60 Minutes aired a story Sunday night, centered on possible ties between American charter schools and the Gulen movement. The Gülen movement is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic theologian Fethullah Gülen. According to the CBS report, the Imam taught his followers to build schools instead of mosques, to teach math, science and values instead of religion, and to embrace certain western traditions such as capitalism and democracy.
130 charter schools are located in the United States. 36 are located in Texas. Harmony Science Academy in Lubbock is one of those Texas charter schools. According to HPS's district office spokesperson, Julie Shussler, HPS schools located in Texas "are not part of a national network of charter schools." In fact, Shussler said that HPS denies all ties to the Turkish imam.
"HPS are not affiliated in any way with any religious or political organizations, including the so-called Gulen movement," Shussler said in a statement.
All HPS schools are public schools, paid for by the state. According the statement KCBD NewsChannel 11 obtained Monday, "HPS is overseen by the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education and follows the same rules and regulations as any other public school in Texas."
Some questions were raised among parents with kids who attend Harmony Science Academy. Victor Flores has three kids who attend the local charter school. He said so far, they have been pleased with the educational results from the school. "Me and my wife felt that getting them into a smaller school," Flores said, "there would be more hands-on more personal tutoring and stuff like that. He has been doing a lot better since."
Beatrice has a total of six kids; three are currently students at Harmony.
"They're taking the time to do a one on one in the subjects that students are currently struggling with," Beatrice said.
According to the 60 Minutes report, Turkish immigrants who have moved to the United States to teach math and science have helped relieve the current deficit of teachers in those areas. In 2005, the state increased math and science requirements from 3 years to 4. This immediately increased the need for math and science teachers. Lubbock Independent School District also confirmed the shortage and said they are currently offering incentives for those secondary teachers.
The 60 Minutes report also displayed a sound bite, indicating that the Turkish teacher was difficult to understand. Flores agreed and said his kids have mentioned the issue before.
"My kids have come home and have said well, you know, we can't understand them that much. I have had a couple concerns about one or two teachers that I really can't understand," Flores said.
Immigration fraud was another allegation brought up in 60 Minute's Sunday report - the notion was that the education system is an easy way to enable immigrants to receive visas. The big question in the report: Why are Turkish immigrants teaching Americans English?
According to HPS, "Of the more than 1,800 HPS employees, we have two teachers on H-1B temporary work visas who teach English. Both are graduates of an English language or literature program, and meet state and federal definitions of being 'highly qualified' to teach."
At Harmony Science Academy in Lubbock, 15% of the teachers are on temporary work visas. According to LISD's spokesperson Nancy Sharp, out of LISD's some 2,000 teachers, none are here on work visas.
Our request for an on camera interview was eventually declined this evening.
KCBD NewsChannel 11 asked who was behind the creation of the Texas charter schools. Shussler said HPS was created by a handful of Texas A&M students; one of those students includes Superintendent Dr. Soner Tarium. Based in Houston, Tarium is the Superintendent for all 36 Texas Charter schools. KCBD NewsChannel 11 will continue to investigate this story further in the days to come.
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