As children all over the country prepare for the annual American rite of the beginning of school, hundreds of school children and their parents from the Columbus, Ohio Somali refugee community may be getting far less than they bargained for, as well as Ohio taxpayers.
These children will be attending two publicly-funded K-8 charter schools, International Academy of Columbus and Westside Academy, schools are sponsored under an Ohio Department of Education contract with the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation and operated by a politically-connected group of Islamic extremists associated with both the national and Ohio chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). At least one of the taxpayer-financed schools has been used during the last school year to play host to an anti-Israel CAIR-OH “teach-in”.
Even though many of the new students are learning English as a new language, an essential tool for helping them integrate into their new community, the schools instead focuses on Arabic as part of their core curriculum. As a result, standardized test scores for the schools are well below state standards; and yet Ohio educrats continue to give the project new life, pumping millions of taxpayer dollars into each school every year to keep the schools open and renewing their contracts. One board member for both schools has even co-authored an article advocating an educational policy of “selected acculturation” and “accommodation without assimilation” to “encourage Somali youth to develop an adversarial identity that will put them at odds with mainstream society” – thus trapping the students in a cycle of perpetual cultural alienation and isolation.
The student population of both schools is overwhelmingly drawn from the Central Ohio Somali community, which itself is comprised of refugees who fled their war-torn country to escape from the warlords and clan warfare that have torn the country apart since 1991. Sadly, these refugees have arrived only to find the warlords and clan leaders in charge of the very public and private institutions here in the US intended to help them resettle and adjust to life in their new home.
One of the new educational warlords these unsuspecting Somali families are encountering is Ahmad Al-Akhras, CAIR national vice chairman, who is listed as one of the incorporators of both charter schools, and who is listed as the treasurer of International Academy. Joining him on the board of both schools is Abukar Arman, the Somali terror apologist who was recently forced to resign from the Central Ohio Homeland Security oversight board following my FrontPage exposé regarding his published statements of support for terrorist organizations and individuals (see, “Hometown Jihad: The Somali Terror Apologist Next Door” and “Terror Sympathizer Tossed from Homeland Security Oversight Panel”). Arman identifies himself as the board president of Westside Academy and March 2005 press release announcing his appointment to a government board lists him as “building director” of International Academy.
Because the number of Somali refugees attending these two schools, both qualify for tens of thousands of dollars in federal grants under Title III. According to the US Department of Education, the Ohio Title III Director just happens to be none other than Al-Akhras and Abukar Arman business partner, Abdinur Mohamud, who also is listed as director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Lau Resource Center. (More on Mr. Mohamud’s financial ties to this operation and his partnership with Al-Akhras and Arman below.)
The other board members of both institutions are a collection of CAIR-OH officials and board members, and business partners and associates of Al-Akhras, many of whom have served or presently serve on the board of Sunrise Academy, the only full-time Islamic school in the area. In fact, the website for Westside Academy features a link to the Islamic school, even though the charter school claims to be non-sectarian. Sunrise Academy has also been the subject of a recent FrontPage exposé, “Hometown Jihad: The School Gym that Terror Built”, following their multiple fundraising events featuring Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and an advocate of replacing the US Constitution with shari’a law.
Ahmad Al-Akhras is one of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s closest advisors, and Coleman has rewarded his political partner by appointing him to the city’s Community Relations Commission, along with several other city government boards and working groups. This despite the public support that Al-Akhras has given to two convicted Columbus-area Al-Qaeda operatives, another who was recently indicted for supporting terrorist activity, and his self-described longtime friendship with convicted and deported Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative, Fawaz Damra, who received considerable support from CAIR-OH and the national organization prior to his deportation (see, “Hometown Jihad: Getting By with a Little Help From His (Terrorist) Friends”). And in the current HAMAS/Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Dallas, where CAIR has been named unindicted co-conspirator, testimony by a FBI agent has placed two close associates of Al-Akhras, CAIR founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad, at a critical 1993 HAMAS strategy meeting in Philadelphia designed to support the terror organization’s efforts to derail the Oslo Peace Accords. Those terrorist ties notwithstanding, Al-Akhras’ extensive political connections and business relationships seem to have paid off in getting the schools approved.
Apart from the operation of the schools by extremists, the poor academic performance of the schools ought to be cause for concern for parents, taxpayers and education officials alike. The recently released Ohio Department of Education 2006-2007 report card for International Academy shows that it meets only 2 out of 19 state indicators for proficiency – 7th grade writing and attendance (report cards are also available for 2005-2006 and 2004-2005). Westside Academy has not had a published report card yet because it has only had one year of operations.
Some additional findings from the most recent International Academy state education report:
- Since International Academy opened in 2003, it has never met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement and it has never met more than 2 of the 19 state proficiency indicators.
- While the school’s performance index has crawled up slightly over the past three years, with a score of 72.2, it is still well short of the state goal of 100 out of 120.
- More than half of the students (54.9 percent) are rated as less than proficient.
- This year, in every single grade except the 3rd grade, proficiency in mathematics declined from the previous school year.
- While in the 2005-2006 school year, one-third (33.3 percent) of 5th grade students were rated as proficient in math, those same students dropped to one-quarter (25 percent) proficiency in 6th grade this past school year. This past year’s 5th grade scored only 11.1 percent in math proficiency.
- While 6th grade reading scored an impressive 83.3 percent proficiency in 2005-2006, rating higher than the state standard of 75 percent, those scores dropped precipitously this past year to 37.5 percent. Math scores also dropped in that grade from 38.9 percent in 2005-2006 to 25 percent last year. The 6th grade students who performed above the state standard in reading during 2005-2006, are now back below the state standard in the 7th grade at 64.3 percent.
- Students staying at International Academy for more than three years appear to fall further behind in academic proficiency the longer they remain with the school. According to Ohio Department of Education data, proficiency for students with three years attendance at the school is less than one year in four out of five categories. Even after three years at the school, all proficiency scores are still below state standards.
Even as these students fall further behind their peers academically, the educrats at the Ohio Department of Education continue to rubberstamp new contracts for these schools. Rather than wait for the school to improve at the expense of their children’s education, many parents have instead voted with their feet. Enrollment at International Academy has steadily declined since 2004-2005, when the average daily student enrollment was 227. The number of students dropped to 213 in 2005-2006, only to drop further to 193 during the last 2006-2007 school year. Both schools will reopen after Labor Day.
Ohio educrats are also apparently at ease with both schools taking time every day requiring the students to learn Arabic, which a August 2005 article in the Columbus Dispatch, “Seven New Charter Schools Seek Students, Staff, Buildings”, confirms that the language, which is foreign to virtually every Somali, is part of the schools’ core curriculum. The time spent on this Arabic foreign language instruction could otherwise be spent strengthening the schools’ lagging reading and math instruction; or instead, focusing on English proficiency, something the students use every day.
Leaders of the Somali community might be concerned about the open profiteering by the school’s board members and employees from their enterprise. A 2003 Ohio State Auditor’s report on International Academy noted (p. 17) that the school paid $83,500 to Strategic Education and Economic Development (SEED) for teacher training, curriculum development, financial management and State relations. According to filings with the Ohio Secretary of State, SEED was a trade name for the Consolidated Investment Group, Inc., which had the following incorporators: Ahmad Al-Akhras, Abukar Arman, Abdinur Mohamud (the Ohio Dept of Education Title III Director), and International Academy Principal Mouhamed Tarazi. The state legislature closed that loophole in 2003 preventing charter school developers and board members from profiting from their positions in this manner.
However, a bit of digging demonstrates that the profiteering may not be entirely over. The Franklin County Auditor’s property tax records shows that the building currently occupied by Westside Academy is owned by Unified Investment Corp., which lists its place of business as Mouhamed Tarazi’s home address and Tarazi is the listed as the business agent. The 2004 Ohio State Auditor’s report notes in addition (p. 22) that a corporation that Tarazi was a partner of, Sali International, was also paid $140,386 by International Academy.
One wonders how the Somali community would receive the news that these gentlemen had profiteered from the very same schools that have academically failed the children it claims to serve.
Extremist politics, rather than education concerns, seems to be the driving factor of the schools. One of the leaders of the two schools admits to creating a program designed to keep students from integrating into the “racist” American mainstream. In a published education article, “Educating Immigrant Youth in the United States”, Abukar Arman and his co-author lay out an educational plan of keeping Somali children from integrating into their new culture, and cite the experience of International Academy as the best example of their
recommended “selected acculturation” educational philosophy in practice.
Another indicator of the partisan political and sectarian use of these schools is in an anti-Israel “teach-in” sponsored by CAIR-OH held at International Academy in September 2006, entitled “Palestine 101”. The event was co-sponsored by a number of Marxist and extremist organizations: The Committee for Justice in Palestine, International Socialist Union, World Can’t Wait-Columbus, and Not In Our Name-Columbus. CAIR national official and school treasurer Ahmad Al-Akhras served as one of the panelists.
From all the Ohio Department of Education data currently available for these schools, it is abundantly clear that in academic terms CAIR’s publicly-funded schools are failing students and their families miserably. But the anecdotal evidence also indicates that academics takes a back seat to the financial interests, political agendas, and alienating educational philosophies of the board members – all of whom are active with CAIR and other extremist groups whose views depart radically from the moderate and mainstream views of most members of the Columbus Somali community.
This situation is clearly not what Ohio taxpayers and state legislators had in mind when they approved charter schools; rather than improving performance, the data suggests that these schools are mired in chronic failure. All the while, Ohio educrats and the political friends and allies of Ahmad Al-Akhras seem reluctant to intervene in this deplorable situation. Don’t expect the ACLU to intervene, either, as Al-Akhras sits on their state board as well.
Ohio taxpayers, too, should be aware of this situation as they pour millions into the two existing schools, and while Ahmad Al-Akhras and his fellow educational warlords have incorporated yet another school, Eastside Academy, in the hopes of expanding their enterprise. Evidence suggests that the Somali refugee community would be better served by having their children in public schools, where they would be able to get the academic attention and assistance they needed to academically compete with their peers, instead of being pawns in service to an Islamic extremist cultural agenda. And while some of the families have understandably walked away from the program, all of the students surely deserve better.