In the U.K. and U.S., privately operated public schools are on the rise. Globally, one Turkish cleric’s ideas link over 1,000 such institutions.

Privately operated “public” schools 

Privately operated public schools—charter schools in the United States and free schools in the United Kingdom—are expanding rapidly, totalling nearly 6,000 in the U.S. in 2013 and 174 in the U.K. Governed by widely varying policies and regulations, the schools operate on both a non-profit and for-profit basis, with some locally controlled by parents and educators, and others part of national or international chains with proprietary curriculum. In the U. S., nearly one in five students enrolled in charter schools attends a school operated by a for-profit management company (Gary et al., 2012). According to one analysis, charter schools in the U.S. sought to employ more than 4,000 teachers from abroad between 2002-2008. This amounts to roughly 5% of the international teacher recruits sought in that period in the country (Bartlett, 2014). A 2003 report on foreign teacher recruitment for the National Education Association estimated that 67% of the teaching positions certified by the Labor Department were for applications from public school authorities. The remaining third would have come from private and charter school employers (Barber, 2003).

In the landscape of international recruitment by American charters, one network bears further examination. A loosely affiliated network of at least 130 charter schools specializing in math and science in the U.S. has been connected to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic cleric. American schools are part of a worldwide network of more than 1,000 Gülen-inspired schools in more than 100 countries. Uniquely, Gülen schools in the United States are publicly funded. Moreover, these schools applied for 771 three-year teacher visas in 2011 alone and are known to rely heavily on Turkish recruits to staff their schools. Taken together, these schools constitute the largest network of charter schools in the U.S.


Dashboard: A Comprehensive Data Resource. “Total Number of Schools.” Data for 2010-2011. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Department for Education. “Open free schools.” Accessed September 25, 2013.

Profiles of For-profit and Nonprofit Education Management Institutions: Thirteenth Annual Report—2010-2011

Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, and Breanna Dailey. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center, 2012.

Bartlett, Lora. Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Toppo, Greg. "Objectives of charter schools with Turkish ties questioned." USA Today, August 17, 2010.