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Private high school protests special status test

Seoul education office holds hearings with teachers and parents
July 23,2019
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Parents of students who attend Kyunghee High School, an autonomous private high school in Seoul that recently failed a special status test administered by the city education office, hold a protest in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in Jongno District, central Seoul on Monday. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]
Students and teachers at Kyunghee High School, one of the eight autonomous private high schools in Seoul that recently failed a special status test administered by the city education office, said the assessment was unfair because the assessment criteria was arbitrarily changed.

“The city education office must assess the school based on how it was run over the past five years,” said a legal representative of the students and teachers of the high school located in Dongdaemun District, eastern Seoul, at a hearing hosted by the city education office on Monday.

“The school was run based on the standards established five years ago [in the routine five-year assessment by the education office], but the city education office changed the assessment criteria and told the schools last December about the changes,” said the representative. “The school did not have time to make adjustments accordingly.”

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 hearing was attended by six teachers, three parents, one student and one legal representative from Kyunghee, and four officials from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

The education office did not provide a response at the hearing.

“The hearing was held to explain the assessment results and listen to the opinions of stakeholders at the school,” said Lee Jong-tak, head of the education innovation bureau of the office. “So we did not provide a response at the hearing.”

The city education office assessed 13 autonomous private high schools in Seoul this year and announced earlier this month that eight of them did not pass their test and need to be revoked of their special status, to be remodeled into regular high schools.

Once a school fails the test, the city education office holds a hearing at the school to give a chance for the teachers, students and parents to respond to the office’s decision, before submitting their request to the Ministry of Education to approve their decision.

The revocation decision becomes final with the ministry’s approval.

Kyunghee added that the assessment was conducted unfairly because it was allegedly influenced by the central government’s plan to scrap autonomous private high schools throughout the country.

“The education office already had an answer in mind when it conducted the assessment,” said the legal representative of the high school in the hearing. “And that answer was to scrap autonomous private high schools.”

It is no secret that the Moon Jae-in government intends to scrap autonomous private high schools across the nation to achieve what it describes as a more equal environment in education and competition for students. In June, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said she plans on eliminating Korea’s autonomous private high schools.

Autonomous private high schools, alongside other private schools in Korea, are perceived as more competitive institutions than regular high schools for students who wish to attend top universities in Seoul.

“Our school was not created with the sole purpose to help students get into college,” said Kim Min-seop, a second-year student at Kyunghee. “The curriculum helps the students experience and experiment with various career possibilities. It is wrong to see autonomous private high schools as college prep schools and the education offices must not scrap them in a one-sided manner.”

Parents held rallies in front of the office while the hearing was ongoing.

“Why scrap autonomous private high schools if you cannot provide the same level of education in regular high schools?” one parent shouted.

“Cho Hee-yeon must step down!” another parent said during the rally.

Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, had been vocal with the press about how he also intends to scrap autonomous private high schools in the city.

Hearings will be held at other schools that failed the test, including Soongmoon, Shinil and Ewha Womans University high schools today and Choong Ang and Hanyang University high schools on Wednesday.

“Should the ministry approve the office’s decision to revoke the status, then the eight autonomous private high schools will file an injunction together,” said Oh Se-mok, head of an association of autonomous private high schools. “Then we will request the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea to investigate if the Seoul education office conducted its assessment fairly.”

BY PARK HYUNG-SU, JEON MIN-HEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]