Education blogger Diane Ravitch writes today about a California group’s call for an investigation of a group of affiliated charter schools — more than 150 — with ties to a Turkish political leader. They include schools in Arkansas.
Their post includes a list of Gulen schools, which have different names in different states but are allied with a reclusive Turkish imam who lives in the Poconos. Fethullah Gulen is a controversial leader of a political movement in Turkey, which is opposed by the Turkish government.
Click that list and you’ll see the LISA Academies in Little Rock and North Little Rock are included in that list. I don’t know how accurate it is for the California group to specifically list all these schools as part of a Gulen “chain.” But the Turkish roots of Little Rock school leaders have been evident from the outset. I still recall when politico Lottie Shackelford introduced me to several of them in a Starbucks in Little Rock. “They’re Turkish,” she said. “They have their own school now.” She meant, of course, that they now controlled a school run with Arkansas tax money. It was also a school that leached white students from the Little Rock School District into a West Little Rock location and drew my ire in the beginning with some ill-considered remarks about the sort of parents that would leave their children (as I had done) in the Little Rock School District.
It so happens that a LISA Academy expansion is on the agenda for the state Board of Education this week. It must decide to accept the staff’s expansion approval or not. The Little Rock School District is objecting. Every charter school expansion that takes higher demographic students from the Little Rock School District is another body blow to improving those schools.
Ravitch makes another point about the Gulen schools generally.
The primary purpose of public education is to prepare young people for citizenship in American society. That’s why taxpayers are responsible for them. Can schools operated by foreign nationals teach the essentials of American citizenship?
If foreign nationals want to open private schools in the US, that’s fine. If parents want their children to attend those schools or schools in other nations, that’s their right. They will pay for it, because it is not a public responsibility to send children to a lycee or a gesampschule.
But it is strange indeed to see a chain of schools operated by foreign nationals replacing a community’s public schools and paid for with taxpayer dollars. Public schools should be integrally connected to the society and communities they serve. The Gulen phenomenon is puzzling.
For some past dialogue about the school in Little Rock, see the hundreds of comments on this thread.