Putting Foolish Labels: “Gulen Charter Schools”

M. Fethullah Gulen
M. Fethullah Gulen


Date posted: February 2, 2011

A recent article on Leave Charters Alone grabbed my attention about charter schools, their relative accomplishments within their short history and the baseless attacks on these schools some of which have been deliberately labeled as Gulen Charter Schools.

Author starts his/her article with an allusion to the recent movie (Waiting for Superman) about charter schools: Stories related to charter schools and their self-described movement has lately been featured in the media probably more than it has been for the past five years combined. This increase in public attention is indebted to many factors such as dedication of updated resources to the movement by the Obama administration and the latest documentary by Oscar winning director Davis Guggenheim, “Waiting for ‘Superman’”. As it has been the case wherever money is involved, the issue stirred a hot debate, emotions ranging from characterizing charter schools as the new savior of the broken education system to the latest demons to hijack money from our much-needy schools.

….. The charters that achieved the reputation of being “high-performing” paved their success in this “high-accountability” period. Today there are dozens of these schools such as nationwide KIPP schools, California’s Green Dot public schools, Texas’ Harmony public schools or New York’s Harlem Success Academy. These charters have long track records and are subject to increasing public scrutiny.

After giving a few reasons for the students re-entering traditional public school system, the author unfolds a recent misconception about a group of charter schools: On August 17, 2010, USA Today ran a story on Texas’ acclaimed Harmony Public School. In the article, Ed Fuller, a University of Texas-Austin researcher, was quoted “It’s not hard to be ‘Exemplary’ if you lose all the kids who aren’t performing” (www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-08-17-turkishfinal17_CV_N.htm).

More than one month later Harmony was featured on Texas Tribune on September 27, 2010 with a title “What Drives High Achievement At Harmony Charters?” (www.texastribune.org/texas-education/texas-education-agency/what-drives-high-achievement-at-harmony-charters-/). This time Fuller conceded that the percentage (Fuller reported the network’s attrition rate as 50% in USA Today) was merely an estimate based on an informal review of high school-level data, not a comprehensive study. Fuller also said that he did not find that the students who left had significantly lower test scores than those who stayed. This is an example of the same account reported in two completely different ways.

How come a researcher like Ed Fuller falls into the trap of declaring unverified data? Is it because of some sort of pressure on him to publish those bogus data? Or is it something else that we don’t know? Why did he make his claims so confidently on national level and then pulled in his horns on statewide level? Besides, which data are we going to trust from now on? What is worse, there are substantial amount of people basing their accusations and attacks on these unverified facts, using such data or similar ones to attack certain charter schools and label them ‘Gulen Charter Schools’. This ‘Gulen Charter School’ concept, by the way, has recently become a popular tag. There are plenty of amateur free-to-buy websites and blogs that have started an unprecedented smear campaign on so-called Gulen Charter Schools. It is not easy task to determine their main causes, because, so far, in charter movement history, no such smear campaign has launched on any charter school group with all various blogs and amateur websites. Ironically, this campaign is performed against one of the most successful charter school chains in Texas or in any other state. It is also not fair to call these schools “Gulen Charter Schools” giving credit to Fethullah Gulen who repeatedly insisted that he has no ties with these schools in any way (see the same USA Today article). If there is a success story, it belongs to teachers, parents, administrators and of course the students of these schools. We should refrain from putting simplistic labels such as Gulen Charter Schools.

On one occasion, I saw a mini-article claiming that Math-Count is a Gulenist organization. That is just plain ignorance, not knowing the years-long American tradition. When you combine your ill-intention with utterly ignorant approach, you just come up with nothing but some embarrassment. How can someone be filled with so much hatred and ignorance at the same time? Like I said above, it is not easy to find out the main motives of people attacking charter schools and labeling them with something (Gulen Charter Schools) Americans have never heard until recently. Maybe this labeling (Gulen Charter Schools) is the 21st century version of a new opposition in American society. We have already wasted the 20th century with labeling people, groups and organizations and this century will put the burden on the shoulders of those labeled ones: get rid of your “Gulen Charter School” or any other label if you can!

After seeing Ed Fuller’s initial accusation and subsequent deflation, I wonder if other accusations of those attackers (on the same blogs) are the products of same helter-skelter approach. The attacks and accusations are solely based on rumors with no academic credibility. At the end of the day, it is curious to know the thing operating behind the curtain. Are “Gulen Charter School” attackers doing this just because they are against charter schools or they really care about our children’s education or they want to add more fuel to their Gulen antagonism? Throughout the history, seemingly innocent intentions have turned out to be a part of a bigger plan.

To make long story short, having served and positively changed the lives of hundreds and thousands of children, charter schools, just like any other schools, deserve to get rid of foolish labels put by clumsy researchers and ill-intentioned people.

Source: http://www.harmonyparent.com/charterschools/a-vivid-example-of-putting-foolish-labels-%E2%80%9Cgulen-charter-schools%E2%80%9D/


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