Last December, Tucson Weekly ran an article by Tim Vanderpool about the Sonoran Science Academy charter schools: Hidden Agenda? Parents raise concerns that a Tucson charter school has ties to a Turkish nationalist movement.
Today, Tim Steller has a long, excellent piece in the Star about Sonoran Science. It's well researched, informative and even handed, one of those articles about a controversial subject where readers are given enough information to draw their own conclusions without unnecessary editorial intrusion by the writer.
[NOTE: I feel the need to repeat what I've said often before. Good reporters are a vital part of any city, state or country's informed existence. That's why I hope, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports about the death of America's newspapers are greatly exaggerated. Steller has been doing excellent work lately. And, for all the fact that I have criticized Rhonda Bodfield -- rather harshly in the past few days -- I have said before and continue to maintain that Bodfield is an excellent journalist. When I feel she has strayed from good reporting, I call her on it and try to back up my criticisms so others can judge whether they're valid. But I hope no one thinks for a second I am claiming that people like me are anything like replacements for real journalists like Steller and Bodfield. I don't have the training, the resources or the time to do their jobs.]
OK, back to Steller's article about Sonoran Science Academy.
It's pretty clear students at these charter schools get excellent science and math educations. The schools are serious about their educational mission.
It's also clear the schools have lots of teachers who were educated in Turkey -- 32%, by Steller's estimate -- and that both Turkish language and culture are taught at the school.
There's a legitimate question whether the schools are affiliated with The Gülen Movement, which is "inspired by Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania." I won't try to summarize the movement, except to say it is described as a sinister movement by some and a Turkey-centric educational movement by others. I don't know enough to form an educated opinion.
If the Sonoran Science schools have a loose affiliation with The Gülen Movement, which the school's superintendent denies, there's a question as to whether that is necessarily a problem.
Months back, I received some semi-hysterical emails from people about Sonoran Science and its connections with Gülen. I followed the links they provided and found little more than innuendo and guilt by association, nothing I felt I could use to pin a negative label on the schools. If concerns about the school are valid, the critics need to do a better job of substantiating their claims.
I'm a big proponent of greater oversight of charter schools, but I see nothing at the Sonoran Science Academy charters that raises red flags. Parents who object to the undeniable Turkish influence in the schools can put their children elsewhere.
Look, we live in a demonstrably xenophobic state, yet the Sonoran Science schools seem to have no trouble attracting students, even with so many foreign born teachers. For me, that's an indication the schools are doing a good job educating their students.