Will Connecticut become home to the next Gulen-affiliated Charter School?

(Co-written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

Note:  Over the next few weeks, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education will be reviewing and approving applications for new charter schools in Connecticut. This is the first in a series of posts about some of the applicants for these publicly funded charter schools.

“Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish author, educator, and Muslim scholar.” (Wikipedia)

“Fethullah Gulen is a major Islamic political figure in Turkey, but he lives in self-imposed exile in a Poconos enclave and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.”  (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2011)

“Controversial Muslim preacher, feared Turkish intriguer—and “inspirer” of the largest charter school network in America.”  (City Journal, fall 2012)

Date Line Connecticut;

On April 7th 2011, Nebi Demirsoy, in his capacity as President of the Connecticut chapter of the Turkish Cultural Center – presented Governor Dannel P. Malloy with the Center’s “Statesman of the Year Award.”

Last year, on March 8, 2012, Nebi Demirsoy, in his capacity as Executive Director of the Connecticut chapter of the Peace Islands Institute presented Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, with the organization’s “Educator of the Year” award. 

Other guests in attendance at the March 8th gala included Congressman Chris Murphy, Governor Dannel Malloy, Speaker of the House of Representatives Christopher G. Donovan, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin Ryan and State Board of Education Chairman Allan B. Taylor.  Both Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor addressed the audience.

The Peace Islands Institute – CT, the entity giving Commissioner Pryor the award, is part of a broader organization with offices in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. 

The Honorary President of Peace Islands Institute is Fethullah Gulen.

In addition to serving as President of the Turkish Cultural Center and the Executive Director of the Peace Islands Institute, Nebi Demirsoy also serves as the President of the Putman Science Academy; a Gulen associated private boarding school located in Putnam, Connecticut.

This year, among the 24 applications submitted to Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and the Connecticut State Board of Education for new state funded charter schools was a charter school application submitted by Ismail Agirman.  The new charter school would be built in New Haven.

Ismail Agirman is the treasurer of Wellspring Cultural and Education Foundation, Inc.

Bringing the circle to completion, Wellspring is the corporate entity that operates the Putnam Science Academy.

CAMS – A New Charter School for Connecticut

Calling themselves the Connecticut Academy of Math and Science (CAMS), Agriman’s application was one of the nine proposals for new charter schools in Bridgeport, four charter schools in New Haven and two schools in Hartford and Windham.

Although the State Board of Education does not require support from local education officials, formal or informal support is considered a valuable asset.  The year before Stefan Pryor was awarded the “Educator of the Year” award, the Turkish Cultural Center gave their “Education Award” to New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo, the New Haven education official whose support for the new Connecticut Academy of Math and Science charter school would be invaluable.

In addition, according to the New Haven Independent, two of the nine members of the proposed Connecticut Academy of Math and Science board of directors have important political connections; Deputy Speaker of the House Kevin Ryan and Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.

Deputy Speaker of the House Kevin Ryan has been connected with the Turkish Cultural Center for a number of years, having traveled on one of the Cultural Center’s trips to Turkey. 

Meanwhile, Chief Higgins was previously presented with a Turkish Cultural Center Appreciation Award at an even in July 2010.

What is a Gulen Charter School?

As reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post, 60 minutes, the New Yorker, the New Republic and elsewhere, by successfully maximizing state charter school laws around the country, there are at least 135 schools, operating in 26 states and enrolling more than 45,000 students that are associated or affiliated, in one way or another, with the controversial Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gulen. 

As publicly funded charters, these schools pull in over $400 million a year in taxpayer funds. 

The total number of schools and the amount of public funds that they collect make the Gulen charters, as they are often called, the largest charter school chain in the United States.

Fethullah Gulen’s followers, which often refer to themselves as a “faith-based, civic society movement,” include about 4 to 6 million people.  While they make up only a fraction of the 74 million Turks, they are considered one of the most powerful political forces in Turkey.

It is unclear what, if any role, these various activities may play in the success or failure of application being put forward by the Connecticut Academy of Math and Science (CAMS).  What is clear is that the charter school applicants have engaged in a masterful job of building bridges to the state officials behind Connecticut’s unprecedented effort to expand the role of charter schools in the state.

Even the most rudimentary research will highlight the controversies surrounding the Gulen associated or affiliated schools;

“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.”  (New York Times, June 2011)

“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…. in some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.”  (New York Times, June 2012)

“FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education – were investigating whether some charter school employees were kicking back part of their salaries to a Muslim movement founded by Gulen known as Hizmet.”  (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2011)

“The schools are also H-1B visa factories. (These visas are supposed to be reserved for highly skilled workers who fill needs unmet by the American workforce.) In 2011, 292 of the 1,500 employees at the Gülen-inspired Harmony School of Innovation, a Texas charter school, were on H-1B visas, the school’s superintendent told the New York Times.  (Washington Post, March 2012)

“The FBI has investigated Concept Schools, which operate 16 Horizon Science Academies across Ohio, on the suspicion that they illegally used taxpayer money to pay immigration and legal fees for people they never even employed, an Ohio ABC affiliate discovered. The FBI’s suspicion was confirmed by state auditors. Concept Schools repaid the fees for their Cleveland and Toledo schools shortly before the ABC story broke, but it’s unclear whether they have repaid—or can repay—the fees for their other schools.”  (City Journal, fall 2012)

Check back for more on this interesting issue.

You can read other New England media coverage and perspectives on Gulen charter schools at the Boston Globe:  http://bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/02/21/turkish-born-educators-seek-expand-charter-schools-massachusetts/SmJnApodZogoT1esK2NQVN/story.html, the Portland Press Herald:  http://www.pressherald.com/news/proposed-charter-school-linked-to-turkish-imam_2013-02-17.html and on the website of fellow blogger, EduShyster, whose most recent post on Gulen School can be found at: http://edushyster.com/?p=2063

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    How quickly we forget Sun Young Moon. Now we have Gullen coming to help the Bridgeport masses. Check out the expose on 60 minutes. Sounds like a perfect edushyster for Pryor and Malloy. They can go hide out with him in the Poconos if he is still alive (Remember Francisco Franco who at last report is still dead). Where is the CEA on all this crap? They have an extra bedroom in the Poconos for them too.

    • brutus2011

      Yes, where are our teacher’s union leadership–local, CEA, and AFT. This is getting spooky. Almost like an alien colonization conspiracy television series ….

      • Linda174

        And don’t forget the report by Joel and Condoleezza warning that our education system was a national security crisis…..maybe they should be forewarned. Unless of course they already received a Grand Puba award and now they are beholden to the Turks.

        You can’t even make this crap up anymore.

      • Magister

        The unions are Neville Chamberlain and schools are the Sudetenland.

      • George P

        I agree totally. I have taken the union to task in the past for lack of real action on this stuff. They produce a few feel-good fluff ads about how much teachers love your kids, which is really nice, but there is nothing in the way of exposing the ugly, incestuous relationships of these groups and the legal and financial web of deceit. The CEA needs to grow a set of balls.

        • brutus2011

          “the legal and financial web of deceit” really says it all!

  • brutus2011

    Also I am at the point of going to Hartford or DC and carrying a protest sign–even if I go by myself and get labeled as a nut.

    • jonpelto

      Don’t worry – if you go to washington or DC – it will be like going to the mad hatters tea party – where everyone is “mad” – you’ll fit right in as a nut.
      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

    • msavage

      49,999 other people and I tried that in connection with the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama’s response? At the very moment we were standing in front of the White House in the freezing cold, he was in Florida, on the golf course with Tiger Woods and a billionaire oil exec. But it’s still worth it, in my book. It was a large showing of the public will and by ignoring it, if he ignores it, Obama sends a clear message to the pubic–he is no longer working for us.

      I believe that the political machine in this country is so broken that the regular methods of seeking democracy–putting pressure on local legislators, petitioning, writing letters, filing lawsuits, etc.–are no longer working. It’s going to take huge shows of public support to even have a chance at making a difference. Even then, all bets are off. If you take a good, hard look around and are really honest with yourself–don’t you see a civilization in decay? It has become a free-for-all. Every day we get up to find that some new authority figure has been caught in a corrupt act, or some poor soul has snapped and has taken their own life and/or the lives of family members. We are on a slow slide toward collapse, and it’s gonna take a whole lot more than talk to halt it, if halting it is even possible. So anyone who feels an inclination to get up, go out there and protest like hell, I applaud that. It’s human nature to deny how bad things have gotten here in the U.S. I’m sure that citizens of the Roman Empire were probably denying things until the bitter end as well. But if decent folks don’t fight like hell for what they know is right, we’re toast as a society, in my opinion–and in the opinions of many other people out there who are a hell of a lot smarter/better informed than I am.

    • consider coming to DC on April 4-7 for United Opt Out National: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform. Amazing speakers and activities. You won’t feel like a nut around the likes of Diane Ravitch and Brian Jones! http://unitedoptout.com/the-official-schedule-for-occupy-doe-2-0-the-battle-for-public-schools/

  • Sue

    I try to click on the ad links Jon has here – I believe he gets something in his financial goody bag when we do.

    It’s probably a great way to thank him for his work.

  • msavage

    I note that Wendy Lecker and Jon have co-authored this article. Might I suggest another useful joint venture? Having just tried to opt my child out of the CMTs this year (and being completely stonewalled by district administrators), I would suggest that a very useful resource might be research into the legalities behind opting out (specific to CT statutes), and the creation of a framework for parents to follow when seeking to opt their child out of the testing process.

    • jonpelto

      I agree 100% – that definitely needs to be a very high priority!

      Other states are allowing opt outs so we’ll find out what laws they are relying on.

  • Magister

    The Gulen Putnam Science Academy is local to me. I have not heard positive things regarding their academic quality, treatment of staff, and other policies.

    Since our schools are so bad it’s a “national security risk,” it makes perfect sense to hand them over to shadowy Islamic imams . . .

    • Magister

      And whom will these new Gulen schools serve? The one by me has all Turkish students and mostly Turkish faculty, as far as I can tell.

  • Sue

    Great diary by TeacherKen on the financial reasons that hedge funds love charters


  • Apartheid First

    Incredible! I can only imagine what is in store for Windham. I’m sure there is some fundamentalist group somewhere feting Pryor and Malloy right now.

  • It’s about time we solicit International Funds to save CT schools! I’m all for it. Turkish Funds, Chinese, Russian, Israeli–we need hordes of foreign investment into Charters in order to keep up with the rest of the world.

    I’ve got a great TV commercial in mind. Little 5 year old Hartford girl begging for international help . Little Hartford girl cites her demographics and the slim chances of her success under the present union system. It will make international hearts weep. America the great soliciting funds from the international community to save their schools. Little girl begs for Choice. Anything to save her from the Dickensian bleak houses run by the CFT and CEA.

    • The state of Michigan is taking over Detroit. Good things can happen here too!

  • buygoldandprosper

    Good for Dan! Our Connecticut Pasha did not have to fly to Ankara to
    put this deal together!

    Tips for Dan if you do find yourself on Turkish Air though…..

    –DO NOT TAKETHE BOYS WITH YOU IF YOU GO. Have them stay at home and watch Midnight Express instead. Stamford jail or even BP Correctional look like nice hotels in Davos compared to the old Sultanahmet Jail. While it is now a Four Seasons and might meet your high travel standards, the Turks have other places for bad boys.

    –The Turks know math well. They used big numbers to count Armenian dead but, oddly, seem to have forgotten those numbers. Typical of standardized testing, but convenient. I hope GULEN does a better job encouraging memory and history. Spelling as well. Big words like GENOCIDE with big numbers to match…one to two million dead.

    –DO NOT ACCEPT ANY MORE AWARDS from Nebi or any other Turks. You might think that it looks good on that work of fiction you call your curriculum vitae but to some it is very much like receiving a war merit cross from Der Fuhrer.

    –Just because Nancy failed to get congress to recognize history in ’07, and YOU have a selective memory, does not mean that anything Turkish can’t become a hot potato.
    Speaking of potatoes Dan… a little history. Turks are to Armenia what the English were to Ireland. $400 million buys a lot of Turkish Delight!

    Enough said, Paddy?

  • buygoldandprosper

    Dan and his “awards” collection…a regular pin-the-tail on the donkey. In this case…a real jackass, unlike Andrew Jackson.

    When is enough, enough with Dan? Answer–his greed and ambition knows no bounds. If B.H Assad had any nice hotels left and offered praise to Dan…he would be on the next flight promoting big ideas and basking in the spotlight. Maybe even cutting a few sweet deals for his cronies. Maybe coming up with some new visions for Connecticut.

    A Gulen Madrasa is a typical Malloy idea. How does Cathy feel about it Dan? Have you fitted her for a burka yet for her $200K Hartford sinecure?

    Gulen and Dan have several things in common…they both live behind fenced in compounds and both have shady financials along with arrogant world views. Both are as phoney as the day is long.

    Dan Malloy. Still selling out Connecticut to the highest bidder!

  • Leslie
    • Apartheid First

      This is absolutely frightening.
      A comprehensive, public educational system is what a democracy needs. The system is/was not so bad that we need to shred it.
      Most of these privatizing, ALEC-type, corporate think-tank financed educational reforms are about dismantling public education while destroying teachers unions. Anyone–and it is clear that they mean anyone–can have a chance to educate (and profit off of) American children–christian, muslim, zionist, creationist fundamentalists of all stripes clearly see an opportunity in the charter school movement.
      Dump it. Even the ones that seem to have no ideological or religious basis, like KIPP and Pryor’s Achievement First, are horribly segregated and militaristic.

  • buygoldandprosper

    Thank you Sue, for the link below. Clearly a must read!
    Now everyone can know exactly why hedge-hogs are so involved in “education reform” and why low life politicians like Dan Malloy continue to sell out America. They sort of turned the RULE OF SEVEN on it’s head.We pay for it all, in many ways. Shared sacrifice, as Dan would say.
    Dan is only devoted to public education around election time, not so his new found friends. Where did the Malloy kids go to school, again? After their run-ins with the law that is…

    “Thanks to a little discussed law passed in 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools and other projects in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit – as much as 39% — to help offset their expenditure in such projects. In essence, that credit amounts to doubling the amount of money they have invested within just seven years. Moreover, they are allowed to combine that tax credit with job creation credits and other types of credit, as well collect interest payments on the money they are lending out – all of which can add up to far more than double in returns. This is, no doubt, why many big banks and equity funds are so invested in the expansion of charter schools. There is big money being made here — because investment is nearly a sure thing.
    And it’s not just U.S. investors who see the upside of investing in charters. Rich donors throughout the world are now sending money to fund our charter schools. Why? Because if they invest at least $500,000 to charters under a federal program called EB-5, they’re allowed to purchase immigration visas for themselves and family members — yet another mechanism in place to ensure that the money keeps rolling in.
    Proponents of education reform insist that investments like these are all about how successful charter schools are, and show how much support they’ve garnered in just a few short years. But it’s hard to take this on faith when there are billions of dollars of profit—and, for some, a path to U.S. immigration—at stake in these investments.”

    • JMC

      Yes, Sue’s link below to Kos is excellent. I hadn’t known that the TN Commish of Education is M. Rhee’s former husband and a TFA’er.

      • Linda174

        And he has primary custody of the girls for obvious reasons….not sure you are up on KJ’s past with teen girls.

  • Apartheid First

    For some reason, Chinese is the foreign language of choice in many charter schools and magnets… Check out Adamowski’s work in Hartford and now in Windham, where no one but him wanted Chinese (not that it is not a beautiful language, but they cut French, amputated Latin and basically treat Spanish as not a language but a liability… ) Chinese is supposed to be the wave of the employment future–but it is often delivered by a bizarre low-cost labor force with teachers supplied through the Confucious Institute, which has some affinities to this Gulen operation.
    Anyway, I guess since they are admitting that the holders of the majority of US debt bonds need to be addressed in their native tongue, I’d just like to know how to say “sweat shop” and “union” in Chinese (I suspect that “sweat shop” is a chinese neologism, “walmart”).

    • Magister

      The rationale for Chinese that I keep hearing is global economics; as if all students are going into international business. It used to be Japanese, and before that, Russian. There is the “canon” of traditionally offered foreign languages (Spanish, French, Latin), and then the ever-changing language of whomever the elite are afraid of.

      • msavage

        “and then the ever-changing language of whomever the elite are afraid of”

        This is a very interesting, and plausible, explanation.

  • John….have you heard about this one! http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/TOB/S/2013SB-00374-R00-SB.htm

    • jonpelto

      Ah…. No… wow… speechless.

      Will check it out


    • Linda174

      Another unfunded mandate? Who performs this task? What are the qualifications? Are parents notified? Is the student taken out of class? Do they lose instructional time? Whose bright idea is this?

  • Reading through this thread I continue to look for the union solution to much-needed education reform. Tada! The CTA and CEA mental deficients don’t have one solution except the status quo!
    Let’s have a revolution just for fun!
    DH Lawrence

  • msavage

    If you needed any more confirmation that both parties are firmly in control of the elite (aside from Arne Duncan and about a half-dozen other Obama appointments), here is news that, for me, shuts the door on any hope for this administration: http://www.wfsb.com/story/21449153/obama-to-tap-walmarts-burwell-for-budget-chief. Read down–not only does Burwell have Walmart connections, but she’s affiliated with the Gates foundation, as well.