Gov Perry--Suggest You Do A Quick Study-Turkish Owned Gulen/Harmony Charter Schools Using Texas Taxpayer Money To Enlarge--Please Don't Let It Continue Under Your Watch!
[Just in case there is anybody left who does not realize that the Gulen schools (a.k.a., Harmony Schools in Texas) are deliberately targeting our public school students to indoctrinate them into anti-American, pro-Islam thinking, please read the following and then peruse the various articles and URL’s that I have posted further on down the page.
People do not have to spend huge amounts of time doing in-depth research on the topic of the Gulen Schools because I have provided easy access to credible sources in this one e-mail.
Someone told me today that when Gov. Rick Perry was asked about the prominence of the Gulen/Harmony Schools in Texas and why he had allowed them to flourish in our state using our tax dollars, he said that he was unaware about the dangers of these schools. This seems strange to me since I and other grassroots citizens have been sending his staff, the entire Texas Legislature, the print media (including the Austin American-Statesman), and many other elected officials these informative articles about the dangers of the Gulen Schools for well over a year now. Obviously until the New York Times wrote its investigative report on June 6, 2011, many of our elected officials chose to ignore the pleas of concerned grassroots citizens. Thankfully some of these officials are beginning to put two and two together about the Gulen/Harmony Schools. -- Donna Garner]
Some lawmakers have second thoughts about Turkey trips
Updated: 7:26 a.m. Sunday, June 19, 2011
Published: 10:32 p.m. Saturday, June 18, 2011
For Texas legislators, one of the most coveted activities in recent years has been 10-day trips to Turkey, paid for in full or in part by various Turkish American organizations.
A dozen or so state officials, including several Central Texas legislators, have taken the trips in the past several years, and more have been invited this year.
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said he has taken many fact-finding trips, including to almost every country in Europe, but Turkey stands out.
He said last fall's trip to Turkey was "the best I've taken" because of the high level of government officials and business leaders he was able to meet.
"They are trying to improve relations," Fraser said. "It was a trade mission."
The Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, an umbrella group for Turkish Americans, said the trips are about good will, not lobbying.
"These trips serve to further the business, commercial and cultural relations between Texas and Turkey," said Kemal Oksuz, the council's president-elect.
However, some legislators say they're having second thoughts about going this year, in part because of a recent New York Times article that suggested connections between the Harmony Schools, which operate 33 charter schools in Texas, and several Turkish American businesses and organizations, including the Houston-based Turquoise Council.
The Times questioned whether those connections favor Turkish American companies in bids to build the schools or provide education services.
Additionally, conservative bloggers have implied that the Harmony Schools promote Islam.
Harmony officials deny that their schools teach religion, They also have said they have no connection to the Turquoise Council and its trips.
Despite the denials, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, said he believes there are connections between the Turquoise Council, the Harmony Schools and the promotion of Islam.
"After I researched it, I'm not interested," he said of the council's invitation to visit Turkey.
As for the Harmony Schools, Miller said, "Apparently it's (involved in) indoctrination of Islam."
Although Turkey is a moderate Muslim nation, Miller said: "That just means they're nonviolent. They won't cut off your head."
Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said, "It's a tempting trip." But he said he worried about "political overtones" because of reports about Muslim connections.
"If it's true — and I don't know that it is — if they're teaching Islam, that's a problem," said Christian, a supporter of charter schools.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, visited Turkey a few years ago to observe its education system, among other things.
"I don't remember that anyone talked about the Harmony Schools or anything that anyone in Turkey was doing in Texas," she said. "They didn't make a big deal out of religion. It really wasn't brought up. They wanted people to understand their country."
Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, traveled to Turkey five years ago but said he hasn't decided whether to return this year.
"It was the single most educational trip I've taken," he said. "You have in-depth conversations with the people there, the officials in government, in business, different groups, different ethnicities. You meet and talk with real people."
Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena, said he is tempted to go because his district includes part of the Houston Ship Channel and he is interested in encouraging more Turkish trade through the port.
But he said he hesitated to accept an offer for an all-expenses-paid trip for him and his wife.
"It would look like a junket," Legler said. "I'm just worried about how it looks."
Lawmakers who have taken the trips have reported their value at between $3,200 and $3,800.
The itinerary includes visits with government and business leaders, journalists and everyday citizens, as well as sightseeing at tourist attractions and religious sites.
There's also time for fun, including a yacht trip on the Bosporus strait, a balloon flight and shopping in the city's famous bazaars.
Twenty years ago, the Legislature ostensibly outlawed pleasure trips paid for by lobbyists after news reports about lawmakers taking ski trips and golf junkets to exotic locales. But state law still allows lawmakers to travel at someone else's expense for fact-finding trips or if the lawmaker gives a speech or performs some other service that is "more than perfunctory."
That allowed the Association of General Contractors, for example, to pay $72,000 to take a dozen lawmakers to Maui for its annual conference in 2010. The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston typically takes 15 or 20 state and local officials to Israel every other year, according to that group's lobbyist.
Over the years, lawmakers have visited a variety of places, from Taiwan to Cuba to Europe. Opportunities to visit Turkey — a U.S. ally and trading partner — have increased dramatically in the past two years with the creation of the Turquoise Council.
The council, which operates in seven states and the nation's capital, raised its profile at the Texas Capitol this year, with a congressional delegation from Turkey visiting Gov. Rick Perry, Education Commissioner Robert Scott and Comptroller Susan Combs, as well as hosting a "Texan-Turkic Friendship Reception" for state officials on Jan. 25.
Oksuz, of the Turquoise Council, said Texas is Turkey's largest business and trading partner among the 50 states and that Houston and Austin are sister cities to Istanbul and Antalya, respectively.
The trips are not limited to legislators. Judges, congressional staffers and other officials are invited.
Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant and his wife went to Turkey in June 2008 with state Reps. Donna Howard, Valinda Bolton and Elliott Naishtat, all Austin Democrats, as guests of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, a Turkish American foundation associated with the Turquoise Council. The officials paid part of their expenses.
"It was amazing," Elfant said. "We talked about our cultures and what we don't understand about one another."
Several Texas lawmakers considering traveling to Turkey later this year are weighing whether the public's perception will be that the trips are more junkets than jaunts associated with their jobs.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, attended the general contractors Maui conference last year and traveled to Cuba to study how that country prepares for hurricanes. But he said he won't accept the Turquoise Council invitation.
"I was looking for the good government purpose for the trip," Whitmire said. "But I haven't found it."
Scott, who oversees charter schools, won't be going to Turkey.
"He just didn't feel comfortable with the perception," said Debbie Ratcliffe, the education agency's communications director.
Scott has allowed the state's more successful charter schools, including Harmony, to expand without obtaining a new charter for each campus.
Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said he doesn't take trips paid for by someone else.
"As an elected official, I don't think I need to be taking anything of that value," he said. "It could be tied to a future vote."
During this summer's special session, for example, the Legislature is considering whether to have the state back construction bonds for charter schools.
The sponsor of that measure, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she's been invited to Turkey but hasn't gone.
"I generally don't go on trips like that unless there's some legislative issue," she said. "But I can't imagine what it would be in Turkey. It sounds like a cultural affairs tour or something like that."
Oksuz said there is no connection between the trips and the legislation, although his private construction company has built schools for Harmony.
In January, after Fraser and four other senators returned from Turkey, they co-authored Senate Resolution 85 honoring Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher who lives in Pennsylvania but has a large worldwide following, including the Gulen Institute at the University of Houston.
The Senate approved the resolution on the day the Turkish congressional delegation was making the rounds at the Capitol.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who made the trip with Fraser, said he prepared the resolution in response to his Turkey hosts and his admiration for the people.
"Their attitude — we call it nice Christian values. Of course, it's not Christian," Lucio said. "Humanitarian is the word I'm looking for."
Lucio said he is planning a return visit, courtesy of the Turquoise Council, later this year: "I'd like to see more of the country."
email@example.com; 445-3617; firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATED -- 6.11.11
“Harmony Science Academies Tied to Gulen Charter Schools”
by Donna Garner
Here is the documentation to show that the Harmony Science Academies in Texas are directly tied to the Gulen Movement. We always need to bear in mind that Fethullah Gulen is an Islamist imam:
1. Guidestar -- Cosmos Foundation, Texas (a.k.a., Harmony Public Schools -- http://www2.guidestar.org/organizations/76-0615245/cosmos-foundation.aspx )
Cosmos Foundation is the management company for Harmony Science Academies, and the CFO of Cosmos is Umit Pecen; he attends the funding board meetings with Sonar Tarim.
(Please see http://harmonyparenttruth.blogspot.com/2011/01/harmony-science-academy-charter-school_18.html to learn more about Umit Pecen.)
(Please go to http://www.chroniclewatch.com/2010/06/21/islamic-movement-engulfs-lone-star-state/ to learn more about Sonar Tarim.)
2. Oct. 7, 2010 -- Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh -- “Mapping the Gulen Movement” -- Professor of Sociology, University of Houston -- Please slide the marker to 11:52 where Dr. Ebaugh says there are 25 Gulen charter schools in Texas (a.k.a., Cosmos Foundation -- Harmony Science Academies). If these are not the Harmony Science Academies, to what other schools is she referring? Obviously she means the Harmony Science Academies and that they are Gulen schools.
In Dr. Ebaugh’s remarks, she stated that she had traveled to Turkey to study the Gulen Movement; and she learned that after Gulen investors put up the capital for the Gulen schools for a couple of years, the schools operate on their own.
This should be the same model used in the United States. If individual citizens want to put up the money for the Harmony Science Academies to get them started, that would be a matter to be decided in the private sector; but we taxpayers should not have our tax dollars used to pay for any schools that are tied to the Muslim movement.
3. PBS, “The Gulen Movement,” Jan. 25, 2011: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-21-2011/gulen-movement/7949/
Excerpts from this website:
SEVERSON: Gülen-inspired volunteers from Turkey bring Turkish language and culture with them. In Houston they sponsor a Turkish Olympiad where American students compete in Turkish dance and song. The winners compete in an annual competition in Ankara, Turkey. There are more than a 1000 Gülen-inspired schools and universities in over 100 countries...
SEVERSON: In Texas there are 33 nationally recognized public charter schools with over 16,000 students grades K through 12. They’re called Harmony schools, and the Turkish superintendent insists they are strictly secular and in no way connected to Gülen. [As shown in Points #1 and #2, the Harmony Science Academies most certainly are Gulen schools. -- Donna Garner] Professor Ebaugh says there’s a reason for this kind of sensitivity. [Dr. Ebaugh has stated publicly that she believes the Gulen charter schools in the United States should be more forthcoming about their links to him and to Turkey because she does not believe they have anything to hide. -- Donna Garner]
(4) Students in the Gulen schools celebrate various Turkish Muslim holidays, and students frequently win trips to Turkey.
ACTION STEP: All patriotic American taxpayers should be alarmed over the spread of the Islamist Gulen charter schools. Texans in particular need to contact all their Legislators and alert them to the safeguards (listed below) that must be placed in the charter school bills now making their way through the legislative process.
The free trips to Turkey and the campaign contributions given to our Texas Legislators by the Gulenists are highly troubling and leave taxpayers wondering how objective can our Legislators actually be about their votes on these charter school bills that financially enable the spread of Gulen charter schools. Is this yet another example of “pay for votes”? -- Donna Garner
6.7.11 -- BREAKING NEWS:
MAJOR INVESTIGATION OF GULEN CHARTER SCHOOLS BY NEW YORK TIMES
When the New York Times decides to do investigative journalism, they have the resources and staff to find things out that few others can discover. I am sure you will want to go to this NYT link (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/education/07charter.html?_r=1&emc=eta1&pagewanted=all ) to view the photos and other graphics which will give you more of an understanding about the Gulen charter schools.
The NYT, however, also has shortcomings because of its left-leaning political bias that has kept their reporters from including very important aspects of the dangers of Fethullah Gulen and his Gulen charter schools.
Below the NYT article, I have posted links to other articles that explain the many dangers of Fethullah Gulen and his indoctrination of our nation’s youth into Islam, Sharia law, and anti-Americanism.
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamist imam who has been behind the successful efforts in Turkey to turn that country into an armed camp that is now anti-American. Its security police force has been almost totally infiltrated by Gulenists, and Turkey is on the verge of joining up with the rest of the Muslim world against the United States and Israel.
As we speak, our Texas Legislature is in Special Session and is moving toward providing even more funding for Gulen charter schools. A faithful few, such as Peyton Wolcott, are trying to convince Legislators to look more deeply into the financial “payoffs” that Gulen has given to elected officials.
Please go to this link to see who has taken free trips to Turkey and/or reaped huge campaign contributions from Gulen-controlled entities. Is it any wonder that these Texas Legislators are promoting the establishment of more Gulen schools in our state?
Peyton Wolcott is presently leading an effort to force the Texas Legislature to include in its pro-charter-school bills three safeguards to protect the Permanent School Fund which by law in Texas is supposed to be used for students’ textbooks. The Legislature is trying to take some of the PSF funds and make those dollars available for charter school bonds, including more Gulen charter schools.
Wolcott has made the case that all charter schools should (1) have to show proof of U. S. citizenship for board members (e.g., ISD trustees) and top administrators; (2) post online the names, titles, and bios of board and top administrators, and (3) post their checkbook registers online so that taxpayers will know how their tax dollars are being spent.
ACTION STEP: If you are a fellow Texan, you must contact your legislators and alert them to the alarming content of this NYT article, to the links posted under the article, and to the safeguards that Wolcott and others are trying to get the Legislators to include in the charter school bills.
New York Times
Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas
Published: June 6, 2011
TDM 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.
Some of the schools’ operators and founders, and many of their suppliers, are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher [Gulen is actually an Islam imam who believes in Sharia law and wants to establish a universal caliphate. -- Donna Garner] of a moderate brand of Islam whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name. Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states, one of the largest collections of charter schools in America.
The growth of these “Turkish schools,” as they are often called, has come with a measure of backlash, not all of it untainted by xenophobia. Nationwide, the primary focus of complaints has been on hundreds of teachers and administrators imported from Turkey: in Ohio and Illinois, the federal Department of Labor is investigating union accusations that the schools have abused a special visa program in bringing in their expatriate employees.
But an examination by The New York Times of the Harmony Schools in Texas casts light on a different area: the way they spend public money. And it raises questions about whether, ultimately, the schools are using taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gulen movement — by giving business to Gulen followers, or through financial arrangements with local foundations that promote Gulen teachings and Turkish culture.
Harmony Schools officials say they scrupulously avoid teaching about religion, and they deny any official connection to the Gulen movement. The say their goal in starting charter schools — publicly financed schools that operate independently from public school districts — has been to foster educational achievement, especially in science and math, where American students so often falter.
“It’s basically a mission of our organization,” said Soner Tarim, the superintendent of the 33 Texas schools.
The schools, Dr. Tarim said, follow all competitive bidding rules, and do not play favorites in awarding contracts. In many cases, Turkish-owned companies have in fact been the low bidders.
Even so, records show that virtually all recent construction and renovation work has been done by Turkish-owned contractors. Several established local companies said they had lost out even after bidding several hundred thousand dollars lower.
“It kind of boils my blood a little bit, all the money that was spent, when I know it could have been done for less,” said Deborah Jones, an owner of daj Construction, one of four lower bidders who failed to win a recent contract for a school renovation in the Austin area.
Harmony’s history underscores the vast latitude that many charter school systems have been granted to spend public funds. While the degree of oversight varies widely from state to state, the rush to approve charter schools has meant that some barely monitor charter school operations.
In Washington, concern is growing. A number of charter schools across the country have been accused of a range of improprieties in recent years, from self-dealing on contracts to grade-changing schemes and inflating attendance records to increase financing.
Last year, the inspector general’s office in the federal Education Department cited these complaints in a memo alerting the agency of “our concern about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools.”
The Texas Education Agency has a total of nine people overseeing more than 500 charter school campuses. “They don’t have the capacity at the state level to do the job,” said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Even so, the state’s education commissioner, Robert Scott, last year took the unusual step of granting Harmony permission to open new schools outside the normal approval process.
Officials at the education agency said staffing was sufficient to oversee charter schools. They would not discuss Harmony’s contracts, but a check of the agency’s past audits — largely desk reviews of financial statements submitted by the schools — did not find any alarms raised about Harmony contracting.
In April, however, the agency notified Harmony of an unreleased preliminary audit questioning more than $540,000 in inadequately documented expenses, the vast majority involving federal grant money. Neither the agency nor Harmony would disclose details of the findings.
The charter school movement did not begin in Texas, but the state embraced it with ideological fervor in the late 1990s as a pet project of the governor at the time, George W. Bush. The schools’ independence from local school boards and union contracts, the theory went, would free them to become seedbeds of educational achievement in a landscape of underperforming failure.
While Texas charter schools must meet core curriculum standards, they may emphasize some subjects over others, as Harmony does with math, science and technology. They do not have to hew to standard public school calendars or hours. They may — and some do — pay teachers less than the standard state-mandated salaries. (In exchange for this flexibility, the schools get less state money than regular schools, with various calculations showing an annual difference of between $1,000 and $2,000 per pupil.)
David Bradley, a member of the Texas Board of Education, served on the panel that reviewed the early charter proposals. “The only requirement was that you expressed an interest,” he said, adding, “The first time Harmony came forth, they had a great application, and they were great people.”
One of those people was Yetkin Yildirim, who had arrived from Turkey in 1996 to attend the University of Texas in Austin. He also worked as a volunteer tutor in local high schools. The idea for the Harmony schools was born, he said, when he and friends — including Dr. Tarim — saw how much less rigorous the American high schools were in teaching science and math.
“Then we realized that something can be done,” said Dr. Yildirim, now a University of Texas professor specializing in asphalt technology. They spent a year writing their proposal, and in 2000 the group opened its first school, in Houston.
The schools represented the expansion of a mission that had already created hundreds of schools — and a number of universities — in Turkey and around the world. According to social scientists who have studied them, these schools have been the primary vehicle for the aspirations of the Gulen movement, a loose network of several million followers of Mr. Gulen, who preaches the need to embrace modernity in a peace-loving, ecumenical version of Islam. At the center of his philosophy is the concept of “hizmet” — public service.
The movement is also influential in Turkish politics and controls substantial commercial holdings, including a bank, Asya; one of Turkey’s largest daily newspapers, Zaman; and an American cable television network, Ebru-TV, based in New Jersey.
Mr. Gulen, 70, considers his teachings a bulwark against Islamic extremism. Yet he and the movement that bears his name have been surrounded by controversy in Turkey. He came to this country in 1999 while under pressure from secular Turkish authorities who accused him of promoting an Islamic state. He was charged, though the case was thrown out. More recently, the arrests of Turkish journalists critical of the Gulen movement have led to accusations of retaliation by followers in the current government, which has a more religious leaning.
Mr. Gulen now lives in a Pennsylvania retreat owned by a foundation. In an interview there last year with The International Herald Tribune, he said he had not benefited financially from the movement. His only possessions, he said, were a blanket, some bed sheets and a few prized books.
Still, at least for the schools, America has been a land of opportunity. The creation story has been enacted across the country — Turkish immigrants, often scientists or professors, founding charter schools run by boards of mostly Turkish-born men. Today the United States has more Gulen-inspired schools than any country but Turkey, according to a presentation by Joshua Hendrick, a professor at Loyola University Maryland whose 2009 dissertation explored the movement.
In Texas, Harmony now educates more than 16,000 children. Eight schools have opened in the last year alone.
Dr. Yildirim said that while he had been influenced by Mr. Gulen — he writes and speaks about his teachings — his primary motivation in starting the schools was to give back to the community.
“My life changed here. I’m so thankful for that,” he said. “I believe some people born in this country are taking some things for granted.”
At first, Harmony Schools used a mix of local American and Turkish immigrant contractors. But as it has grown, especially in the rush of new schools, Harmony has increasingly relied on its Turkish network.
In response to questions, Harmony provided a list showing that local American contractors had been awarded 13 construction and renovation jobs over the years. But a review of contracts since January 2009 — 35 contracts and $82 million worth of work — found that all but 3 jobs totaling about $1.5 million went to Turkish-owned businesses.
TDM, builder of the new San Antonio school, is one of several companies that stand out — for the size of their contracts, their seemingly overnight success or both. One of TDM’s owners, records and interviews show, is Kemal Oksuz, president of the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians, an umbrella group over several foundations established by Gulen followers. Since TDM was formed in November 2009, its work has involved only Harmony Schools and a job at the Turquoise Council headquarters, according to a company accountant.
Another TDM principal is a civil engineer, Osman Ozguc.
“Please don’t think that I’m a new guy, inexperienced in this area,” Mr. Ozguc said when asked about the San Antonio project, explaining that he had 26 years of construction experience, mostly on large projects in Turkey. “I provided all the requirements asked in the bid. And when we got the job, we delivered in a very short time period, and with a very economical result.” He did acknowledge that change orders had added about $1 million to the cost.
Mr. Ozguc said he formed TDM after a split from Solidarity, another Houston company that has done major ground-up construction jobs for Harmony in the past two years. Records show that Solidarity is run by Levent Ulusal, a civil engineer with a prior connection to Harmony: he was a school business manager until March 2009, when he joined Solidarity.
Since Texas charter schools do not get separate public money for facilities, Harmony’s construction program is financed by bonds that will be paid off over time using regular public payments to the schools, bond documents show. The group has issued more than $200 million in bonds since 2007, making it the state’s largest charter school bond issuer.
[The Texas Legislature is presently considering charter school legislation that would allow the Permanent School Funds to be used to pay for charter school bonds. -- Donna Garner]
With public money in play, Texas law requires charter schools to award contracts to the bidder that offers the “best value.” Lowest is not necessarily best, with the schools given leeway. But the criteria for choosing the best bidder must be clear.
Last year, local contractors questioned the fairness of bidding on two Harmony renovation jobs in the Austin area. On one job, in the suburb of Pflugerville, the low bidder, at $1.17 million, was a well-known Texas company, Harvey-Cleary. The job went to Atlas Texas Construction and Trading, even though its bid was several hundred thousand dollars higher. Atlas, with offices in Texas and Turkey, shows up on a list of Gulen-affiliated companies in a 2006 cable from the American Consul General in Istanbul, Deborah K. Jones, that was released by WikiLeaks.
A vice president of Harvey-Cleary said Harmony never explained its decision.
The same day Atlas won the Pflugerville contract, it got a job at another Austin-area Harmony school, even though four bidders came in lower.
Harmony Schools asked two architects to analyze the disputed Austin jobs. Both architects had previously worked for Harmony Schools; both concluded that the jobs should have been awarded to Atlas.
Atlas has an eclectic business portfolio: for several years, it has also supplied breakfast and lunch at many Harmony schools. The contract is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Two other bidders submitted formal catering proposals. One was Preferred Meal Systems, a national company that undercut Atlas’s price by 78 cents a day, a substantial margin given that the two meals are often supplied for about $4.
Jim Drumm, the regional vice president for Preferred Meal, said that when the company learned that its bid was lower than the winner’s, “We attempted, without success, to recontact Harmony Schools to learn why our proposal was rejected.”
Dr. Tarim said Preferred Meal was turned down because its food is heated in special company-installed ovens. With no kitchens in the schools, he said, there is no room for ovens.
Inside the Schools
Recently Dr. Tarim led a tour of one of Harmony’s big renovation jobs — the new home of the Harmony Science Academy, the chain’s marquee Houston high school. The academy, one of 11 Harmony schools in Houston, was recently rated among the city’s top 10 high schools by Children at Risk, an advocacy group. The campus used to be an ITT business center, and even now, the low-slung buildings communicate office park more than high school. There is also a new building, constructed by TDM, housing a gym and the Cosmos Foundation’s headquarters.
This being Texas, the academy is conspicuous for the absence of a football field. But in many ways, the Harmony Schools seem much like standard public schools, albeit of the strict, testing-oriented sort in vogue today.
Students wear uniforms, and anything that detracts from uniform appearance — even hoop earrings or highlighted hair — is frowned upon. One teacher described a disciplinary system in which students receive points for behavioral infractions as minor as tilting back in a chair.
The students, as at most Gulen-inspired schools, represent a racial and ethnic cross-section of the community. Many are children of immigrants drawn by the upwardly mobile allure of careers in technology and health care. Beginning in fourth grade, all students must complete science projects.
In a physics class, students demonstrated a homemade hovercraft — a simple plywood disc fitted with a chair. Rigged to a leaf blower, the contraption levitated inches above the ground, even with someone in the chair.
The project illustrates principles of physics, but the larger point, said the teacher, Levent Sakar, is developing an excitement about science.
“Once a student does a project like that, they will never forget it,” he said.
Still, the bottom line is measurable achievement. And so the Harmony schools place a heavy emphasis on preparing for state assessment tests, with four practice tests annually, according to schedules on school Web sites. Each practice test occupies the better part of a week, and students who fail get mandatory tutoring, some of it on Saturdays.
Judging school quality, of course, is an imprecise business. But by the measure that Harmony and most charter schools have embraced — scores on the state tests — the Harmony schools seem to be succeeding. Last year, 16 of the schools were deemed “exemplary,” the highest rating, while seven were rated “recognized,” and the other two “academically acceptable.” The eight new schools have not yet been rated.
The Harmony schools advertise themselves as college preparatory schools with every graduate accepted to college, and a bulletin board in the hallway at the science academy displays pictures of this year’s senior class, along with their college acceptances. But Harmony’s “100 percent” acceptance rate actually represents only a small census, since most of the schools do not have senior classes and many students transfer earlier on. Statewide, 154 students graduated this year, the largest class yet.
And while the schools’ combined math and English SAT scores — an average of 1026 — were 37 points above the statewide average last year, they fell short of the 1100 on those two parts that the state regards as predicting “college readiness.”
[In other words, Harmony students do well at mastering how to “play the game” on the state-mandated TAKS tests but fall short on actual college readiness. Other troubling aspects to consider regarding Harmony students’ supposed academic “success” is (1) nobody monitors these Harmony Schools during the administration of tests. What is to prevent these H-1 visa teachers who are from Turkey and who have no commitment to the American value system to give their students the answers? (2) The Wikileaks cable from the U. S. Ambassador several years ago revealed that the Gulenists are taking over the Turkish Security Forces by giving applicants the answers to the tests. If this is their mode of operation in Turkey, it very well could be the way they operate here. (3) Dr. Ed Fuller’s research showed that over half of the students who start at Harmony leave. This would certainly be a major factor in raising their TAKS scores -- weed out the weak students. -- Donna Garner]
Dr. Tarim, who came from Turkey and studied aquatic ecology at Texas A&M, objects to common references to the schools as Turkish. Still, even if they are American charter schools first and foremost, the schools do have an undeniable Turkish flavor.
Many of the furnishings are imported from Turkey — at a San Antonio school, the entryway features a turquoise arch, and the lobby ceiling is decorated with images of the sun and a star and crescent moon. Harmony advertises that its teachers “are recruited from around the world,” but most of its foreign teachers are Turkish men, and all but a handful of the 33 principals are men from Turkey. In addition to the standard foreign languages, the schools offer instruction in Turkish. They encourage students and teachers, even parents, to join subsidized trips to Turkey.
What they avoid, as publicly financed schools, is religious instruction. And amid jabs from critics — educators, disaffected parents and bloggers — about their Turkishness and ties to a Muslim group, the schools take great pains to separate themselves from the Gulen movement. They are not “Gulen schools,” they insist, and have no affiliation with any movement.
“I’m not a follower of anybody,” Dr. Tarim said in an interview. Records show, however, that when applying to the State of Texas to form Harmony schools, he was a consultant to Virginia International University in Fairfax, one of the private universities that lawyers for Mr. Gulen say were originally inspired by his teachings.
At a forum on the schools last December in Houston, Dr. Hendrick, the Maryland professor, argued that such denials had only deepened the ambiguity and helped fuel suspicion. “Why do leaders deny affiliation when affiliation is clear?” he asked.
Ultimately, some scholars say, the schools are about more than just teaching schoolchildren.
Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish-born assistant professor at the University of Utah’s Middle East Center, says he does not oppose the movement, though he is critical of what he calls its male domination and lack of transparency. In his view, the schools are the foundation for the movement’s attempts to grow in the United States.
“The main purpose right now is to show the positive side of Islam and to make Americans sympathize with Islam,” Dr. Yavuz said.
Teachers and Visas
Around the country, the most persistent controversy involving the schools — and the one most covered in the news — centers on the hundreds of Turkish teachers and administrators working on special visas.
The schools say they bring in foreign teachers because of a shortage of Americans qualified to teach math and science. Of the 1,500 employees at the Texas Harmony schools this year, Dr. Tarim said, 292 were on the special “H-1B” visas, meant for highly skilled foreign workers who fill a need unmet by the American workforce.
But some teachers and their unions, as well as immigration experts, have questioned how earnestly the schools worked to recruit American workers. They say loopholes have made it easy to bring in workers with relatively ordinary skills who substitute for American workers.
“I think they have a preference for these H-1B workers,” said Dr. Ronil Hira, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has studied the visa program. “It may be a preference for a variety of reasons — lower wages or a network where they’ve got family or friends and connections and this is a stepping stone for them to get a green card.”
The American jobs, often offered to educators at Gulen schools around the world or graduates of Gulen universities, also provide a way for the movement to expand its ranks in this country, Dr. Yavuz said.
American consular employees reviewing visas have questioned the credentials of some teachers as they sought to enter the country. “Most applicants had no prior teaching experience, and the schools were listed as related to” Mr. Gulen, a consular employee wrote in a 2009 cable. It did not say which schools had hired the teachers. Some with dubious credentials were denied visas.
In February, a Chicago charter school union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers complained to the federal Department of Labor, alleging that the Chicago Math and Science Academy and Concept Schools, a group that operates 25 schools in the Midwest, had abused the visa system by “routinely assigning these teachers duties or class load that seemingly do not take into account the laws governing H1-B visa holders.”
The Labor Department had already been investigating at least one Concept school. The investigation appeared to have been triggered by a complaint in July 2008 by Mustafa Emanet, a network systems administrator and teacher at a middle school in Cleveland. By law, imported teachers must be paid “prevailing wage.” Mr. Emanet alleged that while his visa reflected his promised salary, $44,000, he was actually paid $28,000 his first year.
A Labor Department spokesman said the investigation was ongoing.
Expanding the Network
The heart of the movement’s Texas operations is the Turquoise Center, a Houston complex that houses several foundations established by Gulen followers. Their activities show how the movement has integrated itself into life in Texas, often by dint of the foundations’ connections to the Harmony Schools.
The Turquoise Center opened in 2008, financed partly through donations from Gulen followers, who on average tithe 10 percent of their income, experts say. The money, Dr. Hendrick wrote in his dissertation, goes “to pay for a student’s scholarship, to provide start-up capital for a new school, to send a group of influential Americans on a two-week trip to Turkey or to sponsor an academic conference devoted to Fethullah Gulen.”
Dozens of Texans — from state lawmakers to congressional staff members to university professors — have taken trips to Turkey partly financed by the foundations.
One group, the Raindrop Foundation, helped pay for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul last year, according to a recent campaign report. In January, she co-sponsored a Senate resolution commending Mr. Gulen for “his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.”
In an interview, Ms. Van de Putte described the trip as a working visit.
The Raindrop Foundation says its mission is to promote Turkish culture in America. It sponsors cooking classes, traditional Turkish dinners and performances of the Whirling Dervishes, a dance group associated with Sufi Muslim tradition. It also organizes an annual Turkish Language Olympiad where 6,000 students, many from Harmony schools, compete in Turkish language, poetry, dance and singing contests.
The 2011 singing winner was a Hispanic girl from a Harmony school in northwest Houston.
The Raindrop Foundation’s president, Mehmet Okumus, is a former Harmony school principal, and some of the foundation’s income — $770,000 a year, he said — comes through arrangements with the schools. Two Raindrop Foundation units, Zenith Learning and Merit Learning, operate after-school programs, test preparation programs and summer camps at the schools. Parents pay Zenith up to $200 a week to leave their children after school. Of that, Harmony collects 25 cents per child per day, according to Dr. Tarim.
Another group at the Turquoise Center, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, sponsors lectures on interfaith relations and finances the Gulen Institute at the University of Houston, which sponsors graduate scholarships in social work and pays for graduate students to study in Turkey.
The Institute of Interfaith Dialog — founded by Mr. Gulen himself, according to court documents — does not appear to have business dealings with Harmony. But its president, Yuksel Alp Aslandogan, does. Indeed, in 2002, he purchased the former Austin church that became Harmony’s second school.
Dr. Aslandogan, a former computer science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, paid $1.375 million for the building, then leased it to Harmony. Last year, he said in an e-mail, Harmony bought it for $1.7 million. He described his original purchase as “an investment opportunity toward a good cause” but declined to say how much he made off the deal, emphasizing that he had to pay taxes and make repairs.
Dr. Aslandogan has other connections to Harmony. He is chief executive of the Texas Gulf Foundation, a nonprofit that provides an array of services to the schools.
The foundation, in fact, grew out of Harmony: its owners and operators originally worked for the schools, according to a statement from Harmony, but left to form Texas Gulf, which they believed would “provide Harmony and other Texas schools with quality services at lower costs.” Until recently, Texas Gulf had offices at a Harmony campus.
Since 2007, Harmony says, it has paid Texas Gulf $525,000 for services that include an online professional development program for teachers and administrators, an assessment tool for students and special education assessments.
Dr. Aslandogan reflected on his role in Texas’ Turkish community in a PBS program on the Gulen movement broadcast in January. He said he donates “beyond the expected level in my income” and added: “I believe that all these actions — charitable donations, volunteerism — are pleasing to God. That’s why I am doing all this.”
SUBSTANTIVE RESOURCES ON GULEN SCHOOLS
5.28.11 -- “Return of Islamic College Raises New Questions” by David Lepeska --
5.20.11 -- “Feds Question Schools' Visa Use: Federal Funds Used To Pay for Teachers' Families” by Jennifer Smith Richards --
5.2011 - “Harmony Science Academy, Cosmos Foundation: Evidence of Affiliation with the Gulen Movement” --
5.1.11 “Frog in the Water” by Donna Garner --
4.19.11 -- “Flood of Turkish Teachers Prompts Investigation: Witness Says Feds Looking into Islam-Influenced Network” World Net Daily --
4.11.11 -- “H-1B + K-12 = ? A First Look at the Implications of Foreign Teacher Recruitment” by David North --
4.9.11 -- “Harmony Charter” by Dr. Ed Fuller --
4.5.11 - “Turkish Authorities Launch Raids To Censor Book before Publication”
4.5.11 -- “Texas: Land of Charters and Economic Opportunity” by Peyton Wolcott --
3.30.11 -- “Is Fethullah Gulen Working for the CIA?” by Dr. Aland Mizell --
3.26.11 -- “Gulen Is Indeed a Dangerous Man” by Donna Garner --
3.24.11 -- “FBI Launches Investigation of Gulen and His Movement” by Paul L.
3.24.11 -- “Re: FBI Investigation of Gulen Schools (a.k.a., Harmony Science Academies in Texas) by Donna Garner, EducationNews.org --
Here is a YouTube (Parts 1 and 2) by a TV news station in Pennsylvania that tells of the FBI investigation of the Gulen schools in Pennsylvania and across the country:
3.22.11 -- “Young Scholars Charter School Faces Scrutiny over Ties with Islamic Leader” --
2.10.11 -- “Texas Senate Honors Islamist Imam, Fethullah Gulen” by Donna Garner --
The Texas Senate passed SR 85 on Jan. 25, 2011. Guess who was honored: Fethullah Gulen. “WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize Fethullah Gˇlen for his ongoing and inspirational contributions to the promotion of global peace and
Here is the link:
The authors of SR 85 are Senators Lucio, Fraser, Huffman, Nelson, and Van de Putte: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/history.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SR85
Now look at how this action by the Texas Senate was viewed by the people in Turkey. This link is to a Turkish newspaper article that covered this “momentous” decision:
3.3.11 -- “7 More Journalists Detained in Turkey” by Sebnem Arsu --
10.17.10 -- “TIZA, an Islamic Public School, Threatens and Intimidates Witnesses in ACLU Lawsuit” --
8.16.10 -- “Fethullah Gulen: Infiltrating the U.S. Through Our Charter Schools?” by Guy Rodgers of Act! for America --
5.25.10 -- “Bill Gates Funds Gulen Islamist Movement” -- by Paul Williams, Ph.D.
3.29.10 -- “Islamist Gülen Movement Runs U.S. Charter Schools” by Stephen Schwartz --