"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Publicly funded "Turkish" schools in Texas

The end product of the American public school monopoly

Ending the insane Government - Labor Union monopoly of public education is a high priority.  The Charter School movement and voucher programs are important in introducing competition to education.

Your Editor feels it is time for all religious and secular groups to jump into the education pool.  We need to bring back real education and discipline to the classroom. 

Harmony Science Academy - Waco students with Governor Perry.

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 reports the New York Times.

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 but also a growing assemblage of smaller vendors selling school lunches, uniforms, after-school programs, Web design, teacher training and even special education assessments.

Soner Tarim, Harmony's superintendent, said the schools are
separate from the Gulen movement, a Turkish religious group.

Some of the schools’ operators and founders, and many of their suppliers, are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher 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.

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.

Starting Charter Schools

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.)

Students in Harmony School of Innovation - El Paso
 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.

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.”

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.

Levent Sakar tested a homemade hovercraft in his physics
class at Harmony Science Academy High School. The larger
point of the project was developing excitement about science
for his students, he said.

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.

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.

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