Saturday, May 31, 2014

Charter Bill Update

Looks like I called the Charter Commission bill too early, as well as the Charter Accountability Act. 

That's what I get for doing policy updates  via Twitter on the bus. 

I'll do an official update when I hear from someone who was there, but I'm hearing that the charter commission bill died in the concurrence vote--possibly not a bad thing long term. Also, a watered down version of the Charter Accountability Act appears to have passed. 

Details when I get them. I hate to be wrong twice. 

Meanwhile--- the May meeting of the State Charter Commission was canceled, but if anyone is going to the June one, please get in touch. I'll be away for that meeting, but we definitely need for someone to be at the June meeting. 

There's something that needs looking into; if you can help, send me a note. @tbfurman

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Here, Have A School

In case you missed it, here's a pretty comprehensive backgrounder on what's going on in Turkey. Here in Chicago, and in places around the nation, we've opened up publicly funded charter schools that are tied directly to the people running the Gulen Movement from Pennsylvania.

Again, let me repeat: tied directly.

We're not talking about hypothetical vague influences that might or might not exist.

It's a phenomenon for which there is no analogy in the United States. There simply is no other transnational social/political/religious movement operating inside the US while simultaneously struggling for authoritarian dominance of a foreign land, while also running a fast-growing network of publicly funded charter schools. It's sui generis.

In the fall, I will start proposing measures that can help us come to terms with the phenomenon, but a lot of policy-makers are going to have to take a good, long look in the mirror first.

We can all enjoy a nice, guided tour of an ancient land, but that doesn't relieve us from the duty of understanding. And what is the history?

To begin with, Turkey's institutional deterioration is not a recent matter. It started long before Erdogan’s manifestly heavy-handed and polarizing responses to the Gezi protests of the summer of 2013 and to the corruption probe in winter 2013. The harsh crackdown on the media over the last year is but the latest phase in an ongoing process of repression of independent press. And Erdogan and the Gülenists have long manipulated the judiciary, using it to harass and jail opponents on charges ranging from the flimsy to the fabricated.
So Erdogan relied on the Gülen movement, which was all too willing to cooperate, having pursued a long-term strategy of placing its sympathizers in the state apparatus. The Gülenist police and judiciary, which in the later part of last decade, ran the notorious anti-military (Ergenekon and Balyoz) and anti-Kurdish (KCK) court cases, had a free hand until Erdogan decided to part ways with the movement. Anyone who took a close look at these political trials, even early on, would have been under no illusion that they had any relation to the rule of law. Between 2007 and 2011, Turkey’s global ranking in judicial independence fell from 56 to 83 of around 140 countries, and would fall an additional two places by 2014.
So you have to factor these things in. Don't you? Am I wrong about that? Or should we just open the doors to every partisan in every struggle in every foreign land and say, "Here, have a school. Give us a junket; it's all we ask." 

Getting rid of the inept, ill-advised, badly-used-by-Concept State Charter School Commission is a good first step, but it's not enough. We need a lot more transparency across the charter sector, and possibly some new basic rules. It will be good for everyone. This looking-away that everyone's doing, I understand it, but it can't go on forever. 

H/t Sharon Higgins

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunlight On The Charter Commission

Reaching the end of blogging season here; I'll be decamping for moose country soon, and our group is looking at what form we're going to take in the fall. We'll see.

Meanwhile, we've had a small committee looking at the State Charter School Commission's approval of the two new Concept charters in 2013. We're going over the slim-pickings returned by the Commission in response to a FOIA request. There's some interesting stuff in there. Not much, but some.  As the Commission itself circles the drain, we're trying to preserve a record of some of what it did.

One thing I'm going to post before it escapes my memory is just a small detail in an email sent from Concept to the Commission in response to a Commission meeting or Commission staff + Concept meeting that evidently took place on March 12, 2013.

At some point in the timeline, Concept found a new location at 2050 W. Balmoral, and they started to move on the zoning and other matters. It's a tiny little thing, but here it is:

So for the historical record, Concept informed the Commission that they had a series of meetings with Alderman O'Connor, and that the he was supportive of the zoning change for the facility. I have no reason to doubt that this representation is true; however, I didn't get this sense of it at the time. Jay Rehak, who attended the meeting and reported on it over at Substance at the time, noted this:

After Mr. Ucan, Chris Hill (the property advisor to the project) and Ms. Barnes exited, the community continued to ask incisive questions in search of clarity. Ms. Shingler then read a statement from Alderman Pat O'Connor (who did not attend but had a staff member present) indicating that neither he nor Mayor Emmanuel was in favor of the Concept Charter application.

Obviously, I don' know. It's not my ward, and I wasn't in the series of meetings between the alderman and Concept. But something's not right. Someone misunderstood something, someone changed his mind, or someone's making stuff up.

On a less interesting note, Concept -- in its original proposal narrative-- also informed the Commission of these other things:

It gets confusing--- the above was written when the proposed "Belmont" location was still 4257 W. Drummond, in Ray Suarez's ward. The school was eventually built at 5035 W. North Avenue, in the 37th Ward (Alderman Emma Mitts). Anyway, Cardenas, Suarez, and Joe Moore, were all on board with the application and/or the appeal. I never saw the letter from Joe Moore; it evidently wasn't submitted to the Commission, so I don't know the nature of it. It seems doubtful that Alderman Moore would be writing a letter of support for a Commission override of a CPS decision, but then again, we do live in strange times. The letter was probably a letter of support for the original CPS application.  I wonder if  Joe green lighted its use in the appeal.

It's all so tedious, isn't it?

One more thing. In the transcript of the March 19, 2013, meeting of the Commission, the executive director talks a bit about how overworked the staff (she) is and how it's in the works to have another person on board by April (P. 57) but in the meantime:

I just post this nugget because it's just another example of how public policy is impacted/paid for by the efforts of the Gates Foundation, Eli Broad, and the Walmart heirs. You need an analyst for your charter commission? They'll send you one.

More later. Our analysis of the FOIA response is going to take a while.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The FBI And The Gulen Movement In Chicago

*Before I start this post, let me record for the record that Dupage County Sheriff John Zaruba's email person has responded to me, and I quote:

                                              The answer is no. He has not. 

That was in response to the question: "Has Sheriff Zaruba ever traveled to Turkey as part of a group activity in coordination with the Niagara Foundation and/or the Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce? If so, during what years?"  

That's a much clearer answer than ISBE's Gery Chico's office provided, I'll say that. Nevertheless, the Gulen Movement is clearly reaching out to Sheriff Zaruba; he'll certainly be getting an award or a junket offer sometime soon. He was already a judge at the talent show, along with the Consuls of Venezuela and Pakistan. 

Which brings us to this. I've posted many, many times about my concern about the connection between a large network of US public charter schools and the Gulen Movement, a 5-million member transnational social/political/religious movement currently based in Pennsylvania but entirely Turkish in its history and emphasis.

 I've also posted about my observations that the Gulen Movement's political behavior in the States seems like the "baby steps" of its mature political behavior in Turkey, where it is widely agreed that they quietly co-opted the judicial system to a large degree. Whatever the precise history inside Turkey is, it is clear to me that it isn't entirely clean, it isn't dialogue-ish.

If you've been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that the local branch of the Movement, the Niagara Foundation, has invited Bob Holley, the FBI Agent In Charge of Chicago, to a little private talk. The outreach effort toward the American judiciary system is part of a pattern we've seen before, in Turkey.

I'm not sure what "a select group of our members and staff" means, but I will say that that it's probably easier to get in a room with the FBI Agent In Charge by being a member of a Turkish transnational religious movement than it is by being, you know, an ordinary citizen or even a member of the secular Turkish expat communities.

The FBI has a long, long history of being on the receiving end of Gulenist outreach inside the United States. They're either trying to build up what they perceive to be a non-fundamentalist branch of Islam, or they're simply unable to say "no" to invitations that seem benign but are actually part of the foreign policy of a group operating inside a nation (Turkey) on behalf of an agenda that very few people fully understand. It seems improbable to me that the local FBI branch is very much concerned about the charter school connection. It also seems improbable to me that the FBI could have predicted the divorce between Edogan and Gulen. Who knows what the end-game is now? They probably don't even know.

The FBI's participation in Niagara's forum goes back at least to 2007,  when then-Agent In Charge Robert Grant appeared at Niagara to give a talk. Incidentally, this was the event where we learned that Niagara had sent at least 30 people from Elmhurst College to Turkey.

Kemal Oksuz, the Executive Director of Niagara Foundation declared the event open and thanked Elmhurst College representatives for the flowers kindly sent to Niagara Foundation as Niagara Foundation sent 30 professors and personnel from Elmhurst College to Turkey for friendship and intercultural dialogue purposes. Beautiful flowers showed the thankfulness and gratitude of Americans to Turkish hospitability in Turkey. Later on, Mr. Oksuz presented a short biography of Robert Grant and introduced him to the audience and left the podium for the speaker.
I'll later do a search for any scholarship even remotely critical of the Gulen Movement coming out of Elmhurst but something tells me I'm not going to find any.  Incidentally, the list of Illinois luminaries junketed to Turkey is clearly much larger than the Sun Times list. For example, in this video, John Cullerton says he's gone twice. (Interesting video, by the way. The Turkish Consul was still at that time making public appearances with this group.) I don't know what goes on during these trips, but it seems likely that the recipients are steered away from 60% of the Turkish population.

There was majority negative sentiment towards Gulen and his movement, whose supporters claim to number millions worldwide 
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.
Mr. Oksuz, from the 2007 FBI appearance mentioned above,  later went on to spearhead to the Movement's efforts in Texas, and is referred to in this 2011 NYT article.  There's a goldmine in Texas charter school construction, let's just say that.

Sharon Higgins, who was once told by a Chicago-connected Gulenist operating under the Twitter handle "Gitano Bandolero" to "keep your hands off your keyboard," has compiled the beginnings of a list of known FBI appearances at Gulen-linked events. It's a pretty long history.

  • ALABAMA: “FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Patrick J. Maley announced that the Peace Valley Foundation (PVF), Huntsville Chapter is the recipient of the 2010 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA). SAC Maley made the announcement and presented a certificate to Satilimis Budak, President of PVF’s Huntsville Chapter...” FBI press release, 12/13/2010,
  • COLORADO: “... [Multicultural Mosaic Foundation] hosted FBI Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Bradley Swim as the speaker for its Dinner with Speaker series.” 3/23/2012,
  • INDIANA: “speakers... Michael Welch, Special agent in Charge, FBI...” Niagara Foundation Dialogue And Friendship Dinner 2009,
  • LOUISIANA: “The center also has had guest speakers, including... David Welker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans division.” Turkish Cultural Center in Metairie, 5/11/2011,
  • MASSACHUSETTS: "FBI Agents visited Hampden Charter School of Science." ~2012, photo gallery:
  • MISSOURI: “... then, guest speaker Special Agent Mr. Robert Herndon from FBI Kansas City Field Office gave a presentation on Identity Theft.” Raindrop Foundation, 2/28/2009, “... and Tom Jones, Senior Special Agent of FBI, gave remarks of the night. Hosts offered authentic Turkish Baklava and Turkish coffee to their valuable guests.” Rosegarden Turkish-American Cultural Center, 2/22/2012,
  • NEW JERSEY: Edison EnergySmart Charter School: Aaron Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark office, visited the school with the county sheriff, the mayor, and four township council members. “The guests were given a tour of the school and had lunch with students and teachers.”
  • NEW MEXICO: “Keynote Speaker: Carol K.O. Lee, SAC, FBI Albuquerque.” 3rd Annual Dialog and Friendship Dinner & Awards Ceremony, 11/27/2012,
  • NEW YORK: “Other recipients of awards were Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the NYC Police Department and Mark Mershon, Assistant Director in Charge of the NY field office of the FBI.” [date unknown], Turkish Cultural Center Friendship Dinner,
  • NEW YORK: “Speaker: Donald Chu, FBI Special Agent.” Turkish Cultural Center Albany, 2/16/2013,!topic/crmoroccans/we-xZ-CsxvE
  • NEW YORK: “FBI - Assistant Director in Charge, Janice Fedarcyk at Turkish Cultural Center Friendship Dinner.” Turkish Cultural Center New York, 3/24/2011,
  • NEW YORK: “Turkish Cultural Center in collaboration with FBI has organized a seminar on Identity Theft, Internet Safety and Counterterrorism Programs.” Turkish Cultural Center Long Island, [date unknown],
  • TENNESSEE: “The Knoxville Turkish Cultural Center invited the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association to dinner. I took pictures of the delicious food but I don’t know what any of it is called.” 5/30/2013,
  • WASHINGTON: “We invited local FBI agents to our cultural center and discussed how we can work together.” Acacia Foundation, 5/16/2012,

  • The Illinois interactions aren't even on the above list yet: the FBI Agent In Charge visited Niagara in 2007, as I've mentioned, and then again in 2011. A Special Agent visited last year.  Take on an individual basis, each visit seems within the realm of what an FBI agent might do in the course of his/her public relations duties, but looked at as a whole, it seems like the massaging of a relationship. The awards are weird. I don't think law enforcement people should receive private awards, in general. Not when there are hidden relationships to business before the state.

    Who knows what's going on here? Certainly not me. Maybe there's some profit in the FBI stirring up the Gulen-Erdogan rivalry. Maybe it destabilizes Russia somehow.  It's not for mortals like me to know.  Maybe the FBI just isn't looking at it at all. 

    What I do know is that it isn't wise to involve schools. This Movement runs schools, not Arby's franchises, and if they weren't public schools, I wouldn't be writing about this topic. As CASILIPS has said, 

    On a related note, did you hear about the CIA announcing it wouldn't do fake vaccine programs any more? What happened there was that the CIA did a fake vaccine program in the effort to find Osama bin Laden, and it backfired. Accounts vary, but this one is really disturbing.  

    In my mind, vaccines are good, and so are public schools. It wasn't wise to mix vaccination programs with an intelligence agenda, and it isn't wise to mix public education with a foreign policy agenda. All the rest of this business, I don't much care about. We should just be more judicious about doling out these charters.

    This current Agent-in-Charge is also on my short-list for likely Niagara award-recipients. Time will tell.

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

    Dispatch From The Parallel State

    Saturday, May 24, 2014

    Working The Refs In Charterworld

    Before I continue with tonight's installment of Guleny goodness, let me refer to something over at Schooling and the Ownership Society that completely escaped my attention:

    And records show the state charter commission’s Springfield lobbyist is Liz Brown-Reeves  —  a former Madigan aide who accompanied lawmakers on their trip to Turkey in 2012. The Commission also received big funding from Walton and other private, pro-charter foundations.
    Mike is talking about the lobbyist for the very same state charter commission that is possibly nearing extinction, relinquishing its chartering authority back to the Illinois State Board of Education. It's not clear to me that the Concept school people will be losing too much ground there; they've got friends in high places. In a recent post, I reported on an exchange I had with ISBE Chair Gery Chico's office:
    Incidentally, I asked ISBE Chairman Chico if he's been on any of the Turkey junkets sponsored by the local Gulenist-outreach foundation, Niagara; it seemed likely to me that he had been, given that his wife had received one of their big awards. This was the response from his aide, and I kid you not: 
    "Gery has not taken any of these trips since he's been the chair."
    These guys have been working the refs for longer than anyone local has been paying attention, so maybe someone with journalist credentials should follow-up on that nicely parsed response for clarification.

    Here's another interesting tidbit from the Gulen archipelago. Evidently the EEOC just ruled on a case at one of the Gulen-linked school in Texas, which was apparently engaged in a sort of blatant gender discrimination. Here's the gist of the thing:

    The local Gulen-linked school here in Rogers Park had a related kind of situation years ago, so this shouldn't surprise anyone. Nor should it surprise anyone that the people running the schools are archly anti-labor, nor that this attitude is rarely mentioned by our "progressive" alderman.  As for the gender discrimination, well, that's a conservative trait all over the world; it's not just a Gulenist thing.  Although, to be fair, there are several Pearls of Wisdom in which the imam teaches his followers about women.

    This poor teacher in Texas might have simply been a victim of the women's rights movement. Here's a Pearl from p. 64.

    I could go on with the various and sundry Pearls but there's something much more interesting in the actual Justice Department case against Harmony (the Gulen-linked charter school).  It's this:

    If this is true, then the salaries earned by H-1B visa teachers/staff working at these schools everywhere should be posted and available, and someone should FOIA them. Who will do that?

    Turns out that five minutes of Googling provides a little clarity; here's the relevant passage from the federal code related to the visa program. The things you learn when you start poking around!

    So that list should be there in the office if any of the people at the Concept schools want to see it, and from what I'm hearing, those people exist. But word to the wise: the documents probably aren't there. You'll have to make some waves to get them.


    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Breaking Action on Charter Commission Bill

    The Charter Commission Bill

    HB3754, which essentially gets rid of chartering power of the Illinois State Charter Commission, has passed the Senate. Here's the vote.  You can tell from some of the votes that the bill is watered down, and it is.

    It's going back to the House for concurrence, and barring any trouble there, will land on Quinn's desk. I believe there are some bills stacking up on that particular desk. (This is a bill that passed the House previously, then went to the Senate, got watered down, passed the Senate, and is now heading back to the House.)

    The charter bill in its new form does abolish the charter commission. Charter operators can still appeal to ISBE, though. And ISBE will be setting up their own Charter appeals board. It isn't clear to me who will be on that board, but my initial understanding is that it will be ISBE members.

    It's a bit of improvement because it brings the process closer to voters, and removes it from the hands of charter enthusiasts accountable to nobody. I'll look at the full text more closely later.

    I would call this development a tiny, tiny step in the right direction. Mary Shesgreen earlier alerted me to the recent article in the Paper I Normally Won't Link To about Waukegan suing the charter commission, which re-authorized a Waukegan charter. The net effect of the charter operation there is to take the state money that is targeted for at-risk kids and funnel it off to the charter, which serves primarily kids who aren't "at risk." It's an interesting article.

    The charter commission is a serious liability and needs to go. If we're going to be diverting dollars meant for kids-at-risk to kids not-at-risk, then that should be done by a group a little bit closer to actual voters and a little less gung-ho to implement an agenda. By the way, this diversion of funds is exactly, precisely the way the system is designed to work; it's a feature, not a bug.

    Other districts could and probably should start similar suits, and the most recent commission-authorized charters (Gulen-linked) should be put under review by ISBE. I wonder if ISBE actually has the power to overrule the charter commission..

    More later. There are other developments.

    Incidentally, I asked ISBE Chairman Chico if he's been on any of the Turkey junkets sponsored by the local Gulenist-outreach foundation, Niagara; it seemed likely to me that he had been, given that his wife had received one of their big awards. This was the response from his aide, and I kid you not:

    "Gery has not taken any of these trips since he's been the chair."

    Talk about a parsing! Anyway, don't know about you, but I read the response as a yes, but not lately.  So it seems likely that there's been some soft-lobbying there on behalf of a group inextricably linked to charter schools in the state.  Theoretically I could be wrong about the yes, but I doubt it. He could have provided a much cleaner answer if the answer were no. Chico's law firm also appears to represent CMSA, and his wife was on their "Board" for a time.  It's Illinois; nothing is going to be clean.

    More later.

    H/t to Mary Shesgreen and the Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice group, and all the other partners in the coalition, and also to the indomitable Linda Chapa LaVia.

    The Sad Situation At Gale

    CTU has released a statement on the predicament Gale Academy finds itself in. Read the whole, sad thing. As a result of per-pupil finding, and the whole choice-for-the-sake-of-choice mania, the kids who need the most will soon be getting even less.

    A forward-thinking people would send the most help to the kids who need the most help, but the kids at Gale are going to lose their librarian, technology teacher, and two classroom teachers.

    Just as there are two Americas, there are two Rogers Parks. The neighborhood Gale sit in has lately been described as "the killing fields" by a resident whose son was randomly gunned down last year.

    I suspect that if you attended a CPS meeting about Gale, you'd be presented with a Powerpoint with graphs about the reading and math scores, rather than the data that gives you an idea of the world those kids are growing up in.

    Here's a ten minute research project on mobility, homelessness, and truancy in the neighborhood. Test scores are always rolled out as some kind of indicator of the special magic dance or lack of magic dance that a particular set of teachers exhibited, but anyone who's actually worked in classrooms can tell you that test scores give you a better idea of who you've got, rather than what you did. My own experience tells me that test scores begin to have a marginal relationship to "what you did" when you as a teacher have autonomy, and the things you do stem from your own ideas of what's right for the kids in front of you.

    The other way to baffle the relationship between the impact of poverty and test scores is to drill relentlessly in the kinds of activities that appear on tests, which is a behavior that countries like China are trying to get away from because they've been there, done that.

    It's hard to know who you've got until you go into schools and homes, but this is a pretty good indicator of where you're likely to find the distressed families living in our community.

    I don't delve into IEP or ELL or low-income because I think these data often hide more than they reveal. The recent study at UIC certainly showed us this phenomenon in special education enrollments; I think it holds true for income data and language data as well.

    Anyway, if we were looking at a nation-building situation here, we'd be talking about sending more troops to Sullivan and Gale. We wouldn't be taking away a librarian, a technology teacher, and two classroom teachers. Of course, nation building isn't the way we think about things here.

    There's much more to be said, obviously. Currently, the policy solution is to disperse the children who need need the most help so that they get lost in the data, and so that someone can claim a miracle for raising scores back at the ranch. With different kids.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014

    Dispatch From The Parallel State

    So, this is about to happen in Chicago, tomorrow.  It's a conference at the Sheraton, organized by Concept Schools, which are the local charter chain connected at the deepest levels to the Gulen Movement. It kicks off with a cruise on Wednesday night, followed by a day of meetings on Thursday and a keynote on Friday. Here's the program.

    This is what the Gulen Movement is really quite good at; they do after all, run schools all over the world, and those schools serve a variety of purposes in different regions. The number one purpose is to increase the influence of the Movement.  They know how to network better than anyone. The conference program is a bit random, but the same can be said of conferences everywhere. Have you ever been to ISTE?  There are people you probably know presenting at this conference: people who have probably never heard of the Gulen Movement, and people who clearly have.

    The difference between this conference and any of the multitude of other STEM conferences is that that this one is connected to building the momentum of the Gulen Movement. Which is all fine; my only two issues throughout these posts is that our publicly funded charter schools should not be connected to a transnational social/religious/political movement, and that the political behavior of the Movement in America looks quite like the baby steps of the Movement's eventual political behavior in Turkey.

    It is doubtful that many of the presenters know much about wiretaps, about Ahmet Sik, or others like him. It is unlikely they've studied the recent history of the Istanbul police.  They probably haven't even heard about the recent talk of extradition.

    Gery Chico will be there, of course. I've already written him to ask if he's traveled to Turkey with Niagara; his wife, Sunny, has been the recipient of a Niagara award--- those often are connected to the junkets. Chico is a public official with influence over charter school decisions; it should be on the public record. Dušan Čaplovič, the Minister of Education for the Slovak Republic, will be giving a talk. He was apparently in Turkey shortly before the meltdown between Erdogan and Gulen; it seems likely to me that his appearance in Chicago will cause some friction between the Turkish and Slovakian governments, given that Erdogan is threatening to "boil" some of the people at the conference.  It's not my field, although I suspect it will be soon.

    The Twitter stream of the conference host account is a bit odd. One of the Concept guys is touting an award that Concept recently received from something called the International Association of STEM Leaders.

    It's all very impressive, until you research the organization and its founder, who appears to have had many, many jobs, and who has evidently founded at least one "national institute"  and one "international association,"  including this one, from her home. It's a weird resume. Take a look.  She seems like a nice, passionate person; here she is on Youtube.

    I still can't figure out what she actually does, but she does seem passionate. I've noticed that in social media, there are a lot of people who talk about STEM who are neither scientists, technologists, engineers, nor mathematicians, nor practicing teachers in any of these fields. A common theme is that the actual educators in these fields don't know each other or have pre-existing networks, and must therefore be shown how to connect via social media.  It's bizarre. 

    (One other thing: is it just me, or are the people with Ed.D's more likely than anyone with a higher degree to refer to themselves as "Dr." without delineating the type of degree?)

    Anyway, congratulations to Concept for this wonderful, groundbreaking award. Notice the retweets. 

    That's the kind of fakakta, ersatz sort of universe in which these schools exist and promote themselves. I'm predicting that someone from the Illinois General Assembly will soon be tasked with sponsoring a proclamation of praise for Concept's illustrious award (from a lady in her living room). Just wait. They'll get a letter from Governor Quinn. Or the Water Commission. 

    Two other odd tweets, and then I'll close for the night. This one:

    Not sure what they're getting at with that one, but the Venezuelan Consul in Chicago recently gave up a Friday to judge the talent show out in Rosemont on behalf of a lot of Concept people. I'm going to bring this tweet up in my meeting at the Consulate just to watch the body language. By the way, I'm with the protesters. Incidentally, when there were protesters in Gezi, the crowd at the Gulenist Turkish Olympiad cheered, cheered on the prime minister as he hectored those very protesters.

    And this.

    This one is funny to me because I'm just putting the finishing touches on a post about North American University, currently a tiny little private thing in Houston, set up by the Movement, and licensed by Texas to provide two different teacher certification programs. It will grow.  They're building their international student support staff with big plans in mind. Texas has more Gulen-linked schools than any other state, and evidently there is a home-grown teacher shortage there. I wonder where these international students will come from.  

    More on North American University Later. It's really quite an interesting story. 

    Meanwhile, best of wishes to the presenters at the conference tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday. Like I have always said, I support freedom of association, and I support Concept's right to do the work of sponsoring a conference. I just wish participants had time to get past the strategic ambiguity to see what's actually what. 

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

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Two More Resolutions For Gulen

    Ok, the long-promised Gulen update. [For those of you who don't know, the Gulen Movement is a Turkish transnational social/religious/political movement whose leader lives in Pennsylvania, and whose followers run some 150 publicly funded American charter schools: an operation in full harmony and accord with the long-range goals of the Movement. It's all very obfuscated.]

    First, the Turquoise Language Festival, in Rosemont. The sponsors have posted this highlight reel; it's lovely. It's quite long. (They've finally learned how to turn off the embedding feature of Youtube videos, as well. Kudos.)  The contestants are almost entirely students at the Gulen-linked charter schools and private religious schools throughout the region, although the school names are not mentioned. We have a pretty good working list here of which groups are from which schools.

    (Normally, I'd post the video here, but with embedding turned off, I'm limited to a screenshot.
    Yes, that's Elaine Nekritz.
    I have written extensively about the nature of these events, and their connection to the religious aspect of the Gulen Movement, so refer to that if you like.  In short, this event, in my analysis, represents the closest, most obvious and visible-from-the-surface connection between the charter schools and the Gulen Movement, a point I make not in alarm, but in the cold review of facts, at length.  There are many other connections; it's just that you have to dig harder to establish them.  Nothing is new in this year's version of the folk arts festival, except the following items:

    1. The Turkish Consul is not at the event, obviously. The Turkish Prime minister has basically initiated an extradition process for the Movement's leader, Fethullah Gulen (his former ally), so it seems highly unlikely that the Turkish government is going to send the Turkish Consul of Chicago to support this event, which is one of the crown jewel's of the Gulen Movement's public relations efforts. The Consuls of Venezuela and Pakistan were there, oddly.  I have reached out to the Turkish Consul in Chicago; I don't expect a response, but much more on that later. I'll be talking to the people at the Pakistani and Venezuelan consulates shortly. I've basically tried to ask the questions that I would expect journalists to ask.

    2. Several Illinois luminaries were there, as I have previously noted.

         A) Elaine Nekritz, who speaks at about the 7:30 mark. Nekritz was a 2008 guest of the Niagara Foundation and the now defunct but reborn & renamed Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce, so she's really quite invested in the Gulen Movement's version of Turkish-American relations. She tells a silly story and tries to tie it in to what she perceives is the theme of the event.

        B) Michelle Mussman is there, and she also addresses the crowd. She reads aloud the text of HR0954, which is a new praise-be-to-the-(Gulenist)-Turkish American Society Resolution sponsored by Jack Franks, who evidently went to Turkey with the Gulenist groups in both 2011 and 2012 and who can be counted on for repayment. Representative Mussman herself has not been to Turkey, she has graciously informed me. It's weird that they've somehow reeled her in for the purpose of reading Jack Franks' resolution.  Where's Jack?

            The other weird thing is that they stripped all reference to Gulen out of the resolution; too much heat, in my guess.  Here's the text.

    WHEREAS, The members of the Illinois House of
    3Representatives wish to recognize the Second Annual Turquoise
    4Art and Language Contest, organized by the Turkish American
    5Society, to be held at the Rosemont Theater on April 12, 2014;
    7    WHEREAS, The Turquoise Art and Language Contest is held
    8annually to promote intercultural understanding, friendship,
    9and dialogue; and 
    10    WHEREAS, The contestants will demonstrate diverse talents
    11such as folk dancing, singing, and poetry recitation, in a
    12multitude of languages including English, Spanish, and
    13Turkish; and 
    14    WHEREAS, The Turkish American Society began operating in
    152005 in the city of Mount Prospect to facilitate and encourage
    16cross-cultural experiences and interfaith cooperation; and 
    17    WHEREAS, The Turkish American Society is involved in
    18generous philanthropic ventures and projects that benefit the
    19people of the State of Illinois, such as: addressing the social
    20and cultural needs of the Turkish-American community living in
    21the Chicago area, creating a welcoming environment for new

    HR0954- 2 -LRB098 20715 MST 57579 r

    1immigrants and helping them adapt to life in the United States,
    2providing communities with educational services, introducing
    3Turkish culture to the Chicago area, uniting the
    4Turkish-American community, and establishing dialogue between
    5diverse communities with the goal of leading to global peace;
    7    WHEREAS, The Turkish American Society efforts to forge a
    8stronger bond amongst all Illinoisans and spread the wonders of
    9Turkish culture are worthy of the greatest respect; therefore,
    10be it 
    13we extend our best wishes to the participants of the Turkish
    14American Society's Second Annual Turquoise Art and Language
    15Contest and thank the Turkish American Society for their
    16wonderful work; and be it further 
    17    RESOLVED, That a suitable copy of this resolution be
    18presented to the Turkish American Society as a symbol of our
    19esteem and respect.

    You really have to be a detective to figure out that the people organizing and probably writing these resolutions and handing them off to junketed lawmakers are all the same.

    Sorry about the formatting; I'm typing quickly. This resolution is much less obvious than Susana Mendoza's now infamous paeon to Fethullah Gulen in 2011. Strategic ambiguity. It's really a habit they can't shake loose from--- every little thing needs a resolution in a state capitol or the US Capitol. You can shake up the names for the American audience, keep people from seeing the connections, but none of that matters for the real audience.

    3. Which brings us to the letter of support written, evidently from the heavily recruited U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, who evidently entered a similarly worded resolution of praise into the United States Congressional Record prior to the April 12 event in Rosemont. I'm not sure who this outreach is aimed at; there's clearly an audience for it back home. And by home I mean Turkey.  The event is a talent show for Turkish folk arts; it needs a Congressional resolution? Evidently Tammy Duckworth sent a letter as well, but I haven't seen it.

    4. Other people present include, as I've posted before, include Alderman Mary O'Connor, Dupage County Sheriff John Zaruba, Theresa Mah (from Gov. Quinn's staff), and a bunch of people from Elmhurst College, which appears to be completely in the bag. All of the public-sector people on this list are receiving polite inquiries from us, about whether they've junketed in Turkey with any of the Gulenist groups. I think it's fine if they have; it should just be part of the record because we're talking about a group that has business before the state: a growing network of charter schools.

    5. There is some ambiguity about exactly where the Turquoise winners will go, and when. With the internecine war inside Turkey, and with state facilities being cut off, the Gulenists appear to be limiting the normally two-week extravaganza to just three days, as described in this video.

    However, the Twitter account for the event's organizers is still showing the original two-week span, at least as of tonight.

    Who knows. I would keep my kid home. The prime minister has recently announced that he's going to "boil" and/or "molecularlize" the Gulen Movement, whatever that means. There's been a huge falling out between two factions of a repressive political alliance. It won't end well.

    I keep coming back to this beautifully written piece in the NYT Magazine. When I see the history of this thing in Turkey, and I measure the arc it's on here in the States, I have to keep digging. Like I say, the secrecy about what is actually going on--- that doesn't sit well with me. If we're going to connect 150+ charter schools to a secretive religious/nationalist group from overseas, that should be happening in sunlight.

    Next up: the Turkey to Texas pipeline in teacher certification.

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