"he points to the success of Concept Schools in Ohio, where he says all show either "continuous improvement" or that they are "effective and excellent.""
That is inaccurate. The last batch of school report cards available from Ohio, for 2009-2010, showed 5 Horizon schools (Concept) on Academic Watch and one on Academic Emergency. (cf. http://www.slideshare.net/CASILIPS/concept-schools-success-in-education-or-success-in-marketing)
Note this line from the article:
"To get the school up and running, however, the school district required the charter organizers to come up with $1 million from the community, which it did, half of it from major employer Caterpillar."
Hakan Berberoglu's wife Ozgur Aytekin Berberoglu works for Caterpillar. That is why you'll see Caterpillar supporting the Midwest Gulen schools. Also, I remember seeing a document, perhaps a charter application or board minutes, in which Caterpillar made a statement that they needed better science and math education in their area. They made it look as though it came from an independent local employer rather than it being an inside job.
"Ozgur Aytekin Berberoglu (mechanical engineering '00) received her master's degree in nanotechnology from University of Illinois at Chicago and works at Caterpillar, in Aurora, Illinois, as a vehicle engineer in the wheel loader department. She was married to Hakan Berberoglu in July 2003 in Istanbul, Turkey."
I'd say with 95% certainty that Hakan Berberoglu (Niagara Foundation) is posting comments to the Houston Chronicle article.
Charter public schools are all the rage among education reformers and business leaders. We don't have any charter schools in our readership communities, so I took a drive to Peoria to visit the Quest Charter Academy in that city.
The techniques employed there are not magic — longer school days and school year; twice as much time devoted to math and English as in regular schools; strong parental involvement; and high expectations.
Charter schools in Illinois are authorized by local public school districts under a "charter" of, say, five years to provide education often somewhat specialized for typical public school students. The Quest Academy focuses, for example, on math, science and technology.
The Quest Academy operates from a previously shuttered public elementary school. About 700 students applied for the 225 slots in a fifth- to seventh-grade school that will grow each year until it provides education through the senior year in high school.
Students were selected by lottery and reflect the demographics of the Peoria school district: 63 percent African-American, 23 percent Caucasian, 11 percent multiracial and 2 percent Hispanic.
As a charter, Quest can operate independently of most school district rules. Teachers are, for example, on yearly contracts rather than protected from firing by tenure. Nevertheless, Quest received 400 resumes for it 20 teaching positions.
As Quest Principal Engin Blackstone notes: "We can change things overnight if they aren't working to our satisfaction."
Quest receives about the same amount of funding per pupil as the regular public schools in Peoria. To get the school up and running, however, the school district required the charter organizers to come up with $1 million from the community, which it did, half of it from major employer Caterpillar.
The school is operated by Concept Schools, a nonprofit group that runs 25 schools in Midwestern states, primarily in Ohio. Eleven years old, Concept is headed by two Turkish-American entrepreneurs who often bring math and science teachers from abroad into their classrooms, because of the difficulty of finding highly-qualified math and science teachers in the U.S. Peoria's Quest relies, however, solely on American teachers.
As I see it, the key differences with the regular schools are these:
Each Quest school day is 62 minutes longer, and after school activities in chess club, MathCounts, science fair and other competitive pursuits are encouraged; after school tutoring also is available.
Math and English lasts 90 minutes a day for each, rather than 45 minutes.
School meets Saturdays for both students who are struggling and for advanced students.
The school year is eight days longer, and classes run with volunteers from nearby colleges when teachers are occupied by required professional development (normally, students are let off during what we used to call "Institute" days).
Parental involvement is emphasized; there are four rather than two parent conferences, conducted Saturdays, and home visits by teacher-advisers are required.
Blackstone is discouraged that only 80 percent of the parents participated in the first round of parent-teacher-student conferences, and he will focus on the 20 percent who didn't show, he says.
Nor does Blackstone — a native of Turkey who is on the path to U.S. citizenship — give up on his students. When a parent with a child who has behavior problems suggested he move the child of out Quest, Blackstone said, "No, we will have a consultant or other specialists work with the child."
The big question is whether charter schools make a difference in outcomes, now that there are 5,000 charter schools nationwide educating 1.5 million students (115 in Illinois, with 42,000 students).
A recent major evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education found that, "On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional schools in improving student achievement, behavior and school progress."
Blackstone believes his school will indeed fulfill the "Quest to be the best," and he points to the success of Concept Schools in Ohio, where he says all show either "continuous improvement" or that they are "effective and excellent."
Charter schools are found primarily in large urban school districts that exhibit poor performance overall. Whether they will be all the rage in the future depends upon whether they make a positive difference. I came away from Quest Charter Academy with the sense the principal and his team are trying mightily to do just that.
Caterpillar is likely to be intertwined with Calik's business ventures, esp. those having to do with mining the untapped deposits in Central Asian regions.
Calik, a multi-billionaire, is described this way: "a happily married father of four remains a humble, decent, nice and quietly confident man-kind of like a Turkish version of Warren Buffet."
Somehow this is connected to why the CIA is involved and, I believe, why all these Gulen schools have been tolerated, and even promoted by members of our own government.
More on Calik, Cetin and leader of all Turkomans Niyazov