Tulsa schools linked to Chinese Communist entity

Ray Carter | August 3, 2023

At one time public schools across the United States had Confucius Institute programs. But those programs, originally touted as promoting Chinese-language classes, have fallen away following publicity about the institutes’ ties to the Chinese government and its ruling Communist Party.

However, a new report says Tulsa Public Schools is one of a relatively small number of public schools nationally that maintain reliance on Confucius Institute programming.

“Little Red Classrooms,” a report by Parents Defending Education, identified Tulsa as one of seven school districts nationwide that the group found has “contracts that show Confucius Classrooms, or other Chinese government-backed programing, are still in operation” at the schools.

Parents Defending Education found that since 2009 there have been 143 schools across 34 states and Washington, D.C. that were affiliated with Confucius Institutes—“and at least seven are still active.”

In addition to Tulsa, the report said similar programs remain in place at Cloverport Independent School District in Kentucky, Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota, St. Cloud Area School District in Minnesota, Sisters School District in Oregon, Highland Park Independent School District in Texas, and Seattle Public Schools in Washington.

Confucius Institutes were once run by the Hanban, a Chinese government agency. The Hanban was subsequently renamed the Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation (CLEC), and spun off a separate organization, the Chinese International Education Foundation (CIEF), that now funds and oversees Confucius Institutes and many of their replacements.

In August 2020, the U.S. Department of State declared that the Confucius Institute U.S. Center was a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China, saying that designation recognized the Confucius Institute U.S. Center “for what it is: an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms. Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

That prompted many colleges and public K-12 school districts to end their relationships with Confucius Institutes, but some remain in place.

The Parents Defending Education report notes that Carver Middle School, in Tulsa Public Schools, originally became a “Confucius School” through Hanban.

The report said some school districts today “mask Chinese government funding through third-party nonprofit entities. Such is the case in schools in Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina.”

The Parents Defending Education report states that Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education “has a contract with the Confucius Classroom Coordination Offices through the International Leadership of Texas Global.”

The July 11, 2022, agenda of the Tulsa Public Schools board of education included an item for board approval that would allow the district to enter “into an agreement with the Confucius Classroom Coordination Offices through the International Leadership of Texas, a 501(c)(3) organization, an international partnership dedicated to building the field of Chinese language teachers and learning in American schools for the 2022-2023 school year.”

The Tulsa school board agenda stated that there would be no cost to the district because the Chinese International Education Foundation “will provide funding for operating expenses.”

“This will be Booker T. Washington’s ninth year to participate in a Confucius Classroom program,” the July 22, 2022, Tulsa school board agenda stated. “International Leadership of Texas, in partnership with Confucius Classroom Coordination Offices, offers a quality program which will allow our students to continue the study of the Chinese language and culture. This item aligns with our high school experience strategy as outlined in Pathways to Opportunity.”

When asked if the district maintains its Confucius program, the communications department for Tulsa Public Schools issued a statement saying that one teacher in the Tulsa district “participates in professional development from the International Leadership of Texas program, which partners with Confucius Classroom. The teacher’s salary and adopted instructional resources are fully paid for by Tulsa Public Schools.”

“Students benefiting from our teacher’s supplementary professional development with the International Leadership of Texas have achieved high honors in the past year, including placing in the Oklahoma Chinese Speech competition and the National Chinese Speech Contest,” the Tulsa Public Schools statement said.

The University of Oklahoma had a Confucius Institute on campus starting in 2006. In addition to its work at the university level, the OU Confucius Institute provided “teaching materials, funding to support teaching staff, and tools for Chinese language and culture programs” in K-12 schools around the state, including in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond, Norman, Putnam City, Enid, Jenks, Bixby, Union, Owasso, Muskogee, Fort Gibson, Crescent, Lawton and Comanche school districts.

In 2018, an OU spokesman said the university had received more than $1 million in funding for its Confucius Institute from the Hanban. Donations for the institute were directed to the OU Foundation, an independent not-for-profit corporation, making associated records exempt from the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

OU officials have since claimed to sever ties with the Confucius Institute, but a 2022 report by the National Association of Scholars warned that OU was among colleges and universities that still had entities on campus that operate much the same as prior Confucius Institutes, only under new names.

Parents Defending Education said Chinese language programs can be provided in public schools without entanglement with entities controlled by the Chinese government.

“The allure of Chinese language and culture programs have led American K-12 schools to forge ties with one of the United States’ biggest foreign adversaries,” the Parents Defending Education report stated. “While it’s important to provide students access to Chinese language and culture programs in schools, American schools should not give the Chinese Communist Party unfettered access to our students.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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