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[Op-Ed] Ex-Seoul Superintendent`s Policy

Posted October. 30, 2009 08:18,   


The former Roh Moo-hyun administration discouraged excellence in education, but Seoul school superintendent Kong Jung-tack served as a symbol of raising competitiveness in the sector. When the restrictive policy on application to foreign language schools was released in 2006, Gong opposed, saying, “The city of Seoul will not accept the policy.” He also opened an international middle school that had been opposed by the Roh administration as “a school for the upper class” after the Lee Myung-bak administration took power. He refused to budge even after the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union protested a national academic assessment because he said public education basics are for teachers to teach well, students to study hard, test results to be assessed, and weaknesses to be handled. He said educational competitiveness, namely nurturing talent, raises national competitiveness. The first fruit of his policies is a new school selection system starting this year under which students in Seoul can choose the high school they want to attend.

Kong was fired after a court ruled that he is unqualified for failing to report assets of 400 million won (335,200 U.S. dollars) held in another person’s bank account to the government. The Supreme Court, however, cleared him of borrowing campaign funds from his student, citing confusion in interpreting and applying laws. It said it received authoritative interpretation from the National Election Commission that superintendent elections are not subject to political fund law.

This ruling is a reminder that ethics matter for the head of an educational office. Kong was not judged for the legitimacy of his policies. Seoulites chose him over a candidate of the pro-education union in the election in July last year. His dismissal should not mean the abandonment of his pro-competitive policy for public education through enhancing academic performance.

Another problem is the huge cost spent on a superintendent election. Kong spent 3.44 billion won (2.8 million dollars) for his election campaign and his competitor Joo Gyeong-bok 3.05 billion won (2.5 million dollars). Other options need consideration like having a governor candidate choose a superintendent as a running mate, selecting one from a city or provincial council member, or allowing a governor to name the superintendent. In the U.S., Korean American Michelle Lee became a symbol of public education reform after being appointed by the Washington mayor. Good superintendents are not elected only through direct vote.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)