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Florida May Require High Schoolers To Declare A Major

By Unknown

Mar 23, 2006 (BOSTON GLOBE) -- TALLAHASSEE -- Lila and Andrew Zoghbi are bored five days a week in classes at Chiles High School.

It's not that they are slackers. In fact, they are honor students with high ambitions. Lila, 15, plans to be an engineer, and her brother, 17, wants to design video games. The problem, they say, is that school is not giving them the career preparation they want.

``It's just stuff I don't think I'm really going to need for the job I want,'' Lila said. ``I'd probably like it if I had more things to help me in the future.''

Students like the Zoghbis would get an education more tailored to their career plans under a proposal from Gov. Jeb Bush that education experts say would make Florida the first state to require incoming high school freshmen to declare a major, just like college students.

Bush said the plan would help prepare students better for the real world and reduce the dropout rate by making school more interesting. Last year, nearly 3 percent of Florida's roughly 800,000 high school students dropped out.

``We don't want them to drop out of school or be unprepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century,'' the governor said. ``It's a really smart way to make high school more relevant and prepare young people for what college will hold.''

Some educators support the plan, while others fear it will deprive students of a broad liberal arts education and put even more pressure on young people.

``People want to know why college admissions is so frenzied and why kids can't be kids anymore. It's things like this that are at the root of it,'' said Bari Meltzer Norman, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and associate director of college counseling at Ben Lipson Hillel Community High School in North Miami Beach.

Under Florida's plan, high school students would be able to major in such subjects as humanities, English, communications, math, science, history, social studies, arts, foreign languages and vocational skills. They would also have to declare a minor.

For example, to prepare for her career, Lila would have to earn four credits in major courses like engineering, space technology and physics, 15 core credits in courses like math, science and English and 5 minor credits in elective courses like drama, zoology and Spanish.

She and her brother approve of the governor's plan.

``It's still a required class _ it's not like it's going to be super-fun _ but at least you're getting stuff out of the way quicker, and getting prepared,'' Andrew said.

The plan goes before the state House for a final vote on Thursday and then would have to be approved in the Senate.

At least 13 other states require schools to offer different study tracks, and most offer vocational training, career preparation classes and the opportunity to earn college credit for some courses.

But none has gone as far as Florida would with majors and minors, said Sunny Deye, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mary Exum, a Pensacola area science teacher, warned that most high school freshmen may not be mature enough to decide which track they will follow for four years. Most college students change their majors several times, she said.

Under the plan, students could change their majors and still graduate as long as they earned 24 high school credits. Exum also said the state should look to teachers, and not a new required program, to relieve classroom boredom.

``Schools should provide more vocational and educational opportunities that are missing for students,'' she said. ``But to mandate it for everybody in high school, I don't think that's a good idea.''

Meltzer Norman agreed: ``Why not encourage internships, and let high school students continue to get the best preparation for a broad-based liberal arts and sciences education while still in high school?''

Even educators who support the plan are worried that school counselors would be overwhelmed in trying to provide the intensive guidance students would need.

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