Monday, February 27, 2012

A Rosetta Stone for the so called Gulen Charter Schools

This article is related to Gulen Schools | Gulen Charter Schools | Gulen Inspired Schools.
May be they will get it if it is said in Latin: Illic Est Haud Talis Res Ut Gulen Pactum Schola! There is no such thing as a Gulen Charter School! Fethullah Gulen said it himself in several settings1. The so called Gulen Charter School administrators explained it many times. But they still don't get it, and probably won't get it no matter how many different languages it is translated into or how many different contexts it is articulated in. But let's give it another shot.

Quid est Carta Schola? What's a charter school anyway?

US Department of Education defines a charter school as "a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract or charter with the state; the charter exempts the school from selected state or local rules and regulations. In return for funding and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards articulated in its charter.

Reiterating the definition, a charter school is a public school run by an independent entity. In order to run a charter, one needs to draft and sign a contract with the state or district board of education. In the contract, the authorizer could grant some level of autonomy and freedom from several rules and regulations. Per the agreement, a charter school may develop its own curriculum, or set its own educational program, or hire its own staff, of course all under the oversight of the authorizing agent. Another aspect of charter schools is that they are schools of choice. The voluntary enrollment makes a charter school more accountable before the board of education, and more importantly before the parents and students.

US Charter Schools, a site supported by US Department of Education and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, add the following to the definition "The charter establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.So unlike traditional public schools, charter schools cannot stay open unless they deliver high quality education.

EdReform has a short list of frequently asked questions4, clarifying several other aspects of charters schools. The following fast facts that can be derived from similar FAQ sites.

* Charter schools are public schools that operate under the federal and state laws. There are very specific education articles that each and every charter school has to comply with.

* Charter schools are mostly founded by non-profit organizations which are required to report not only their financials but also their operations to keep their non-profit status.

* Charter school authorizers monitor and oversee the charter schools in their district. They audit charter school financials, operations and academic performance at least annually with a very fine-toothed comb. Depending on the severity of findings, schools are required to fix those issues within a cure period, and if due diligence is not followed, their charter can be revoked.

Qui est Gulen? And what's Gulen got to do with charter schools?

How about the other part of the clause? Who is Fethullah Gulen and how is related to charter schools? A little research shows that Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish preacher, educator, author and a Muslim scholar currently living in the US.

Gulen Institute, a Houston based non-profit organization, introduce Fethullah Gulen as "the initiator and inspirer of the worldwide social movement of human values known as the Hizmet (Service) Movement or Gulen Movement. Focused on education where secular curricula are taught by teachers who aspire to represent high values of humanity, this social phenomenon defeats easy categorization.

It is not only the sociologists that have difficulty in categorizing Gulen Movement, but also the educators in analyzing the movement's contribution to education. Dr. Muhammed Cetin, the author of "Gulen Movement: Civic Service without Borders"6, the most extensive study so far on the movement, explains the misunderstanding as follows: "The use of terms like 'Gulen schools' can arise from ignorance or disinformation. If the term 'Gulen schools' is equated with, for example, Montessori schools (where a particular training and qualifications are required for personnel and a specific methodology is used), it leads to misunderstanding."

Dr. Cetin suggests Gulen-Inspired Schools as the correct term, "Because of its brevity, outsiders tend to use 'Gulen schools' rather than 'Gulen-inspired schools', but the shorter term seems to imply some sort of central control of activities and even an ideology, while the second makes it clearer that there is no centralization in the movement. Gulen movement participants tend to use the Turkish term hizmet (volunteer services) for the projects and services they provide. This is a solution for the inconsistency in naming the Gulen movement and the institutions it inspires and in clarifying their identity for outside observers."

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