Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Conversation With Sheriff Tom Dart*

It only takes a couple of minutes a day to read another story about why we should be at least cognizant of the full nature of the Gulen Movement. For example, today in the Times, Tim Arango talks in depth about what the rest of the world seems to understand:
Whether the corruption charges are justified or not — there has been plenty of leaked evidence, especially wiretapped conversations, that appears incriminating — the corruption probe has laid bare the influence of the Gulen movement within the Turkish state, which had largely been suspected but hard to prove.
Read the whole thing.

Remember, this ultra-secretive network runs 147 charter schools here in the States. So, that's about 60,000 American students whose entire education (including the funding) is tied to individuals who are involved in something that's quite a bit more than what it appears to be at first glance.  If this meltdown in Turkey turns into a shooting match, then what? How does that play out here?

With the help of highly knowledgeable people, I've been documenting the influence-seeking behavior of the Movement here for some time. Last night, I saw Sheriff Tom Dart out in the Twittersphere, and I needled him a bit. It's what I do.

He didn't respond, of course, and I don't blame him. But after a day's reflection, I still think it's a pretty good question. They're clearly working him--- the invitation to speak at Niagara will undoubtedly be followed by an award or a junket. In fact, someone with press credentials should ask him if he's been to Turkey yet or gotten himself choreographed in an award video, like they do.

Weirdly, another #gulencharterschool watcher recently found an example of different sheriff who got the treatment and also a gig in the Movement for his retirement. 

These guys are good. I bet there's nothing in the world that could persuade this New Jersey sheriff to have a critical look at the evidence.

Hilal Kaplan, who writes for Al Jazeera from Istanbul, posted an intelligent piece two days ago about the Movement, quoting from a 1999 video clip from Gulen himself-- it's a quote widely known to people in Turkey and to others who study the Movement around the world:
"The existence of our comrades is the guarantee of the future of Islam. From this aspect, their presence in the law courts, or in the civil service, or in other service sectors, the existence of our comrades cannot be evaluated as being out of individual obligation. Rather, in these units, they are the guarantee for our future (...) without having formed a strong front in the constitutional institutions; any step we take will be too early. 
Until you have reached the correct saturation, until you have the strength to carry the world on your back, until you have laid claim to those things that represent power, until you have formed a powerful front in all of the constitutional institutions that are equivalent to the formation of the state in Turkey, every step you take will be a step too early."
So, that's the mindset, as far as I can tell. Every legislator, every  sheriff, every influential person needs to be cultivated as a friend for the long-term effort. And they less they know, the better.

*And by "conversation," I mean, "unrequited Twitter stalking."

New to the topic?
Please see some of my previous posts.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We Fund Turkish Turmoil With Our Schools

That's what people are going to figure out if there's ever a shred of accountability in charter spending in Illinois.

Never in my life did I ever expect to read so much about Turkey, but since there are four Gulen-linked schools here in Illinois (three publicly financed, one private), I'm keeping tabs on the goings-on in that ancient land.

Here's Princeton's Dani Rodrik, writing on his blog:

If the rest of the world really want to help Turkey

Here is the one paragraph version of what is happening in Turkey.
During the last decade in which he has been in power, Erdogan has allowed the Gulen movement to take control over the police, judiciary, and large parts of the state apparatus. The Gulen movement in turn established a republic of dirty tricks, with illegal wiretaps and video recordings, fabricated evidence, framing of innocent people, slander and disinformation as its modus operandi.  The monster Erdogan created eventually turned against him as the common enemy, the military and the rest of the secular establishment, were vanquished. He is now trying to slay the monster. That means purges, bringing the judiciary under his control, tightening the screws on the Internet and social media, and greatly expanding the powers of MiT, the national intelligence organization. The collateral damage for Turkish democracy – or what remained of it – is huge.
We cannot look at all this and focus only on what Erdogan is doing without at least acknowledging that the Gulenists also bear considerable responsibility for bringing the country to its current crisis. The idea that there was something like the rule of law or Turkey was democratizing before Erdogan began to tighten the screws on the Gulen movement is dangerous nonsense. Those who call on Erdogan to respect democracy and the rule of law should be calling on the Gulen movement to do the same. Otherwise, they end up taking sides in a war in which neither side looks pretty.
Here is an analogy. Suppose Erdogan was still fighting the military rather than the Gulenists. Americans’ and European criticism of Erdogan would be coupled with calls on the military to respect democratic rules. Otherwise, it would look like these outsiders were favoring one authoritarian force over another.
So that is why interventions like this and this are one-sided and not that helpful.
I don't often steal whole blog posts, but I certainly did it here, didn't I? Professor Rodrik is saying something remarkably similar to the things I've been saying on these pages about the influence the Gulen Movement has bought for itself here in sleepy old Illinois. After all, we have an entire House resolution praising Fethullah Gulen (thanks to Susana Mendoza), the text of which must have been drafted by the most ardent acolyte in Saylorsburg, and we also have a Gulen-aligned "Turkish Relations Task Force" (thanks to Toni Berrios and a bunch of others who received Gulen-sponsored junkets to Turkey).  We also have the strange, unnecessary Praise-to-the-Niagara (Gulen)-guy resolution, thanks to many of those same starry-eyed legislators, who were probably still jet lagged when they signed onto it. If these were private love notes, that would be one thing, but the legislature speaks for the state. And if you look at all the junkets, the awards, the dinners and lunches and general glomming onto anyone in state government, it becomes clear that the Gulen Movement has more direct access to Illinois policymakers than most people in the state.

Anyway, it's a complicated mess over there. It's also one here, because this very same movement has business before the state--- a growing charter school business, which has benefitted enormously from decisions made by people connected to junkets, appointed by junket-receivers, and connected at every level to an aggressive soft-lobbying and influence-building effort. 

In April, we'll be taking another look at the Movement, the charter schools linked to it, and the interconnectedness of the individuals involved. I have very little doubt at this point that if we ever get honesty-in-charters legislation (that is, if we ever get to see the books of these charter management organizations), we're going to see clearly that the schools fund the Movement. That is to say, the taxpayers fund the Movement. 

And down the road, I'll start to write about why that's a very bad idea, both here and back in Turkey, where the everyday people have to live in an opaque, unaccountable no-man's land of secrecy and corruption.

New to the topic?
Please see some of my previous posts.

The Grooming of Illinois Policymakers: Toni Berrios
Today's Gulen Charter School News
Gulen 101: Session One, With Sharon Higgins.
The Tribune And The Gulen Movement
When Does This Gulen Mess In Illinois Become A Scandal?
Eyes Wide Shut In Illinois
About That BBC Gulen Interview
Think About This For A Moment
The Tribune Is So Full Of It
About That Unauthorized Invitation
How Does It All Start?
The Movement, As Seen By Our Own Foreign Service
Fellowship Joins With The Movement
The Grooming Of Illinois Policymakers: Susana Mendoza
What Is Going On In These Schools?
The Phone Call That Won't Be Happening Any Time Soon
What This Gulen Mess Is Really All About
Read The Whole Thing
An Addendum To The Concept Story
Concept Schools Have Learned Rahm's Rules
Connecting The Dots In Charter Secrecy

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our Local Schools Need You!

Despite the half-hearted publicity from CPS and lack of attention from most public officials, it is time for LSC elections. Nominating forms are due into local schools by Wednesday, February 26 at 3:00 p.m., and elections will be held in early April.

These are our only elected representatives to CPS. Run~Vote~Visit!

Can Anyone Read Anymore?

I'd like to thank Beck Schlikerman for reporting in the Sun-Times about the totally inappropriate charter that CPS has awarded to Chicago Education Partnership. The details of the story confirm that this is basically a Christian school pretending not to be a Christian school during the daytime but in fact exerting pressure on the students to practice a particular religion.

It's absolutely wrong and it should be challenged in court.

I know that the Legislature doesn't believe that our state Constitution means anything anymore; after all, the pension clause is the clearest bit of language in the entire document and yet look at what the governor just signed regarding pensions.

However, it is worth pointing out that this new charter is completely unconstitutional.  Here's Article X, Section 3.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Grooming of Illinois Policymakers: Toni Berrios

If you want to understand the grooming of Toni Berrios,  you need a little background. Here's a recent piece in the Financial Times about the group behind America's largest chain of charter schools, the Gulen Movement.

So, while it's all very nice to have award ceremonies and dinners and lunchtime dialogues, you have to keep in mind that back home, the Movement is a complex phenomena that appears to have helped take down the former Turkish military "deep state" in part by infiltrating the judiciary, wiretapping basically everyone, planting evidence, and in general running roughshod on the idea of civil rights.  And now it's engaged in a mortal struggle with its former ally in that effort, the AKP, which is run by the much more overtly horrid prime minister. 

I imgine it's hard to believe, when everyone's so being so polite and giving you lunches and baubles and taking you on these lovely, lavish tours, that this very same movement can be complicit in a deeply undemocratic and corrupt history, but there it is. The rest of the world seems to understand it. The majority of the Turkish people do, at any rate. If I were writing the book of guidance for Illinois elected officials, the first suggestion I would make would be to proceed with caution and do a little reading.

Now, onto the soft lobbying and the grooming of more Illinois policymakers and the general seeking of influence. Once you understand that the Movement's central goal is to increase its own political influence, then all of this becomes clearer. I'm sure many of our Illinois policymakers have told themselves they're working on Turkish cultural relations, or whatever, but the truth is more like this: a transnational Turkish social-religious movement has been working on them for its own purposes.

 Thanks to the Sun Times, we all know that the Movement has been shuttling planeloads of (primarily Democratic but not entirely) Illinois policymakers over to the motherland for wonderful, lavish, guided junkets.  We've already looked at the grooming of Susana Mendoza, for example

Now let's look at Toni Berrios. They've been working on her since at least 2009, and it looks like it's paid off. Niagara (The main Chicago face of the Gulen Movement) sent her to Turkey in 2009.

I'm not sure what happened between 2009 and 2011 but they must have continuted to work on her because it started to pay off in 2011, when the Gulen effort in general began to show returns in Springfield. Like Mendoza, who sponsored a resolution praising Fethullah Gulen in 2011, Berrios herself went on to sponsor a couple feather-in-the-Gulen-cap items in Springfield. 

First she sponsored the creation of the Turkish Relations Task Force in May of 2011, along with some other individuals who've been on junkets. I bet you didn't even know we had such a task force but we do. Strangely, I've not been able to find the official list of whose on this task force, but Niagara has one online (although they spell her name incorrectly.) You have to admit it's odd to have a state task force created by the legislature and yet its membership is only discoverable on a Gulenist website. The task force is packed full of junket people, including Madigan's kid, the insurance guy. I'll get you an exact count when I have time, but there are a lot of junket recipients on this official Task Force.

[Just to review: these folks probably actually think they're on some Turkish Relations task force, but they're really on what would more accurately be called a Gulen Movement Influence-Building task force.] I wonder how many other special interest groups have gotten their own misnamed state task force, staffed primarily with people to whom they've given travel gifts. I'm thinking there can't be that many.  If this task force has the imprimatur of Illinois behind it, then isn't it fair to say that Illinois has taken sides in the internal strife of a foreign land? If you were a secular Turkish businessperson, and you were interested in starting something with Illinois, would you feel comfortable with the process being controlled in part by Gulen-influenced policymakers?]

Then in March of 2012, Berrios sponsored this weird one in Springfield: HR O907, a resolution congratulating one of the Niagara/Gulen guys for being named to the Chicago NATO Welcoming Committee. [Turkey is a NATO partner, and this was before the nuclear meltdown between Gulen and Erdogan.]  Here's part of the text of the resolution.

Nothing about wiretaps in there, is there? I ask you this question: did the State of Illinois really need to pass this kind of resolution for this one individual person? How did it come to pass? Did Toni Berrios write this thing? Or was it basically handed to her by the Movement? It's a nice resolution, for sure -- definitely worth the cost of the junket. As for the peace, love, and understanding bits of the actual wording of the resolution--- there are people sitting in Turkish jails right now --- journalists, even--- who would probably like to add some asterisks.

So, those are two little items that probably got gold-starred and stuck on the fridge in Saylorsburg.

Next, sometime around November of 2012,  Berrios trudged out of district up to Clark Street, where she did the obligatory three-question interview for the CMSA kid. It's a thing to behold. 

The kids are excited. Ok? They're not only excited, they're, um, excited, and she doesn't see that sort of thing in the schools in her own district, where the children are evidently slack-jawed zombies. Also, CMSA incorporate the arts "into the core of the STEM classes". She loves the arts. Also, the state doesn't have much money.

It's weird who gets elected in Illinois, isn't it? I've watched that clip five or six times now, and each time I just marvel over the miraculous possibilities of democracy.

To Summarize:

1. Gulen Movement: controversial, in the news, definitely more than a dialogue group, connected to charter schools.
2. Toni Berrios: receives junket to Turkey from the Movement in 2009.
3. Toni Berrios: joins as co-sponsor of HB690 in 2009, doubling the number of charter schools in Illinois along with a number of other junketeers.  This bill also got the state charter commission started. Joins as co-sponsor of the 2009 school voucher bill. 
3. Toni Berrios: subsequently sponsors the creation of a state "Turkish Relations" task force in 2011; the task force is staffed with lawmakers who have also been on Movement-sponsored junkets to Turkey.
4. Toni Berrios: subsequently sponsors a state resolution congratulating a Gulen Movement individual for that individual's being named (by Rahm?) to a welcoming committee for NATO. The same resolution conveys a description of the Movement that is highly disputed in Turkey and to anyone doing research on the nature of the Movement.
5. Toni Berrios: subsequently goes out of district to visit and film a testimonial for CMSA, a school identified in the Sun-Times as being linked to Fethullah Gulen. Other links have also been pointed out on this blog and more are coming. Remember, the company line is that these schools are not related at all to the Movement.

Two Notes

1. I too think the kids at CMSA are excited. They're great kids; if you look hard enough, you can find dozens of videos of them at school, doing the same things that kids do in schools everywhere. I've now worked in six schools and visited scores more. Kids are excited all over the place. It's what you see when you go into a school. Down the road, I will indeed be writing about CMSA, its staff, and its programming. It's pretty darned interesting when you start looking at patterns.

2. Please see my previous posts for my attitude toward the  Gulen phenomenon in Illinois. I've been clear about it from the start: I'm concerned about the closeness of a controversial, secretive international political movement to the governance of a chain of American public schools.

New to the topic?
Please see some of my previous posts.

The Grooming of Illinois Policymakers: Toni Berrios
Today's Gulen Charter School News
Gulen 101: Session One, With Sharon Higgins.
The Tribune And The Gulen Movement
When Does This Gulen Mess In Illinois Become A Scandal?
Eyes Wide Shut In Illinois
About That BBC Gulen Interview
Think About This For A Moment
The Tribune Is So Full Of It
About That Unauthorized Invitation
How Does It All Start?
The Movement, As Seen By Our Own Foreign Service
Fellowship Joins With The Movement
The Grooming Of Illinois Policymakers: Susana Mendoza
What Is Going On In These Schools?
The Phone Call That Won't Be Happening Any Time Soon
What This Gulen Mess Is Really All About
Read The Whole Thing
An Addendum To The Concept Story
Concept Schools Have Learned Rahm's Rules
Connecting The Dots In Charter Secrecy

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Unbelievably Complex Secret To Literacy

Taking a short break from the Gulen issue---- but not for long. Next, we'll look at the return-on-investment the Movement has gotten out of Toni Berrios.

But for tonight, let's listen to Stephen Krashen, one of the seminal figures in second language acquisition, bilingual instruction, and reading. He's talking before the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

In the world where we're living, these notions are radical and not discussed in polite company.

Have you been to the Rogers Park branch library lately? I have. Unbelievably talented, knowledgeable librarians, hordes of kids, not enough room, not enough books, not enough help. And yet, I sat there and read half a Wallace Stegner novel simply because it was on the shelf. That's how libraries work.

We need ten times the library resources that we have. The school libraries? I've only been in two in the neighborhood. Inadequate to say the least. The charter school libraries? I haven't seen them. Is there a library at the local Gulen-linked school? In my previous blog, I wrote pages about the library at the school where the mayor sends his kids.

Go out to the suburbs and look at the libraries. Then come back here and tell me why the kids who need the most books have the fewest. The very same kids are typically exposed to more reading tests than anyone else.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Today's Gulen Charter School News

In today's Gulen charter school news, well, as always, it's murky and interconnected.  Remember that the Gulen Movement runs something like 145 American public charter schools across the land, including schools here in Chicago.

Evidently in Maine, they have a state charter commission, too, except theirs is less idiotic than our own here in Illinois.  Looks like their commission is also empowered to overrule elected people. However, to their credit they've found some shall we say "discrepancies" in the Gulen Movement application for a school in Lewiston. Evidently the Movement people allegedly told some outright falsehoods in their application, including listing as supporters some people who clearly aren't supporters. Here's a photo from the Maine meeting; I've pointed out an individual we'll be talking about in a bit.

The article also indicates that the Maine commission is looking hard at the religious angle; it appears that in the Lewiston marketing plan, the Movement people are taking a less interfaith approach, not that I care. It's just nice that the Maine commission is at least behaving like it has a responsibility to ask questions.

“The bottom line is that, right or wrong, Gulen or not, the parents of this potential school likely view the school as matching well with their Muslim faith and quite possibly that is the only reason they would support the school,” Webster said.

Read the whole thing. In Maine, they ask questions. In Illinois, they line up for junkets and fake awards and the chance to perform odd, choreographed poses in marketing videos.

Incidentally, the Chicago connection here is that Huseyin Kara (above) has worked his way around the Gulen charter network, including time at Concept in Des Plaines ("President & Chief Executive Officer, Math Instructional Coordinator") from 2006-2009. He also served for a year at the ill-fated Wisconsin Career Academy, which was started by the man who is now Fethullah Gulen's right hand man and who tried to start Gulen schools in Oak Park and Des Plaines in 2000.

Kara was also a Board member of Horizon Educational Services in 2003 along with the current Concept president, Sedat Duman. Kara, Concept, Horizon, the Lewiston group--these guys move around a lot but they never leave the firm.

Mr. Kara is very busy repackaging the company story, which is starting to wear thin with anyone with access to a Google search.

*For more on Mr. Kara, see below.

[In a humorous aside, I learned today the Fethullah Gulen doesn't even have any affiliation with the Gulen Movement. He just lives in their house, sorta, if the Saudi Gazette has the story correct.

Alp Aslandogan, president of the Alliance for Shared Value, another Hizmet affiliate, said the center was “founded by Turkish-Americans living in the area” and run as a non-profit association.

Gulen, he explained, owns nothing and uses nothing more than a bedroom and a desk, leaving only for rare medical visits, he said.

You'll note that Mr. Aslandogan (Wisconsin Career Academy, failed charter attempts in Des Plaines and Oak Park) is identifying himself as the president of something you've never heard of. Once you start digging around, you begin to notice dozens of these affiliates that are basically alternate groupings of the same core collection of people. Between the archipelago of shell groups and the unfamiliar Turkish names, I'm pretty sure I know why the American press can't follow this story: it requires concentration. ]

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, they were fist fighting in Parliament yesterday.

Stolen from Reuters
Evidently the horrid, authoritarian prime minister (Erdogan) is trying to take over the independent judiciary to expedite the rooting out of his former allies, the Gulenists. Here's what you need to know.

So, it's really clean over there.  You just have to look past the pandemic corruption, the disregard for human rights, and the fact all of these people have basically gone to the mattresses against each other. But Gulen doesn't own the Compound so chill out and hand over your schools.

I can see why Maine is asking questions. The imam at the center of this Turkish drama? He's probably at this moment sitting not five feet away from the man who surely has these Lewiston guys on speed dial because they've been working together for years.

This movement -- it's bigger than US Steel, to quote a phrase. It's also wealthier and more organized so I'm glad people are starting to look into it.  And by the way, Al Capone didn't own Cicero but people understood who was in charge.

In case you missed it, and you probably did, some Turkish democrats braved the snow in Saylorsburg today and drove out to the Compound to make their voices heard. As far as compounds go, it looks pretty nice from the road. It must be weird inside, though. All these people milling around not having the slightest idea who anyone else is...

Gulen Compound Protest 2-15-14 from Tim Furman on Vimeo.

I like protesters with a sense of humor. They're talking about Gulen and Erdogan (the prime minister) being traitors.  I'll try to get it translated for you. If you're an Illinois legislator, just ignore it and enjoy your trip and your trophy.  The protestors are in step with the majority of the Turkish population, by the way. 
Some 60 percent of those polled describe their overall view of Gulen's movement as negative and 57 percent believe it to have established what Erdogan has described as a "parallel state" within the state bureaucracy.
Once again, for me the mystery of it all is the most interesting part of it. On the one hand we have a NATO country imploding into a civil cold war with an international imam-of-mystery at the very core of it all.  On the other hand we have an American charter school network run by the soldiers of the imam's army (to steal a title), who have never met or heard of each other and who are in no way connected,  who have correctly figured out that the American charter sector is precisely the one place in the States where oversight is specifically written out of the picture. And on the third  hand (yes, there are three hands in this metaphor) we have an American public so completely brainwashed about the state of education that it's basically unable to see the thing that's staring it right in the face.

Gulen 101: Session Two, With Sharon Higgins is now being planned; look for your invitation in the mail soon.

If you're new to the topic, please see some of my previous work:

Gulen 101: Session One, With Sharon Higgins.
The Tribune And The Gulen Movement
When Does This Gulen Mess In Illinois Become A Scandal?
Eyes Wide Shut In Illinois
About That BBC Gulen Interview
Think About This For A Moment
The Tribune Is So Full Of It
About That Unauthorized Invitation
How Does It All Start?
The Movement, As Seen By Our Own Foreign Service
Fellowship Joins With The Movement
The Grooming Of Illinois Policymakers: Susana Mendoza
What Is Going On In These Schools?
The Phone Call That Won't Be Happening Any Time Soon
What This Gulen Mess Is Really All About
Read The Whole Thing
An Addendum To The Concept Story
Concept Schools Have Learned Rahm's Rules
Connecting The Dots In Charter Secrecy

*This came in over the transom regarding Mr. Kara:

One Thing We're Working On...

This is from the the indefatigable Dave Madsen--

Charter School Authorization: Support Local Control

Last spring, 18 public school districts in the Fox Valley area denied a multi-district virtual charter school proposal.  The application for the charter came from a group called Virtual Learning Solutions (VLS) and would have diverted millions of dollars of taxpayers' money from our public schools and into the hands of K-12 Inc., a for-profit charter school provider with a terrible record of academic performance and accountability.  

VLS appealed all of the school board denials to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which consists of members handpicked by Governor Quinn.

Under state law, the appointed commission has the authority to overturn any locally-elected school board’s decision to deny a charter proposal.  For now,VLS and K-12, Inc. have withdrawn their appeals, but the threat still exists in the future.

here are two House bills for consideration by the Illinois General Assembly which, if working together, will preserve local decision-making. Both bills are sponsored by Representative Linda Chapa LaVia:

HB 3754 will dissolve the Illinois State Charter School Commission and return the statewide "charter authorizing" power to the Illinois State Board of Education.

HB 4237 states that if the State Charter School Commission or any other state entity (like ISBE) overturns a local school board decision to deny a charter school proposal, a local school district will hold a referendum vote to determine final approval.

Please call or write your State Representative to support both HB 3754 and HB 4237. 

In our area, Rep. Kelly Cassidy is already on board as a co-sponsor of HB 3754, so that's a bit of progress. As for our state senator-- don't get me started-- well, she's a huge believer in these appointed committees overruling elected boards.  You never know, in politics, though. 

Have you reached out to your legislators on this issue yet? This is much larger than this highly sketchy K-12 Inc. outfit. This is about how the kind of government we want in Illinois. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Message To Toni Berrios...

...who is, evidently, just vile.
Or she's fine with hiring vile campaign people. Either way, pony up, people. There's a good man ready to take her place.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Assessment Landscape -- Chris Tienken

Lots of people are sharing this excellent video; if you missed it, it's well worth the time. This is a guy who understands the medium.

RPNPS doesn't work on the questions related to the Common Core Standards, although I'm pretty sure most of the membership is with me on this one.  There was a time when I was young and silly when I thought a national curriculum was just what the country needed. I think it was when I was in graduate school; I had a really dynamic ed policy professor who kept saying something like, "there is no way to measure how well systems are working without a national curriculum." It made so much sense to me at the time.

But now I realize that this is pure bullshit. We have enough measurements in place without a national curriculum or national "standards" that aren't even close to being the same thing as curriculum, as a whole industry of non-teaching people keep saying. The tests keep measuring the same thing over and over and over-- which is to say, where the poverty is and where the money is.

There's a common refrain among very young teachers who have entered the profession in the era of the Common Core. They say it was so confusing before with fifty different sets of standards! As if this were ever a problem for anyone, anywhere. Yes, kids could move across the country and encounter school material that they covered in previous years back home. That will still happen under the Common Core, unless of course, the Common Core is a national curriculum.

On another blog, I once wrote about the parent who moved his kids from Massachusetts to Arizona--- he was amazed, amazed at how far behind the Arizona curriculum seemed to be. I was still pretty young then, but I asked him if he even bothered to spend five minutes researching the investment in education made by the two states or the respective concentrations of poverty.  Those differences will persist, and the data thrown off by the new tests will surely be weaved into a lie about teacher quality or evaluation systems or the benefits of two-year missionaries dabbling in urban ed.

We have long had the NAEP, the ACT, and the SAT. It's weird how these national tests manage to throw off data in the midst of so much confusion!

Good lord.

It's all been such a waste of energy. If you gathered ten thousand actual teachers in a room and asked them to compile a list of the top twenty things that could be done to improve public education in our nation, these national standards would not have made the list. They're so not about what ails us. When you look at the process behind the proliferation of the standards-- that's what ails us.

And now, for your amusement, a Common Core Visual Metaphor:

Put that on your adaptive, computerized test that nobody needs.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut In Illinois

As you know, I've been writing about the fact that one of our big charter networks is connected in a very fundamental way to a figure in a foreign political crisis, a phenomenon I find unique and worthy of discussion.

The Guardian is currently running a story about the Turkish police,  which are pretty much being purged of Gulen Movement members, who had apparently established themselves as a secretive force within a force, if you will.  The authoritarian prime minister of Turkey is in a political death match with Fethullah Gulen, his former ally, and this police purge is part of that unpleasant divorce.

Türker Yilmaz* was not long into his police academy training when he realised how the system worked. The good jobs, the better pay, the promotion prospects all depended on your dedication to a shadowy Islamic network with its headquarters based in Pennsylvania.
"They kept tabs on every recruit, had a grading system from zero to five – five being the ones who prayed, fasted, never drank alcohol," the policeman said, referring to the movement founded by the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile in the US.

The officers welcomed the backlash against the network inside the police but stressed that it should not serve to legitimise corruption. "Of course I want those who are corrupt to be punished. I am not defending corruption at all. But these purges were long overdue," said Yilmaz. "The government knew about this. It was the government in the first place who enabled them, who helped them, they came to power together. Helping them was the government's biggest mistake."
Gün spoke of a huge sense of relief among his colleagues that the police were being cleared of the network. "It really was an atmosphere of deep paranoia. Even if it seemed technically impossible for every single officer's phone to be tapped, we were all afraid of being spied on all the time."
The pressure was subtle, but constant: "Nobody would force you to pray, or fast during Ramadan. But they kept tabs on all of that, on everyone. Nobody talked about it. Everybody knew, but nobody dared to discuss the issue. This has started to change."
It's a fascinating piece. Read the whole thing. The religious aspect of it doesn't always make it into the press, even I avoid it on this blog, but there it is, in The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the next Niagara Foundation event here in Chicago is scheduled for May. We don't know who's going to get trophies from these guys, and we certainly don't know which political figures have been accepting travel gifts from them, whether "authorized" or not. All we know is that it's strange that very few people can even bring themselves to talk about the fact that there's more to this movement than meets the eyes.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's human nature not to criticize someone who's given you an award or toured you through a beautiful ancient land. Given the wide array of Democrats who've gotten onto planes with members of the Gulen Movement, and given the Democratic control of our state government, I wouldn't hold my breath for anyone in office to call for an investigation.

Alarmist? No. I actually think that this kind of behavior---soft lobbying, influence peddling, secret societies-- has a long history here in the States. What's different about it is the connection to public education, the closeness of actors in a foreign crisis to the privatized American public schools, and the sheer numbers of Illinois politicians who are determined to keep their eyes wide shut.

Would the Movement ever try to gain a foothold in our own justice system? It's a tactic that worked well for them back home for a very long time. Probably not. I think they're doing very well with the charter school growth curve, and that's probably enough.

But I'll leave you with some random screenshots of people who have been showered with awards by the Movement here in Chicago.

Friday, February 7, 2014

About That Unauthorized Invitation

Let's return to the question of CMSA, shall we?

In case you missed it, there was a rather odd paragraph in the December Sun-Times expose of CMSA's relationship with the Gulen Movement and its success in having a charter approved through the obscure, appointed state charter commission.

Here's the paragraph:

Odd, isn't it? It's an article detailing what amounts to a travel agency for dozens of Illinois Democrats run by the Niagara Foundation, Chicago's main Gulenist organization.  And yet, this one invitation has a whiff of extra impropriety about it. Alderman Moore was invited to go to Turkey by Concept's vice president, and yet the Niagara Foundation bothers to say that it was an unauthorized invitation. Is it because they don't like Joe Moore?

Hardly. They love the guy. He's an utterly empty vessel.

It's because the first rule of Fight Club  the prime directive of the Movement is to maintain the poorly constructed illusion that the Movement isn't connected to the charter schools, and the charter schools aren't connected to each other. That's all there is to it. Joe Moore sort of spilled the beans when he let it be known that his invite came right from the charter school guy, and that's why they have to say silly things in the press like the invitation was "unauthorized."

Fast forward to this week, and this beautifully written piece in the NYT by Suzy Hansen: Whose Turkey Is It? Read the whole thing; it explains in the clearest terms the lurch toward despotism that the Turkish people are enduring. This is just a clip here, and I admit it's a juicy one, but even out of context it gives you the sense of a deeply corrupt political partnership:

So, there's that. But like I say, read the whole thing.  The photography alone is worth it.  This horrific Turkish government, it was until a short while ago a partnership between a political party and a social/religious movement. These people being rounded up? The folks doing the rounding up were probably closely connected to some of the tour guides for the parade of Illinois Democrats, the total number of which may be unknowable.

Meanwhile, Turkey unravels.

I'm writing this to ask how it's possible that Illinois Democrats can continue to take these trips and accept all of these awards without acknowledging the deeply political nature of that behavior. There are people in the Turkish streets --- people not featured on the guided tours-- who might appreciate a little more critical thinking on the part of these fawning American visitors.

As for the charter schools connections--- well, I'll continue to present the evidence over time. Sometimes you have to point out every single tree before someone says, "Hey, it's a forest!"

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Standardized Testing Forum Tonight

6 PM, Haas Park.
The testing culture is out of control. It's basically become an industry for propping up sloganeering bureaucrats. There's nothing clean about any of these tests--- they don't measure what their cheerleaders say they measure, and they really don't help anyone know anything more clearly. If you just must test, the NAEP is enough. Kids in Chicago are tested to death, and the opportunity cost is staggering. But that's how we roll in the city: the kids who need the most get the least, and then they get poked, prodded, and categorized more than anyone else.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Appalling Mess In Columbus

Looks like the grifters took over the schools in Columbus, Ohio. It's an appalling enough story on its own, but when you look at the context---- how glorified by the Obama administration these people were-- it sort of clarifies the whole fog of disinformation in which public education is struggling to survive.

Read the whole thing over at Ohanian's. What an appalling mess it all is. This data-worship culture; it's like a magnet for really, really unsavory people.

The Policy Event of the Month

Next Week. DePaul. Be there.

For a couple generations, wise people have been saying that we have to change the way we fund schools in Illinois, as well as the way in which we tax ourselves, if we want to have a serious discussion about closing gaps. All the rest is pretty much pretend. 

And I'm pretty sure that flyer should say 2014. I'll fix it. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Reason To Oppose The State Charter Commission

Aside from it being an affront to the basic underlying principle of representative democracy, the State Charter Commission has evidently taken some kind of position on the Individuals With Disabilities Act that Rod Estvan explains clearly over at District 299.

Here's how Rod put it:

Access Living as an organization supports the legislation filed by Senator Kimberly Lightford (SB2627) and Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (HB3754) that would repeal legislation creating the Illinois State Charter Commission. Access Living requests that our sister organizations throughout Illinois, known as Centers for Independent Living also support these two bills, as should all individuals with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities who have benefited from our State’s laws relating to special education.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establishes a broad framework to define and regulate special education programs in the United States, but leaves to the states the responsibility for developing and executing educational programs for students with disabilities. IDEA compliance presupposes compliance with all State statutes, regulations and rules concerning special education. The Illinois State Charter Commission has challenged this position, asserting that charter schools are not subject to any State-imposed requirement that exceeds Federal special education statute and regulation.
We believe that by taking this position the Commission is authorizing charter schools to place as many students with disabilities as the school chooses to in any classroom, to create any teacher student ratio for special education the school chooses to, and to educate students with significant disabilities who require additional years of education only to their 21st birthday not the day preceding their 22nd birthday as currently required by state regulations if the charter school so chooses to do so.
Given this egregious determination by the Commission we believe the proposed legislation should pass the General Assembly and the Commission should be abolished.
Rod Estvan
Education Policy Director
Access Living of Chicago

So, there's that. Everyone's entitled to an opinion, and apparently the Commission is of the opinion that they don't have to do anything for students with disabilities beyond what is required by the federal government.

For me, it's enough that we have an obscure appointed commission with the ability to overrule elected school boards. That's just wrong. The only argument for it, the Tribune's argument, is that democracy doesn't work, and that sometimes you need to work around it. It's like the Fawn Hall argument, if you remember that one.

I've been running down the list of state lawmakers and I can't think of a single one who represents an area where the school board people are like You're right, we need the supervision of a bunch of unelected people.  Even Heather Steans -- don't get me started--  even she represents areas where they elect their school boards.* Those people care about this issue, and they're not likely to be happy about reporting to a group of charter zealots who never even bothered to run for office.

This whole premise that you hear of charter schools being exempt from all of these regulations and that being a good thing, the thing that's going to make them succeed. I always thought that was just a sly way of saying "without a unionized work force."  But we really ought to have some kind of forum where we go down the list of rules/regulations/laws that public schools are required to follow and then ask ourselves why on earth we'd exempt any public charter schools from them.

*I possibly have this wrong. I thought Steans's district went up into Evanston but it appears to be all Chicago. Still, the Charter Commission has burned CPS, too, and from what I hear they'd like to nix it, too. So I'm not sure exactly who Heather Steans's constituency is on this issue. If she votes against abolishing the Commission, then we should just set up a little appointed commission whose only duty is to overrule votes cast by Heather Steans.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Does It All Start?

This is just an interesting anecdote from 2010. Evidently former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford was at one of these Gulenist gatherings in DC, when someone from the non-Gulenist Turkish press tried to figure out why.
I had a chance to talk with some of the congressmen and senators who participated at the reception. I asked Ms. Gabrielle Giffords, representative from Arizona’s 8th. District, why she chose to come to a Turkic community gathering, considering that there is a very tiny Turkic community in her district. Gifford turned and pointed out a young Turkish man who was standing next to her. According to the congresswoman, that young Turkish man had visited Gifford's district office several times recently and finally persuaded her to show up for the reception "even though I do not like to go such events," Gifford said, before responding my question and telling me that she never heard of Fethullah Gülen.
Recently I saw my own Congresswoman on a video of one of these gatherings in Chicago, and I just wonder. Does it work the same way? Does a young guy just keep showing up at the office until he gets you to a "dialogue"  or an awards ceremony?

How does it progress from there, I wonder. How does it go from a cameo at a reception to boarding a plane for Turkey with people you don't know very well but who are lately everywhere you go? And then the almost inevitable award? I wonder if anyone ever walks away from the podium wondering what they're all doing there.

Meanwhile it's all rather complex abroad.

There's no analogous situation here in the States; there's no other organization on this scale with this many secret entanglements and a membership that claims to have no formal connections to each other. Oh yeah, and 147 charter schools. 

The Tribune Is So Full Of It

I see the Trib is peddling its usual line of malarky today, attacking the Chapa LaVia bill on the state charter commission---- the commission of appointees that gets to override the democratically elected school board members around the state.

We still think the commission is a good idea, a way to brush aside the education bureaucracy's massive resistance to change and make the best decision in the interests of students.

Tired, tired, tired. The "education bureaucracy" that they're referring to is actually what we used to call "locally elected school board members." The stewards of the schools. The people who take all the grief for local school districts and yet continue to serve. I've worked pretty closely with a number of suburban school boards, and I can tell you that when the Trib tries to imply that these boards are somehow working against the students, it's because the Trib editorial people don't know what they're talking about.

I doubt I'll get a Niagara Foundation award for pointing that out, but it's true.

The Trib wants elected people to be overruled by an obscure committee of appointed people, none of whom have ever run for election anywhere. It seems to be the way in ed reform circles; if you can't win at the polls, then just overrule by fiat the people who bothered to run for office.

There used to be this quaint little idea in Illinois where if you had an idea for a public policy, you'd run for the appropriate office on the basis of your publicly held opinion on that policy. You'd advocate it, you'd debate your opponent, and you'd let the voters ratify your opinions at the ballot box. Whatever happened to that?

Zealotry happened. These people see a market in public education, and they're bound and determined to dismantle anything public about it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Think About This For A Moment

One more Gulen post today, then I'll change the topic. That crazy conspiracy rag The Economist just put up a story on the situation in Turkey. It covers familiar ground: the hated, finger-pointing authoritarian prime minister, the feud with Gulen, the collapsing Turkish lira, etc. But there's also this:
By contrast, in interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the BBC, Mr Gulen has shunned inflammatory language, portraying himself as a selfless democrat concerned by Mr Erdogan’s lurch towards authoritarianism. The damage inflicted by a televised sermon in which Mr Gulen rained curses on the government, and by a leaked conversation with a businessman in which he discusses a tender for an oil refinery in Uganda with bizarre references to pineapples, have been offset by Mr Erdogan’s unabated diatribes against his flock. In a bid to regain the moral high ground, the Gulenists are reported to have stopped leaking secretly filmed videos exposing the bedroom antics of their foes.
One hates to point out the obvious, but sometimes there's no way around it. If you spend any time studying the waves of Turkish prosecutions-- and seriously, they put basically everyone on trial sooner or later-- you can't help but notice how commonplace it is for wiretaps and secret videos to be introduced.  The surveillance takes place on both sides of the current feud, evidently, but the Gulenists in the justice apparatus seem to be the real masters of the craft.  Apparently they're going to leak fewer hidden camera clips in the future.

As for the refinery in Uganda and the pineapples, I have no idea, nor do I care. It's what I would expect from a mogul. Oil and mystery. I'm sure he was speaking in parables.

But it does makes me nervous when I think about all those Illinois Democrats staying in hotels run by people in the Movement.  Then when you expand that phenomenon to all of the other states where these junkets are happening...

Good lord.