Florida students to pick majors -- before high school

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Responding to a state mandate to require every incoming high school freshman to choose a major, Broward County School District officials want to offer a litany of broad subject areas for students enrolling in 2007.

Instead of drama, it would be fine arts. Instead of history, it would be social studies.

As part of outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush's "A-Plus-Plus Plan," the state will require every student entering high school next fall to pick a "major area of interest." State officials hope the move will improve Florida's graduation rates, which are ranked 43rd in the country.

The state is asking school districts to choose majors from a list of approved subjects. Choices are as diverse as forestry and landscape operations, digital imaging and global technologies. In most districts, not all schools will offer the same majors.

But Broward County school officials are considering an alternate plan: Offer all 21,000 incoming freshmen the same broad choices -- about 15 topics from which to choose a major. Students enrolling in the fall will have to pick majors this spring.

The idea is still on the drawing board, said Leah Kelly, executive director of the district's student support services. The plan must still get the approval of the school board and the state. Parents and students will be asked for input.

Broward school officials said that although they believed the new law would boost academic performance, they wanted to ensure that students got a well-rounded education.

"We're trying to look at broad headers, because you really do limit things when you get too finite," Kelly said.

John Winn, Florida's education commissioner, said requiring freshmen to declare a major would "be a powerful message to students that your high school is interested in accommodating your dreams and your goals."

Some experts say the state's idea of adding specific majors, though well-intentioned, can keep students from a well-rounded education.

"There are a lot of kids in college who don't know what they're majoring in," said Pedro Noguera, a professor in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. "So the idea that they'll know in high school is a bit of a stretch.

"You don't want to overly specialize and make the curriculum too narrow so that kids won't be well-balanced."

Some parents, such as Lynn Pintavalle, whose three children attend Broward schools, find the list overwhelming.

"Did you look at that list?" she asked. "There's 440 majors."

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