Public school prescriptionsResults of the evaluation of academic performance of elementary school sixth graders, middle school seniors and high school freshmen were released yesterday. In this project, students were evaluated through a standardized test for the first time. The conclusion is that levels of academic performance vary depending on area or education office.
Previously, revealing schools’ performance had been taboo because some believed it encouraged competition between different areas and schools and differentiated good schools from bad. But just as a doctor can’t write a proper prescription for a patient without knowing their symptoms, the government can’t identify schools in need of support without publicizing data like evaluation results. Releasing the data was part of the right prescription for the chronic disease afflicting our schools.
Among 180 areas, the difference between the area with the most number of students performing below grade level and the area with the least number of underperformers was as much as 30 percentage points. Even though all schools are in the same egalitarian system, differences in performance run very wide. The farther students progress in their academic careers, the larger the percentage of students performing below grade level.
This proves that public education has neglected poorly performing students. In Seoul private tutoring is commonplace but there are many students who still perform poorly.
As this evaluation has revealed symptoms, we must take action to cure the disease before it’s too late. The government is preparing measures to increase budgets for schools with many students with substandard performance and provide services by college tutors or intern teachers to aid failing students.
But this is not enough. Schools and teachers need to work harder to improve student performance. A good example is 10 principals selected as the best in Busan. They were within the top 3 percent in principal evaluations and this year they applied to take jobs in schools in western Busan, an area that’s fallen behind. This was made possible because they were given autonomy to employ vice principals, teachers and chief administrative officials of their choice and to run their schools the way they see fit.
In fact, the schools that earned higher marks in the recent evaluation are known for their principals’ leadership and teachers’ passion. This just goes to show that the onus is on educators to revitalize their schools and improve students’ performance.