Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Is Going On In These Schools?

Sorry--- I'm supposed to be offline but I heard about this post about a Gulen school in Ohio. There's a lot to digest there but the testing irregularities alone are alarming. This is the same organization running the Madigan-Gulen Chicago network.

Now I'm unplugging the router again. Back to Mark Twain.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

UNO Webinar, Charter Forum: Chicago Ed Policy in January

I'll be "off the grid" for the next few days, to use a tired expression. This was supposed to be the vacation where I read The Autobiography of Mark Twain. Instead, I've been immersed in Turkish history, including Balci's luminous discussion of the Nurcu movement in Central Asia. It's all very interesting but I have a feeling I'll get enough of this topic in January.

Speaking of January, don't forget about these two spectacular ed policy events being co-hosted by RPNPS. The first is a webinar on January 9, at 7 PM.  Byron Sigcho will present his comprehensive review of the UNO financial and pedagogical model, updated with the latest developments. Just because UNO is laying low doesn't mean they're going away--- their whole financial model depends on building, building, and more building.  It's a really, really interesting topic. Register for the UNO webinar here.  It's free.

Then on January 14, 2014, we'll be co-hosting (with many of Chicago's finest community groups) a forum on the impact of charter expansion in Chicago. Remember, we're living in a city where they just closed down 50 schools for "underutilization," where the CEO goes on at length about a budget crisis, and yet their plan is to open as many as 31 new charter schools in the next two years.

In a functioning democracy, these people would be recalled and indicted for malfeasance. It's as if the entire ruling class of a major city has lost its mind.

This will be an excellent forum; we'll provide summaries of the latest research on charter schools, as well as detailed description of how each and every one of these schools reduces the funding/programming available at neighborhood schools. And some of these charters --- the ones approved by the ALEC-designed, undemocratic, and bizarrely funded state charter commission-- take a much bigger chunk than others. Then we'll make an action plan for the future.

There is no registration! Come as you are.  January 14, 6:30 PM at Shields Middle School,  2611 W. 48th Street, Chicago.

Many people around the city and around the world already know that we're also going to be moving forward in January with extensive work on the Gulen issue; I can only advise you to stay tuned for more information. Meanwhile, review the Sun-Times piece, do some research, bring yourself up to speed, and brace yourself for a tsunami of disinformation coming from the Movement. 

And now, I'm unplugging the router. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Phone Call That Won't Be Happening Any Time Soon

I've been getting some chuckles for wishing in the previous post that Arne Duncan would get on the phone and try to reel in the growing influence of Fethullah Gulen and his followers in the American public charter school sector.

It is kind of funny, I grant you.

The Movement has a gift for cultivating US politicians--- the various network organizations festoon these people with awards, and it works. Check out the 2007 Niagara Foundation Awards here in Chicago. Basically if you're in public life in Illinois, you're going to get an award from Fethullah Gulen sooner or later. You're also going to be recording a PR segment at one of the schools.  This is no small-time operation. Arne Duncan gets an award in the clip below, along with other local luminaries, including Chicago's then top cop, which gives me pause..

Note: this video is produced by ebrutv, and yes, it's a Movement production house. As of this instant there's a embed code available and no visible copyright restrictions.

Arne Duncan is no sooner going to get on the phone than I'm going see a forensic audit of the $518, 214.00 that Concept Schools, Inc. picked up in management fees in 2011 from CMSA alone.

None of this is easy to piece together without some background reading. Can I suggest this, for starters?

What This Gulen Mess Is Really About

Update: The video referred to below--- the fire on your houses speech--- has disappeared, as I knew it would.  I haven't been able to track down who originally posted it---whether it was a Gulenist outlet or not. If it was a Gulenist outlet, they've been told to take it down. If it was someone else, they got hit with a Youtube copyright strike. I could probably find another posting of it, but I took the precaution of downloading the original for future reference. 

It's a familiar pattern. Gulen says something; it goes out on Youtube. Then word of it spreads beyond the Movement, and suddenly the video is gone. What goes on in the Movement stays in the Movement. 

It's out there, the video. People will upload it until they're told to take it down. I have it, if you want to see it. I'm going to say very bluntly that from my point of view it's bizarre, and I don't blame the Gulenist PR operation for shutting it down. If the company line is now that all of these people are simply "inspired" by this one individual, then it would be important to minimize the bizarre public appearances of this one individual. All very much in keeping with the whole secrecy thing, too. 

The point I'd like to make is that we have a worldwide social-religious-nationalist movement here where you're not allowed to see the Leader speak unless you're already in the Movement. The great scholar Joshua Hendricks would say that this type of secrecy-above-all-else strategy doesn't compute "culturally" in the US, and I agree. 

Except that I'd go further: it's sketchy. It's suspicious. And it's weirdly inept.  They're going to need to come to terms with the fact that this long tradition of secrecy not only doesn't compute culturally, it doesn't add up at all. 

For worldwide coverage of the unfolding drama overseas, see this, this, this, and this.  It's a hot mess, to put it plainly.

I don't question anyone's right to be an actor in the unfolding Turkish drama or to advocate positions about the nature of the modern Turkish state, including the religious character of the government.

I don't question anyone's right to religious beliefs or anyone's freedom to associate with others.

All of these things are fine. And the US certainly has a long, long history of meddling in foreign affairs and trying to determine the outcome of this crisis, or that election, or the long-term consequences of various invasions and conquests.

What's different about this is that somehow American public schools got drawn into it.

Back in the old days, when we were trying to impact the outcome of a foreign civil war, we'd sell missiles to Iran and divert the cash to some really, really violent people in Central America, and then the President would just basically lie about it and everyone would forget.

These days the commodity is the ownership of public schools. And people can't even focus on it because they've been conditioned to feel that there's this existential crisis caused by urban school teachers.

I have no doubt that Fethullah Gulen is living in the United States because the US has taken a position in the Turkish drama. Somewhere, somehow, the people pulling the strings have decided that there's a strategic advantage to the man's presence here.

I just wonder if they knew that his peeps would leap into the great unsupervised abyss of the American public charter school sector and take advantage of the huge opportunities for scandal that exist there. Did that behavior get green-lighted in a meeting? Or did it come as a surprise?

Could anyone even stop it now?

Could Arne Duncan call up Fethullah Gulen tomorrow-- and then hand the phone over to someone with some actual knowledge and an authoritative edge in his voice, and have that person explain to the preacher/tycoon that he's gone too far?

I doubt it.  Our Turkish guest has more juice in Washington than Arne Duncan has ever or will ever have anywhere.

The thing is melting down, and it won't end well.

Gulen posted a video on his website accusing the government of ignoring real issues. "Those who don't see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don't see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people then may God bring fire to their houses," he said in the video.
It's a cluster. You should see some of the parody videos. I won't link tonight to them because I've already heard from the Movement about copyright. There's a time and a place for everything.

In my experience, when the ally you've favored in a foreign conflict starts talking about God bringing fire into his enemies' houses, well, things are about to go south.

Secrecy, evasions, lies, "strategic ambiguity"---if you study it long enough you learn that these phenomena are considered to be virtues if employed in the service of the larger goal of the Movement.

It's just that they're incompatible with and wholly new to the long history of elected governance of our public schools. Corruption is sort of built in to the wild west that is the charter movement, unfortunately.  It's a movement that would do well to call for more oversight, more sunlight, in every respect.

If I were an actor in a foreign conflict, and I needed an unregulated network and guaranteed income, I would for sure open an American charter school management organization and then expand.

I have no opinion about what kind of nation Turkey should be. I wish them peace and prosperity and democracy and good health.

But I wish Arne could make that call.

NOTE: As for CMSA and Concept specifically, well that's also about local corruption,  overhyped schools, and a financial model that puts taxpayers on the hook for extravagant financing. It's similar the UNO model, where the thing has to keep growing to pay off earlier loans. It's our little gift of love and compassion to taxpayers of the future. And one more thing: it's about the sheer number of Illinois politicians who can't even Google someone's name for ten seconds before getting on a plane for a junket.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Read The Whole Thing!

Because of the way the Sun-Times posted Dan Mihalopoulos' story, some people might not read all three parts, but I highly recommend the whole thing.

The main story about the Madigan - Charter Commission link, a deal greased by the Gulenists with "generous" travel, including junkets for many marquee (for Illinois) names in the Democratic Party.  Also Joe Moore, who has two of the really fabulously corrupt charter organizations (UNO and Concept) in his ward due to his basic weakness, in my opinion. 

The travel record. This only includes the state lawmakers. I'm not surprised to see Elaine Nekritz in there but I was surprised to see Linda Chapa LaVia, who has come to her senses regarding the charter commission and should be supported. The Gulenists are basically running an indoctrination travel agency for Illinois Democrats. 

The link-list, where Dan goes dot-to-dot with all of these people who've never heard of Fethullah Gulen and don't know each other haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about, and you must be crazy! [NOTE: sarcasm]

I also recommend this excellent backgrounder, written by Sharon Higgins, back when this network had only 135 American public schools, but still highly relevant and informative. 

An Addendum To The Concept Story

I'm still absorbing the details of Dan Mihalopolous's riveting expose of Concept. More reaction later. However, I did want to add a detail here to one of the photographs on the photos in the story: this one, and I apologize in advance for borrowing it.

Here Speaker Madigan is shaking hands with a Turkish mayor during Madigan's Gulenist-arranged handling in Turkey.

This mayor, Mustafa Demir, was arrested a few days ago. 

Basically there's a power struggle going on between the Turkish Prime Minister and the Gulenist forces throughout the country, particularly those forces inside the Turkish justice department. This mayor is a casualty of the conflict, as are dozens and dozens of others arrested lately, including journalists.

I'm pointing this out because people need to know that this thing is heating up overseas, and we're funding one side of it whether we like it or not. Mike Madigan's Turkish handlers have used him badly, but predictably, and in my opinion the Speaker needs to chime in on where he stands in the matter of Mayor Demir's civil and human rights. And from there we could just go down a list of people arrested.

More later-- we've had a little vandalism here; I have to go meet with the local gendarmes. Life in Rogers Park...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Concept Schools Have Learned Rahm's Rules

Did you see this Linda Lutton piece about the highly sketchy Concept appearance at the recent CPS faux hearing? Basically they're shipping in random utterly clueless supporters, in keeping with the fake protestors that Rahm's buddies shipped into the school closing hearings two summers ago.

It's a nice catch by Linda Lutton. And nothing says Chicago more than fake protestors being bussed to fake hearings.

I'm going to embed the sound file because it's fabulous, and I love embedding things.

The more I learn about Concept, the more I feel like warning people about them. I know that our alderman is in love with them, but it's a deeply troubling network once you start studying the facts, and these details are going to become more and more apparent over time. I know people are uneasy talking about this issue, but I'm not. Not any more.

Incidentally, one of the reasons you see so little of this group's spiritual leader is that if you dare to post even a moment of one of his sermons on Youtube, the group hits you with copyright claims. Think about that for a moment.  It's happened even to little old me, and I'm certainly not the first.

Of course this makes me more determined than ever to get the word out. Stay tuned on that front.

One of my favorite memories from the Bowmanville meeting during Concept's attempted landing there was the older fellow with the heavy Turkish accent who said, "If I wanted corruption, I would have stayed in my own country." What he was talking about is exactly what we're going to be talking about here in the coming months.

We need to wake up, people. This is about corruption, transparency, and a very unsettling trend in the charter school sector.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Charter Expansion At CPS and The Impact On District Schools

If you think the charters-are-a-panacea noise machine is loud now, it's going to get even louder in January, trust me. Just to inject a little reality-based discussion into the mix, we're having a forum in Brighton Park on January 14, along with our friends and allies around the city.

We'll talk about new research, recap what we know, and make plans for the future. Please come join us.

A Devastating Post on Testing

This pretty much makes me ill.

This testing mania that is sweeping the country, it's a psych experiment that nobody really signed off on. It won't end well for anyone.

I have never once encountered a person I trust with children who advocates this kind of craziness. The only people who cheer these tests on are the charlatans, the craven politicians, and the legions of data people who don't really know anything about building kids up.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Close 50 Neighborhood Schools, Open 21 Charters

From Raise Your Hand, the best listserve around...

CPS has proposals for 21 new charters in next two Years
Following the great underutilization crisis of 2012 where CPS closed 50 district schools, they are now looking at opening 21 charters. 10 have already been approved and will open next fall. The rest will be voted on in January. Why does this matter? CPS is broke and faces another near billion dollar deficit. Operational dollars have to come from somewhere. That would be your traditional school budget, which by the way, the Mayor and CEO Byrd-Bennett, claim have not been hit hard by budget cuts. (See Trib Editorial below). They want to open new charters to offer “school choice,” but school choice apparently doesn’t involve a functioning school budget anymore for many district schools. 

There is a CPS community meeting this Monday 12/16 on all new charter proposals at CPS. Come out and learn about these proposals and sign up to speak if you have concerns about charters siphoning more dollars from your school budget.
If you wan to read any of the proposals for the charters that haven't yet been approved:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Connecting The Dots In Charter Secrecy

Just a little preview of things to come.

Turns out that last night the FBI raided a charter school in East Baton Rouge. It's nothing new for the FBI to raid a charter school and carry out all the records, but I just want to make a point about it in a minute. Here's the report.

Who knows what they're looking for? Test score manipulation? Visa records? Financials? Could be anything.

What's interesting to me is that this charter is pretty open about its relationship to Harmony Schools, a far-flung and in-the-news Gulen operation.

So, what's this got to do with Chicago? Well, it's all the same network, for one thing. The baseline behavior of these basically identical schools is for the management to deny any kind of knowledge of or relationship with the other schools/management organizations.  So, when a Harmony school is raided in Louisiana, that's connected to the same people running schools here.

Check out the 2013-14 welcome letter from the principal ofHorizon (Concept) Science and Math Academy in Chicago.

It's warm, it's welcoming, it's wonderful. It's also basically identical to this 2006 principal's welcome letter from the Harmony Elementary in Austin, Texas.

For people who have no relationship to each other, they seem to like the exact same words and phrasings.

This letter has gotten around, actually. Basically, look at any two Gulen nodes where people have never heard of each other, where they have no relationship to each other, and you'll find they're using this letter or a slightly altered version thereof and have been doing so since 2006.

This is just one little example.

Look, I know. I know that we have to understand the secrecy in the context of modern Turkish history. I've done the reading. And actually, I do get it. I just think that secrecy and misinformation are basically incompatible with the governance of public education here in this country. At least, historically those have been incompatible phenomena with the public trust that education inevitably is.  In this new world we're entering, maybe secrecy's going to be the norm. Won't that be exciting?

Sunlight on the charters! It's my new motto. Might be a good title for a novel, too.

Much more later.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Round-The-Clock Charter Fight

What's it like to live in a place where you don't have to go fight for basic things like schools every night and every weekend?

I don't know. I live here in Chicago.

This from Karen Zaccor:

CPS has set up Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs) to review the charter proposals and make recommendations to the CPS Board.  It's important they hear from the public about the impact of new charters on our communities and neighborhood schools.  The Northwest Side NAC is meeting this week:
Wednesday, Dec. 11
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.Northwest Community Church5318 W. Diversey
Please come out and make your voice heard!

Here's a report from a recent NAC.

There's a lot more to be said about this NAC process, but I don't have time right now. Possibly later. It's important for people to attend. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

UNO: Politics and Corruption--- The Webinar

Moving into the post-Rangel era, it's actually more important than ever to talk about the case study in bad ideas that is UNO. For this reason, we're bringing the forum right into your living room on January 9, 2014, from 7PM-8:30PM CST.

Now you can see and participate in the forum that's swept the city over the past couple of month. All you have to do is sign up. Come listen as UIC researcher Byron Sigcho puts the whole thing into perspective. What's UNO's secret sauce?

Politics and Corruption. It might be saucy to say it, but it's no secret.  Come join us. And while you're joining us, stay home!

Or just click here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Another Glossy From The Charter School Up The Street

Today I got another glossy from the Gulen School up the street, Chicago Math and Science Academy.

I suppose if I were in the business of creating "waiting lists" this is exactly how I would do it. The neighborhood school across the street, Sullivan High School, has yet to send me a single glossy in the mail. They haven't even dropped anything over the fence, like CMSA has.

Before I forget to post it, here's the 2011 IRS 990 for CMSA, prepared by the Chicago firm Mirza Baig & Co.

Audits are lovely; you can get some interesting information from audits, and I'm certain that when we spend some time with this audit, we'll have some interesting questions. But make no mistake, this is all you get with a charter school, and in order to find it, you need to be a fairly sophisticated fellow.

Fortunately, I know a few.

Contrast this audit, for a moment, with the wealth of financial information that non-disenfranchised people feel they're entitled to. Here, for example, is Barrington Community Unit School District 220's financial report menu. 

There's so much sunlight there, I almost have to avert my eyes. The good citizens of Barrington seem to feel that they're not only entitled to elect their school board but also to have an accounting for every penny received and every penny spent. It seems that these reports provide the populace with information so valuable that the school board feels compelled to post it on the Web, for everyone to see.

We don't get this kind of sunlight from charter schools, and that's by design. Do you think UNO would have been able to assemble its looming financial catastrophe if adults were allowed to see the books? No.

Same with CMSA. Same with every charter in the city. We need to have laws that open these opaque operations up to public scrutiny, laws like they have in every place where democracy is allowed to flourish. And the fact that these entities are chartered through an equally undemocratic, obscure, appointed committee is simply unacceptable.

Stay tuned. In January, RPNPS will offer a comprehensive, eye-opening series about one of our local charter schools. We've decided to do the work that many of our local journalists seem unwilling or unable to do. In a word: it will blow you away.

Ok, that's five words. Stay tuned.