From CBS 60 Minutes website, May 14, 2012
The reporter is Leslie Stahl
There are a total of about 130 charter schools like Harmony in 26 states. Together they form the largest collection of charter schools in the country. Here's what's curious: they're founded and run by immigrant businessmen and academics from Turkey. Why are they building public schools here?
Well, the answer seems to lie with this mystery man: the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen who tells his followers that to be devout Muslims they shouldn't build mosques - they should build schools; and not to teach religion, but science. In sermons on the web, he actually says: "Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God." So Gulen's followers have gone out and built over 1,000 schools around the globe - from Turkey to Togo; from Taiwan to Texas.
Alp Aslandogan: His message is that if you want to solve any social problem for the longer term, the solution has to go through education.
Businessman Alp Aslandogan chairs a foundation in Houston that advances Gulen's teachings.
Lesley Stahl: It's so counterintuitive that people from Turkey would come here to get involved here in education.
Alp Aslandogan: People do go to other countries, including Africa. The United States, especially in math and science, is not really good. And many parents complain about that. So there is a need for skilled teachers in the United States in that fields.
We went to Turkey to learn more and found Gulen's schools are everywhere and considered the best. They're often multi-million dollar hi-tech facilities where girls are equal to boys and English is taught starting in first grade.
Gulen didn't only influence education. Starting in the late 60s, as a young imam, he urged crowds of middle class Turks to learn from the West and embrace its values - including an unexpected one: making money. In this Internet sermon, he even told followers: "If you don't seek ways to be wealthy...that is a sin in the eyes of God." So his disciples in Turkey became successful businessmen and built a multi-billion dollar Gulen empire that beyond the schools, includes TV stations, a major bank, Turkey's largest trade association, and biggest newspaper.
There is little doubt that with a string of publicly funded charter schools operating across the U.S. with waiting lists longer than the current enrolment, operated by a Turkish Muslim, who espouses co-operation with all world religions, and who lives as a recluse in the Pokono Hills in Pennsylvania, and who never visits the schools themselves, that there are critics who wonder if this is not some conspiracy to grow Islam around the world.
Americans, for their part, have opened their "business" doors, and apparently their tax revenues to such "entrepreneurs" and their innocence may be under the radar that demonstrates teachers who work for these schools are expected to turn back some 40% of their salaries to the charitable trust that operates the schools.
Citing a gap in the standards being achieved in public schools in science and math, spokesperson for the Gulen charter schools, indicates that students in these schools are far exceeding the results in American public schools.
Let's continue to watch this story, while withholding our condemnation and our scorn.
This could be an effective competitive "spur" in the side of the American "educational horse" to achieve better results for the students in U.S. public schools.