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Seoul education chief puts eight elite high schools in firing line

Seoul Education Chief Cho Hi-yeon said Thursday the autonomous private high school system has intensified the pecking order of schools in Korea, and suggested that the government revise the law on the de facto elite schools.

“The autonomous private high school policy boiled down to ‘vertical diversity,’ when we need to pursue the horizontal diversity of schools,” he said during a press conference at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

“In the grand scheme of advancing our education system, I urge the education minister and the National Assembly to consider the significance of this issue.”

His remarks came as the SMOE announced eight autonomous schools whose independent status it wishes to cancel.

Cho said despite the fact that one of the schools facing the ax is his alma mater, the results of the comprehensive evaluation should hold.

The eight schools slated to be stripped of their status are Kyunghee High School, Paichai High School, Sehwa High School, Soongmoon High School, Shinil High School, Wooshin High School, Choong Ang High School and Ewha Womans University High School.

Cho said the only reason the students at autonomous high schools have higher academic accomplishments is because they pick top-level students. Instead of relying on this privilege to send more students to prestigious colleges, Cho said all high schools should compete on even ground.

His remarks reflected his hard-line stance against the schools with the Education Ministry.

But the path to strip the schools of their privileges is littered with obstacles, one of which is questions lingering over the fairness of the SMOE’s evaluation.

While the initial assessment in June cleared all 14 schools evaluated this year for redesignation, Cho raised issues about its fairness and conducted a new evaluation based on the data collected during the first one.

“The initial assessment allocated more points for the infrastructure and facilities, and less for the schools’ effects on public education,” said Sung Ki-sun, a professor at the Catholic University of Korea who led the reevaluation. The new tests added more points for these aspects, which led to the general drop in scores.

The new method spurred suspicion that the SMOE may have altered the results of a legitimate evaluation to achieve the desined outcome.

The Education Ministry has criticized Cho’s actions as an abuse of authority and vowed to reject any request from the SMOE to strip the status of autonomous schools.

The schools themselves have fiercely objected to what they claimed were illegal and unfair grudges against them.

“We honor the Education Ministry’s stance that the SMOE’s evaluation is illegal, and refuse to accept any results from it,” said Kim Yong-bok, the principal of Paichai High School and the head of the association of principals of autonomous private high schools.

“Cho said himself all the autonomous schools had passed the (first) evaluation. Are you kidding me? The recent evaluation was contrived,” he said. “I know about the results, but the ministry said it was legal so it’s not even worth mentioning.”

By Yoon Min-sik (