Private schools want autonomy

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Private schools want autonomy

Principals of 25 self-governing private high schools in Seoul held a press conference yesterday afternoon at the President Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul, to protest newly appointed Seoul superintendent Cho Hee-yeon’s effort to take away their autonomy.

“We will try to stop the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education by all means if it tries to implement any of its plans to shut down or weaken self-governing private high schools,” said Kim Yong-bok, the principal of the Pai Chai High School, who is heading the panel of 25 principals.

Self-governing private high schools are schools that are not financially supported by the government and are allowed to tailor their own curriculum for students. They are also allowed to charge relatively high tuition. They were first introduced in 2009 to give more education options to students.

Cho and other liberal superintendents have blamed the elite schools for hollowing out regular high schools. Autonomous private high schools are allowed to select students based on applicants’ academic records and/or interview. Normally, government high schools admit students through a lottery system.

“Cho is causing confusion by pledging he will start a heyday for normal high schools,” Kim said. “It is not true that typical high schools were ruined by self-governing high schools.”

Kim added, “It is politically biased populism to suppress autonomous high schools, when they admit that foreign high schools, international high schools, science high schools and other special-purpose high schools are having more of an impact on typical high schools.”

The principals also expressed disagreement with measures announced by the Seoul education office. The local education authority said Thursday it would provide financial and administrative support to self-governing high schools that are willing to switch back to being normal high schools, giving 1.4 billion won ($1,361,000) over the next five years.

“Given that billions or tens of billions of won have been invested for the autonomous high schools, providing that amount of money for five years would not be very helpful,” said Kim.

The panel also demanded the education authority stop its examinations of autonomous private high schools. Fourteen out of 25 self-governing high schools in Seoul were inspected this year to maintain their status. But the education office decided to reevaluate the schools with different standards after Cho was sworn in at the beginning of July.

The new round of evaluations will include surveys on self-governing private high schools’ impact on public education, and the principals insist the questions on that issue lack common sense and are not objective. For example, students of self-governing private schools are asked whether they were in the upper 10 percent of their classes in terms of grades when they were in middle school.

“None of the autonomous private high schools have been stripped of their status so far, and some might be if new evaluation standards are applied,” said an official of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.


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