Rethinking reformAmerica’s drive to reform its schools and revive public education is gaining momentum. President Barack Obama has decided to push ahead with plans to close, over the next five years, 5,000 schools that have demonstrated poor academic achievement and to lay off the principals and teachers of those schools.
The shutdown of underperforming schools that began on a small scale in a few places including New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago during the Bush administration has gathered pace to cover as much as 5 percent of all the schools in the country.
A country cannot really hope for future growth without securing competitiveness in its education sector. That applies to the United States as well as to Korea. But even though shuttering schools with sluggish academic performance seems like a good solution for the United States, it is an unrealistic solution for Korea.
However, to the extent that filtering out unqualified principals and teachers boosts educational competitiveness, we should come up with an appropriate system of our own to take us toward that goal.
The first step to reforming our education system is finding qualified principals to lead the charge. Without passion and willingness to improve the quality of school education, no principal can hope to see this task to its successful conclusion.
This was why, for the first time in Korea, the Busan Education Office initiated a system for assessing principals last year. The office plans to exclude principals who score lower than 3 percent in the assessment from its regular review for reappointment.
Previously, principals were granted tenure after four years of employment, but in Busan those who fail the assessment will no longer be eligible for it.
The Education Ministry should adopt the system and instruct other regional education offices to follow suit.
The introduction of the teacher assessment system should not face further delay. When Education Minister Ahn Byong-man proposes the system’s implementation next year, the National Assembly should not delay the passage of the related bill with its usual excuse about opposition from the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.
Once enforced, the assessment system should be linked with the system for relocating teachers. Unless this is done the ministry cannot possibly fulfill its original goal of reform.
In addition, we need to devise methods for promoting skilled teachers, while also ensuring that less competent teachers get the training they need to get back on track.