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Seoul to deprive six high schools of elite status

Seoul’s education chief Cho Hi-yeon announced Friday that six autonomous private high schools would become regular schools, backpedaling from the original plan to revoke the rights of eight schools.

The six schools will have their privileges ― mainly leeway over curriculum ― revoked by the 2016 school year.

“I’ve decided cancel the designations of six autonomous private high schools and delay the cancellation for two other schools that showed a clear desire to improve themselves,” he said in a press conference at Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

The two schools, Soongmoon High School and Shinil High School, were the highest-scoring schools in the comprehensive evaluation that was announced in September, he said.

During the press conference, Cho reiterated his will to achieve educational equality by revoking the student selection privileges for all autonomous schools by 2016. He also urged the government and the lawmakers to aid him in his effort to ultimately phase-out the elite school system, one of his key election pledges.
Seoul education chief Cho Hi-yeon (right) speaks at a news conference on Friday. (Yonhap)
Seoul education chief Cho Hi-yeon (right) speaks at a news conference on Friday. (Yonhap)

Cho denied claims that he convinced schools to forfeit student selection rights in exchange for a two-year postponement, and said that the schools voluntarily gave up these rights. His statement was met with skepticism, since the two schools that were not axed immediately were the ones gave up student selection rights.

In response to Cho’s announcement, the Education Ministry ordered the SMOE not revoke the rights of the autonomous schools, once again saying he was illegally abusing his position as the education chief.

Earlier in the day, the Association of Principals of Autonomous Private High Schools held a press conference to ensure that all 24 elite schools in Seoul formed an alliance to fight what they claimed were “illegal and unfair” evaluations.

“Canceling (the status of) autonomous schools was based on Cho’s completely arbitrary evaluation and was an abuse of his position. We will never accept it and all legal educational responsibility falls on the education chief,” said Kim Yong-bok, the head of the group and principal of Paichai High School.

He also accused Cho of deliberately sabotaging autonomous schools during crucial recruitment periods for new students.

The six schools are planning to pursue legal actions against the SMOE.

But signs of friction could already be detected among supposed allies. The heads of Soongmoon and Shinil did not appear at the press conference.

While Kim claimed that all eight schools that were evaluated this year would jointly press legal charges against Cho, he declined to comment on whether Soongmoon and Shinil would continue fighting by their side even after dodging the bullet.

A principal from another autonomous school said the two schools would “probably” not participate in legal action against the SMOE after being granted a grace period.

By Yoon Min-sik (
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Korea Herald daum