Battle begins over elite high schools

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Battle begins over elite high schools


Cho Hi-yeon

The first battle in an expected war between the liberal education superintendents who won their June 4 races and the conservative Education Ministry has broken out in Seoul over whether to shut down some expensive, private schools in the capital by this summer.

The Seoul Education Office, which is currently being run by conservative superintendent Moon Yong-lin, is pushing ahead with its original schedule to complete an audit of the city’s so-called “autonomous high schools” in order to decide whether to reauthorize the schools for the next five years.

However, newly elected liberal superintendent Cho Hi-yeon, who will start his term July 1, said he wants the audit delayed until he takes over.

During his campaign, Cho repeatedly vowed to shut down some of the elite schools if their management was confirmed to be shoddy.

The autonomous high schools maintain financial independence from the government and in return are granted more freedom in picking students, creating their curriculum and charging tuition.

Since launched by the Lee Myung-bak administration, however, more and more autonomous schools have asked the Ministry of Education to turn them back into ordinary schools because they could not fill their classrooms. As a result, in August 2013, the government started to shut down some autonomous schools.

There are 49 autonomous high schools nationwide and 25 of them are in Seoul. Fourteen of the 25 are scheduled to be audited this year to confirm re-approval for the next five years.

To shut down a school, a city or provincial education office must discuss it with the Education Ministry in advance.

The 13 liberal superintendents who won June 4 races, including Cho, are calling for a review of all autonomous schools, which they consider elitist.

“I have already announced I will shut down some of the schools and turn them into ordinary schools through reevaluations of them,” Cho said at a briefing on Thursday.

The Education Ministry is pressuring the Seoul Education Office to finish the audits before the new liberal chief takes his office in July. Current chief Moon is cooperating with the ministry.

If the ministry and the Seoul office finish the audits by the end of June and reauthorizes the 14 schools, Cho will not be able to overturn the decision for the next five years. His term is four years.

“Our position is to implement the ongoing procedures to reevaluate the management of the autonomous high schools under the original schedule,” the Education Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Lee Sang-su, a spokesman of Cho’s transition team, told reporters on Thursday that the current Seoul superintendent should discuss the matter with the incoming chief.

“Under an ordinance regarding a newly elected superintendent, the current education chief can’t decide an issue without negotiating with the superintendent-elect,” Lee said. “We asked Moon to follow the regulation in the matter of the autonomous schools.”


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