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Should high school students be required to declare majors?

Last spring, Florida became the first state to mandate high school majors.


YES
With even one high school dropout being too many, we need to do all we can to make high school more interesting and engaging. Requiring students to choose a major is a meaningful way to do that.

Just like in college, declaring a major in high school does not mean students are tied to that subject for life. For example, I majored in Latin American Studies, but worked in banking and real estate before becoming Governor.

Declaring a major empowers students to explore their interests and take an active role in deciding their future. In fact, 65 percent of high school students said they would work harder if offered more interesting and demanding classes, according to a 2005 National Governors Association survey.

Under a new Florida law, declaring a major means taking four of your eight elective courses in the same area. Students will still take the same traditional high school core classes.

Majors are beneficial to all students, whether they're heading to college or into the workforce. Students can major in academic subjects such as foreign languages or history, or specific job areas such as auto mechanics. Regardless of a student's path, majors excite students about their classes and help them understand the relevance between course work and their future. Majors also invigorate schools to provide richer course offerings.

Florida is proud to be the first state requiring high school majors and hopes other states will begin using this innovative method to encourage greater learning among students.

—Jeb Bush
Governor of Florida

NO
Florida's Governor says selecting a major will give high school students "a chance to pursue education where their interests lie." But high school is supposed to be when you discover your interests—and develop skills that will enable you to explore them later on.

In fact, some educators say it's already hard for college students to narrow their interests and decide on a major. And by then, students are several years more mature.

That may be why many colleges offer similar advice to incoming freshmen on the subject of majors: Rutgers University, for example, says on its Web site, "College is a time for discovery ... At many institutions, students don't have to declare a major until the end of their fourth semester in college." And a Web site for the University of California at Berkeley notes: "Students' interests often change during their first years of college, and students do not need to feel locked into their initial choice."

In fact, American high schools have always taught not only fundamental skills like math and English, but also citizenship, physical well-being, appreciation of the arts, and everything else that goes into living a full and productive life. Research indicates that school curricula are already focusing narrowly on tested subjects; requiring majors in high school could limit students' experiences even further.

But perhaps the most important criticism is that subject requirements are not the key to helping struggling students learn more and stay in school, even if that was Florida's goal. Only better teaching can do that.

—Susan H. Fuhrman, President
Teachers College, Columbia University