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Ministry says decision was erroneous on high school

July 27,2019
Sangsan High School, an autonomous private high school in North Jeolla, will maintain its special status, the Ministry of Education announced on Friday.

“We hereby announce the ministry’s decision to disagree with the decision by the North Jeolla education office to revoke the autonomous private school status of Sangsan,” said Park Baeg-beom, vice minister of education, in a press briefing at the ministry headquarters in Sejong on Friday.

Sangsan was one of 11 autonomous private high schools in the country that did not pass a test this year by local education offices to maintain their special status. A total of 24 were assessed.

Autonomous private high schools are financially independent from the government. In return, they are granted more freedom in choosing students and developing their curriculum and tuition.

Education offices throughout the country assess autonomous private high schools every five years to determine whether they can maintain their autonomous private status. In order for such schools to maintain their status, they must score a minimum of 70 points out of 100 in their assessment by local education offices.

The assessment follows guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education, and local education offices can choose to follow or alter these guidelines. The assessment criteria may include the tuition, curriculum, teacher aptitude, the state of facilities and students’ assessments.

The local education office’s decision becomes final with the ministry’s approval.

The decision by the North Jeolla education office to revoke the status of Sangsan, announced in June, was controversial because the education office raised the passing score from 70 points to 80 points out of 100.

Sangsan scored 79.61 points, according to the North Jeolla education office.

“The local education offices have the right to raise the passing score if they see the need,” Park said. “But we found fault in the office’s decision [to revoke the special status of Sangsan] because it focused a lot of its assessment on whether the school had selected students from low-income families.”

The North Jeolla education office had announced in March that it would leave it up to each autonomous private school to decide how many prospective students they would admit each year from low-income families.

The office did an about-face when it assessed Sangsan in April, saying that Sangsan had only 3 percent of its student body from low-income families, when it should have at least 10 percent.

“That we found to be unfair because the education office did not inform Sangsan about this particular assessment standard,” Park said. “Sangsan had no way of knowing that it should have at least 10 percent of its student body from low-income families. We have therefore concluded that the education office’s assessment standards were not fair and hereby disagree with its decision to revoke the special status of Sangsan.”

The ministry, however, said it agreed with the decisions of local education offices to revoke the special status of Gunsan Jungang High School in North Jeolla and Ansan Dongsan High School in Gyeonggi.

“Gunsan Jungang High School actually voluntarily requested the North Jeolla education office to revoke its status because of a lack of students and finances,” Park said. “The ministry agrees with this decision.

“Ansan Dongsan High School, on the other hand, scored 62.06 points, 7.94 points shy of the passing score of 70, according to the Gyeonggi education office,” Park said. “We did not find any illegality in the way the education office conducted its assessment of the school. We hereby announce our agreement with the office’s decision to revoke the special status of the school.”

Ansan Dongsan High School’s principal told the press upon the ministry’s announcement Friday that he will file an injunction to protest the ministry’s decision.

The ministry has yet to make a decision about the other eight autonomous private high schools that local education offices said should lose their special status and become regular high schools. The Moon Jae-in government intends to scrap autonomous private high schools to achieve what it describes as a more equal environment in education. Autonomous private high schools tend to be more competitive in getting graduates into top universities.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]