Autonomous schools targeted by official

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Autonomous schools targeted by official

North Jeolla’s education chief started a firestorm Saturday by telling the JoongAng Ilbo he intends to revoke the self-regulated, or autonomous, status of two high schools.

Kim Seung-hwan, North Jeolla education chief, is scheduled to announce his decision today. The JoongAng Ilbo dispatch prompted the principals of the two schools and the Education Ministry to lash out at Kim, saying he doesn’t have the power to revoke the schools’ status.

“After consulting legal experts on this issue several times, the Education Ministry determined that Kim’s unilateral decision to repeal the status of the schools violates the education law,” said Ku Ja-mun, a senior official at the Education Ministry’s school system planning division. “The ministry will take legal action.”

Education policy in Korea is the subject of a tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals, especially autonomous and special purpose high schools, which are outside the lottery system that assigns most students to schools. Autonomous high schools can choose students using their own admission standards and can tailor a student’s studies to his or her ability. Conservatives, including the ruling Grand National Party, believe the schools enhance Korea’s human resources and are vital to its future. Liberals say the schools make an end run around Korea’s egalitarian educational system and basically favor the affluent. Kim is a liberal elected to his post in June.

The Education Ministry plans to expand the number of autonomous high schools to 100 from the current 50 by 2012.

According to Ku, if Kim officially revokes the designations, the ministry will send an order to the North Jeolla education office to overturn that decision within a month. If the education chief refuses to accept the order within a given period, the ministry has the authority to cancel or halt Kim’s act under Article 169 of the local government law.

The law states that if an education chief makes a decision that harms the public interest, the Education Ministry has the right to reverse the order.

Ku also said the schools have the right to sue the education chief for compensation separate from any legal action by the ministry.

The schools are Namsung and Gunsan Jungang high schools.

Kim’s predecessor, Choi Kyu-ho, designated the two schools as autonomous on May 30, saying the status gives parents and students more choices in their education and also produces outstanding students who study a distinct curriculum.

Kim, who was sworn into office in July, said he opposed his predecessor’s plan because “it widens the gap of education between the rich and poor.” Autonomous high schools can charge triple the tuition of regular schools.

“My school prepared for the designation for the last four years, and I’m baffled that the new education chief says he will revoke our hard-won status,” Choi Sang-beom, principal of Namsung High School, said.

Meanwhile, an association representing principals of autonomous high schools plans to submit a petition to the Education Ministry and the North Jeolla education office to protest Kim’s action.

Kim Sang-beom, head of the association and also the principal of the Hanyang High School in Seoul, said the association is even considering legal action against Kim.

“It’s not just North Jeolla students, teachers and parents who feel uneasy about Kim’s decision,” Kim said. “Parents and students in Seoul and Gyeonggi areas fear similar things could happen to the schools they want to go to.”


By Lee Won-jean, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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