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Monday, August 20, 2007

Picking a Major...in High School?

This article about students having to pick a major in high school appeared in Friday's NY Times. This is of interest because I recall that Roosevelt was thinking seriously of this idea a couple of years back. It never materialized but I don't know why. Also, the number of states starting to mandate this format is growing. From the article:

"Debra Humphreys, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, called high-school majors “a colossally bad idea,” saying youngsters should instead concentrate on developing a broad range of critical thinking and communication skills.

“Today’s economy requires people to be constantly learning and changing,” Ms. Humphreys said. “A lot of jobs that high school students are likely to have 10 years from now don’t yet exist, so preparing too narrowly will not serve them well.”

Despite such naysayers, a number of school districts around the country are experimenting with high school majors, an outgrowth of the popular “career academies” that have become commonplace nationally, and in New York City, over the past decade. But while many career academies simply add a few courses to a broad core curriculum, majors require individual students to make a more serious commitment to a particular educational path."

Florida has passed a law requiring 9th graders to pick from 400(!) career choices and South Carolina has done the same with 16 career choices.

Oddly, some seem to perceive that this course of action will help kids get into college. From the article:

"“This is like the middle-class version of what affluent families have been doing for years,” said Mitchell Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, who sees the move as a way for public schools to provide a broader menu of educational choices. “They tailor academic instruction around the needs and desires of their children in order to encourage them to do well in school.”

There's one example in the article which spells real trouble to me. It's one school has a magnet school within a school, both offering majors. Problem is, here's the majors for the larger school:
-sports management, fine and performing arts, health sciences, international studies and global commerce, communications and new media and or liberal arts
and for the magnet school (i.e. for the high achieving kids)
-engineering, law and public safety, biomedicine, finance, and information systems

See a difference? And guess (c'mon, take a wild guess) which is the most popular at the larger school? Yes, it's sports management.

And if, at 13, you made a bad choice of major?

"Two years ago, Akelia applied to the magnet program’s law and public safety academy because she wanted to be a lawyer. But after finding many of the legal cases boring and hard to relate to, she was unable to take classes in other fields because she was locked into her specialization.

“Now I wish I had probably gone to another academy because I like computers,” said Akelia, who is 16 and starting her junior year. “When you’re 13, you don’t realize how much work you have to put in to be a lawyer. It’s not like you just go to court, and win or lose, you make a lot of money.” "

I did call UW Admissions and the woman I spoke to said unequivocally, no that it doesn't matter to them if a student had a major in high school. She hadn't even heard of it. I'm thinking it probably doesn't matter much to other institutions. I think admissions officers care about focus in terms of getting good grades and having focused interests (a couple instead of belonging to every club at school).

Whatever good you could get out the programs is negated by the bad. I hope we don't see this soon in our district or state.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've never met any "affluent families" (I assume that means parents angling for Ivy League et al.) that tried to get their kids to do anything close to picking a major. In fact it was more the opposite: they typically told their kids in no uncertain terms that yes, they *did* have to take four years of math, or four years of foreign language, or whatever, because that's what colleges would be looking for, even if the subject wasn't exactly their first love.

Helen Schinske

Jet City mom said...

I agree-
Educated and middle income families who are expecting their kids to attend college- expect them to take a rigourous "general" course of study in high school- more rigorous than state graduation requirements anyway.

4 years of college prep- foreign lang- English-History-Lab Sciences-Mathematics & at least two years Arts classes.

Even college level courses are not necessarily very focused. A Chemistry degree instead of a chemical physics degree, or an English degree instead of a degree in Modern American Literature.

Affluent families- not only expect their kids to attend college- they expect them to go into professional or graduate school.
That is when you specialize, not in high school.

According to friends from the UK, having to test into the 6th form to determine where you would spend your last few years of adolescence, was very class based, with only rare students taking A levels who were lower income.