% of their salaries back to a “movement”, that is our tax money funding Gulen or an unknown source. The schools don’t teach Islam, but they do promote Turkish culture which includes religion through character education, Turkish language classes, Turkish Olympiad, Turkish picnics, etc. The public has a right to know the ownership and motivations of these schools. Would Turkey allow an American group to establish schools all over their country using their public money?

  29. John

    May 17, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Thanks for bringing this attention, I have no idea this was going on. I appreciated and really thanks for this interesting post.

  30. IRFAN

    May 18, 2012 at 12:56 am

    Hey! I taught Turkish and Character Education. Never ever related my subjects to any religion during my classes. I do invite people who has any concern on this issue, to the closest harmony schools in Texas. Ask to observe the classes, investigate students and parents if they ve been taught any religion in those classes. If you learn French, you’ll learn about French lifestyle, cousine, and its culture. It s very logical and need, I guess. When I learned English as a second language I didn’t change my religion, but I learnt how to visit London, where to go to, what they eat and drink etc. The comments I read are really baseless…they just want to blur people’s hope and points of view. If they really care about tax money they need to fight against the teachers unions and how public schools deal with that tax money. Charter schools are getting less but giving much more service to the deserved tax payers and their kids preparing them for college and future. Why there is not a single concerned parent or student among thousands of the charter school members ? Simple.. because they re happy and thankful. They just laugh at these accusations.

  31. IRFAN

    May 18, 2012 at 1:38 am

    By the way, if the alligations are true, do not send your child to university. Why? Because I’m doing college visitations to motivate my charter high school students and let me share what I noticed during those visitations. Most of the staff in esp. Math and engineering departments are foreigner; Russion, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, hindu, pakistanian, even Turk…the native American staff is not majority! Then let’s not send our kids to college because it’s too risky, isn’t it? They might be communist, Hindu, or Muslim when they are studying at college because some/most of their teachers there would be foreigners. Make sense? :)

  32. IRFAN

    May 18, 2012 at 2:02 am

    And do you know who founded khanacademy.org ? Salman khan, a Muslim guy who has two MIT and one Harvard degree, WHO is getting millions of grant from Google and Bill Gates for his supporting education for free. He delivered 150 million lessons on YouTube videos on math, science, social studies from basic to advanced high level… Don’t let your child to take advantage of those well-defined free online lessons, because its too risky…and maybe through those lessons he might teach religion and his culture. And as a result, your child would be interested in applying MIT or Harvard. Wow… Who is letting those people to live in the USA? Let me tell you one more thing…if even State Representatives are sending their lovely kids to these charter schools, if judges, policemen, doctors, public school admins and teachers are sending their beloved kids to the same charter schools and if low income families have opportunity to take education together with those elite families, if they all trust these schools and their quality… Why you should hesitate or not to send your child to give better education. Make sense? Either I’m dumb nor the ones who are always ready to fight with their minds, eyes and ears closed, are really smart!!!

  33. Frank Burns

    May 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    There are qualified US citizens who are teachers without jobs and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by using taxpayer funds to pay for foreign teachers. No matter how good your schools are, that’s not the issue. Are you implying that your schools are well attended is because we have foreign teachers. If that’s what you think, you are deluded indeed. Parents are not satisfied with public schools and this gulan group is taking advantage of that and it needs to stop. Having charter schools is serving a good public demand, but we also demand that you all use American teachers. Is that clear enough? I will do my part and fight to see that this will be done.

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