How American should American schools be?
Part of the impetus behind modern education reform is the idea that more of the education system should be operated by businesses. Many merits and drawbacks of that approach continue to be debated, but one aspect is rarely discussed. Modern business is multinational, so we need to ask–how much control of our educational system do we want to send outside of U.S. borders?
Charter schools have been one path by which foreign nationals can become involved in the U.S. education system. The most notable example is the schools of the so-called Gulen charter chain. The Sunni imam Fethullah Gülen (who is almost always awarded the adjective “reclusive”) moved to the U.S. in 1999 for medical treatment. Within a decade, he had created a wide-ranging group of charter schools. The chain has been used to issue H-1B visas to large numbers of Turkish nationals to come to teach; numerous reports claim that they are also expected to kick back part of their salary. The schools are also accused of funneling money to groups such as Gulen-linked construction companies. While some conservative critics worry about Gulen schools as indoctrination centers, many others are concerned that the Gulen schools are using U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund a government in exile. At the very least, Gulen schools put U.S. students in the middle of a foreign power struggle; the Erdogan government has actively worked to undermine the chain, and the 2016 Turkish coup attempt was blamed on Gulen.
That’s just one charter chain, but it’s one of the largest chains in the country, with as many as 150 schools (not all schools are eager to advertise their Gulen connection, so counts vary). But in most states, charter schools are run as businesses, allowing for investors and operators from across the globe.