Thursday, August 16

Do high school majors make sense?

An article in the Times today profiles a high school in New Jersey where kids will have to pick a major. They'll be able to choose among focuses on sports management, fine and performing arts, health sciences, international studies and global commerce, communications and new media, and liberal arts, with environmental studies and teaching coming next fall. Their decision -- made in the spring of 8th grade -- will dictate their elective choices and will be, except in unusual cases, permanent.

Administrators say making kids pick a major will keep them interested in school, stop them from complaining that school is not relevant to real life, make them more attractive to colleges, and give them a leg up in the job market. That's a pretty tall order for one course a term. Kids are a little more sensible, with one telling the Times, "I think I’m too young to make a decision because I might change my mind later on."

Students at Brooklyn Tech have long been required to select majors, but they have until the end of their sophomore year to do so. (The student newspaper last month crunched numbers to show that choices often break down on ethnic lines.) But with the proliferation of small high schools, many kids in New York are essentially picking majors when they pick their schools, signing up for schools with themes as esoteric as urban planning, human rights, and fire safety. Some of these schools work well and use their themes to keep kids engaged, but students who realize they might have made the wrong decision have little recourse, as the DOE has all but stopped allowing high school transfers. Given the massive academic deficiencies that plague many of the city's 9th graders, the themes at many small schools end up being almost an afterthought in the curriculum.

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