The U.S. State Department raised serious and repeated concerns about Turkish charter schools in America, sending cables to the CIA, Secretary of Defense and the President’s National Security Council. Special attention was paid to the large number of Turkish nationals with questionable credentials seeking visas to teach at schools such as Ohio’s Horizon Science Academies, which are linked to a controversial Islamic faith leader.
A review of over one hundred diplomatic cables made available at WikiLeaks found numerous warnings about underqualified applicants for teaching visas. One cable states that applicants “might be using the reputation of the school as a cover to get to the US.” Another,ominously observed there is “considerable debate” about whether members of their faith movement were “a threat to secular governments.”
Fethullah Gulen is an exiled Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. He is currently the subject of an extradition request on charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government. Gulen has millions of well-organized followers in central Asia and his organization is said to have “some of the characteristics of a cult.” Gulen’s followers founded and administer a number of charter schools, including Ohio’s Horizon Science & Noble Academies.
These schools import the majority of their administration staff and many of their teachers on work visas from Turkey and neighboring countries. Secret diplomatic cables show that the “evasiveness” of the applicants and their “uneven at best” qualifications left State Department employees “uneasy.” They voiced these concerns to the top levels of government and even suggested the Department of Homeland Security should investigate the schools.
Memos Back Ohio Teacher Testimonies
Teachers who had worked at Dayton’s Horizon Science Academy made headlines last month when they told the state school board about apparent test tampering, attendance padding, Turish teachers who could barely speak English and even an incident when parents were not told their adolescent children were caught having oral sex at a school function.
Many of the teachers’ observations are supported by the cables. In one memo, the US consulate observed Turkish visa applicants with an “inability to speak English” and a “lack of understanding of basic math concepts (when they were going to teach math or science subjects).”
In another memo, federal officials note that Gulen schools in Turkmenistan can only employ teachers who are “fully qualified in the field.’’ Teachers employed by traditional public schools in Ohio must have a college degree and teach in the area or grade level in which they are licensed. Ohio charter schools, however, are exempt from that requirement
This led ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg to ask, “Why are Ohio charter schools not required to employ only qualified teachers? Taxpayers should be outraged these schools are hiring teachers who aren’t even qualified to teach in their home countries.”
Rothenberg continued, “America’s top intelligence and diplomatic personnel confirmed what a panel of Ohio teachers told the state board of education: Many of the teachers and administrators at these schools are unqualified, and students and taxpayers are suffering because of it. The only entity that doesn’t seem to understand the severity of the problem is the state school board.’’
Excerpts from Secret Cables
Over a quarter million previously secret diplomatic cables were published by WikiLeaks. ProgressOhio review approximately one hundred of them referencing Fethullah Gulen and found the following:
- “There is considerable debate whether the Gulen movement represents a threat to secular governments. Skeptics argue the Gulenists seek to transform societies from the inside-out by developing sympathetic elites in a country’s government and business circles. […] Gulenists’ penchant for secrecy raises questions. For example, Gulenists seeking U.S. visas at the Embassy often are evasive about their religious views and their work-related duties in the U.S. (NOTE: Many U.S. visa applicants at the Embassy seek to work at Gulenist-linked schools in the U.S.)”
- “…there are concerns that Gulenist charter schools in the U.S. are capitalizing on the local successes to petition for visas for marginally qualified temporary workers.”
- “While on the surface a benign humanitarian movement, the ubiquitous evasiveness of Gulenist applicants — coupled with what appears to be a deliberate management of applicant profiles over the past several years — leaves Consular officers uneasy, an uneasiness echoed within Turkey by those familiar with the Gulenists.”
- [I]n summer/fall of 2008, the consular section received a number of visa applications for highly-skilled temporary workers (H1B) to go teach in charter schools in the U.S. The applicants all had in common a tie to a Gulenist school, either in Turkey or in Turkmenistan. Their qualifications were uneven at best. Some were bona fide teachers with several years of experience and advanced degrees. Others claimed teaching experience by assisting, volunteering, or substituting at a Gulenist school (language center or high school) in Turkmenistan. These minimally-qualified applicants prompted further investigation, and it turns out that the charter schools in the U.S. are also part of the broader Gulenist movement. The minimally-qualified applicants, petitions were returned to DHS for revocation based on a lack of qualifications, such as theirinability to speak English, possession of degrees not related to the subjects that they intended to teach and further lack of understanding of basic math concepts (when they were going to teach math or science subjects).
- On the other hand, we are concerned by the link with charter schools in the U.S. that have petitioned for marginally-qualified H1B candidates … These applicants were simply not convincing…might be using the reputation of the school as a cover to get to the [United States]. Post, after discussions with others in the region that see similar applicants, recommends that these H1B candidates receive a high degree of scrutiny before any visas are approved…. Further, Consular Affairs, Fraud Prevention might, in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, wish to investigate or audit these Turkish-run charter schools in the U.S. for compliance with U.S. immigration law.