I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gulen Charters Expand in New Jersey

In New Jersey's latest round of charter school approvals, two new charters were approved for Paterson: Paterson Arts and Sciences and Paterson Collegiate Charter School. Darcie Cimarusti over at Mother Crusader has been letting us know about the man behind PCCS, Steve Wilson, and his rather checkered past. But what about Paterson A&S?

According to the state's records, Paterson A&S's contact is Mr. Nihat Guvercin; he is currently the CEO of a network of three charters in Garfield, Hackensack, and Passaic. A little more than a year ago I took a look at Bergen Arts & Sciences in Garfield:
I went to the Common Core of Data at NCES to get the demographic data for all of the schools in the zip code of Bergen A&S. Using Bruce Baker's method, I made another another quick graph:

Many of the schools have a larger population of "free lunch" kids than Bergen, but not by a huge amount; some have a slightly smaller percentage. But look carefully at the other columns. Something jumped out at me right away.

Let me highlight it for you:

The raw data for 2009-10 shows that Bergen A&S had more Asian students in its school (63) than the rest of the schools in the district combined (59).
 In a story for The Record, Leslie Brody quotes the superintendent of the local school district:
Garfield schools Superintendent Nicholas Perrapato said academic files of his students who switched to the charter showed many were top students. "If you're getting the cream of the crop, you should do well," he said.
Will Paterson A&S engage in a similar pattern of segregation? Did anyone at NJDOE ask about this when reviewing their application? Or will the state stick with their standard operating procedure and not hold this charter accountable for outcomes in equity of access?

Brody also referenced the concerns about the Gulenist movement and charter schools:
While the cafeteria is ringed with colorful flags reflecting the wide range of students' backgrounds, the school has some Turkish twists. About a dozen of 130 staff members at the two schools have Turkish roots, Guvercin said. They give Turkish language classes, lead summer trips to Turkey and offer Turkish tea to guests.
In some states, such as Texas, charter schools led by Turkish immigrants have caused controversy, with critics claiming the schools were used to bring in teachers from Turkey and give contracts to Turkish businesses without fair bidding. In June, The New York Times ran a lengthy examination of these schools, citing some researchers' findings that many were inspired by the views of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher. Gulen, who lives in the Pocono Mountains, has promoted peaceful dialogue and tolerance but had critics who feared his influence in Turkish government.
Guvercin said he admires Gulen — just as he admires Gandhi — but his teachers never talk in class about Gulen's philosophy. He stressed that charter opponents should visit before forming opinions. "Some people are not comfortable with any ethnic backgrounds," he said.
60 Minutes did a piece on Gulen charters last year and their growing influence on the "school choice" movement. According to the website Gulen Charter Schools, both Guvercin and Bergen A&S are connected to the Gulen movement. Again, did anyone ask about this at the NJDOE?

The NY Times published a story in 2011 that questioned how Gulen-affiliated schools were spending public monies, steering virtually all contracts to Turkish-owned businesses. Did the NJDOE investigate this allegation as it relates to Guvercin's schools before approving the charter for Paterson A&S?

According to the Times's story, Gulen schools rely heavily on foreign nationals on H-1B visas for their workforce:
Around the country, the most persistent controversy involving the schools — and the one most covered in the news — centers on the hundreds of Turkish teachers and administrators working on special visas. 
The schools say they bring in foreign teachers because of a shortage of Americans qualified to teach math and science. Of the 1,500 employees at the Texas Harmony schools this year, Dr. Tarim said, 292 were on the special “H-1B” visas, meant for highly skilled foreign workers who fill a need unmet by the American workforce. 
But some teachers and their unions, as well as immigration experts, have questioned how earnestly the schools worked to recruit American workers. They say loopholes have made it easy to bring in workers with relatively ordinary skills who substitute for American workers. 
“I think they have a preference for these H-1B workers,” said Dr. Ronil Hira, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has studied the visa program. “It may be a preference for a variety of reasons — lower wages or a network where they’ve got family or friends and connections and this is a stepping stone for them to get a green card.” 
The American jobs, often offered to educators at Gulen schools around the world or graduates of Gulen universities, also provide a way for the movement to expand its ranks in this country, Dr. Yavuz said. 
American consular employees reviewing visas have questioned the credentials of some teachers as they sought to enter the country. “Most applicants had no prior teaching experience, and the schools were listed as related to Mr. Gulen," a consular employee wrote in a 2009 cable. It did not say which schools had hired the teachers. Some with dubious credentials were denied visas. 
In February, a Chicago charter school union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers complained to the federal Department of Labor, alleging that the Chicago Math and Science Academy and Concept Schools, a group that operates 25 schools in the Midwest, had abused the visa system by “routinely assigning these teachers duties or class load that seemingly do not take into account the laws governing H1-B visa holders.” 
The Labor Department had already been investigating at least one Concept school. The investigation appeared to have been triggered by a complaint in July 2008 by Mustafa Emanet, a network systems administrator and teacher at a middle school in Cleveland. By law, imported teachers must be paid “prevailing wage.” Mr. Emanet alleged that while his visa reflected his promised salary, $44,000, he was actually paid $28,000 his first year. 
A Labor Department spokesman said the investigation was ongoing. [emphasis mine]
Well, isn't that quite the coincidence? Because the Paterson teachers union is in the middle of a protracted contract negotiation, and the union alleges the state-controlled district's latest offer was for no raises that aren't tied to merit pay. What better way is there to depress salaries for teachers than to dump a slew of low-wage workers into the education labor market?

Here's Bruce Baker:
Harmony (Cosmos/Gulen) schools in Texas are relatively low spending schools and have particularly low labor expenses. Notably, this network of Texas charter schools is large enough to drag down average spending and average labor costs for charters statewide. 
In the Houston area in particular, not only do the Gulen schools pay very low starting salaries, but salaries don’t appear to grow over the first few years of experience. Notably, the Harmony/Cosmos/Gulen schools really don’t have any teachers with more than a few years of experience. Now, this could be in part because no-one would really want to stick around if there’s no outlook for wage growth over time, or because no-one who would have intended to stick around ever applied to begin with, leading the schools to make extensive use of temporary imported staff. 
Figure 1. Houston Area Wages for Charter & District Schools
Figure 2 through Figure 4 show the average school level wages for teachers in Texas district and charter schools in Houston and Austin. Notably, Harmony schools have very low average experience levels and also have very low average salaries. They also have low average salaries even given their low average experience levels. Is it any wonder they suffer a teacher supply problem? Especially with a curricular emphasis on math and science? And especially in tech heavy urban centers. [emphasis mine]
Read the whole thing, and remember this: Paterson already has a Gulen-affiliated school, the Paterson Charter School of Science and Technology (Gulen's own website makes the connection! Here's more.). Adding Paterson A&S further expands the Gulen charter network in North Jersey - and it potentially increases the number of low-paid teachers in the region.

The NJDOE has promised to release the application from Paterson A&S soon. I can't wait to see what it does - and what it doesn't - reveal.

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