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Cornered autonomous schools take step back

Seven of eight autonomous private high schools that did not pass the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s recent quality test have said they are willing to make improvements, a significant retreat from their initial stance that the SMOE evaluation was illegitimate.

Earlier this week, the SMOE urged the schools to submit plans to address the problems pointed out during the September evaluation. The eight schools that failed to pass were to be revoked of all their privileges as autonomous schools, including picking their own students via interviews, leeway over curriculum and higher tuition.

All schools except Wooshin High School on Wednesday chose to comply with the SMOE’s offer by the deadline. Wooshin warned of legal actions against the SMOE if it cancels its designation as an autonomous school.

Seoul Education Chief Cho Hi-yeon now has to reach a decision on whether the seven schools’ plan was sufficient to put off another review until 2016. He is expected to announce his final decision on which schools will be downgraded on Friday.

While it cannot yet be determined whether the de facto elite schools’ battle against Cho and his evaluation landed in his favor, the move represents a hefty blow to the autonomous schools, which originally refused to follow any administrative actions tied to the assessment.

“Each autonomous school has a different agenda, which means it would have been difficult to continue to take joint action (against the SMOE),” said an SMOE official, saying its last-second offer yielded results that “exceeded its expectations.” He added that submitting the plan did not guarantee a free pass.

According to the schools, the education office also offered two-year postponement for schools that gave up their rights to select students, though the SMOE declined to confirm the existence of such an offer. One has forfeited the rights while another is reportedly mulling whether to follow suit.

The SMOE is widely expected to persuade more of the autonomous schools to give up their student selection privilege, which is considered one of the key factors hindering Cho’s goal to achieve “educational equality” among students.

But school principals urged people not to read too much into their decision.

Kim Yong-bok, the principal of Paichai High School and the head of the Association of Principals of Autonomous Private High Schools, said that all schools still agreed that Cho’s evaluation was illegal. He said that his school would only comply with the possible changes to the student selection process if the same standards are applied to all schools.

“All autonomous schools in Seoul are basically equal, so I think our selection process should be the same,” he said.

Six of eight schools are reportedly preparing for legal actions against the SMOE.

The principal of another autonomous school said that he submitted the plans “out of courtesy” but has made it clear that his school has no intention of giving up its interview privilege.

By Yoon Min-sik (
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Korea Herald daum