Fla. Bill Requires High-Schoolers to Declare a Major A measure moving through the Florida legislature would require high school freshmen to declare a major. Supporters say the measure would force students to focus on their education. Critics say 14-year-olds are too young to be making those kinds of decisions. Ami Difiore of Florida Public Radio reports.

Fla. Bill Requires High-Schoolers to Declare a Major

Fla. Bill Requires High-Schoolers to Declare a Major

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A measure moving through the Florida legislature would require high school freshmen to declare a major. Supporters say the measure would force students to focus on their education. Critics say 14-year-olds are too young to be making those kinds of decisions. Ami Difiore of Florida Public Radio reports.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

For many students, picking a major is one of the toughest parts of college and now, some Florida lawmakers want 14-year-olds entering high school to make a similar choice. In 2007, incoming freshmen would have to pick a major and a minor area of study. The initiative is part of Governor Jeb Bush's latest education plan.

And as Florida Public Radio's Ami Difiore reports, not everyone is convinced that it's a good idea.

AMI DIFIORE: Across the country, school districts are looking for ways to improve high schools. Most states offer vocational training and as many as 13 require students to take career-focused curriculum. But no state has gone so far as to require its students to declare majors and minors until now. Florida state representative and former teacher Ralph Arza helped craft the legislation.

RALPH ARZA: You know when kids ask the question — always a fair question — why am I learning this? They used to ask me and you know what? Sometimes I didn't have an answer.

DIFIORE: Arza says declaring a major will give students a more valuable high school diploma.

ARZA: Then the kid would come back and say, well, how am I going to use this the rest of my life? And then we'd say, well, you know, that's a good point because maybe what we're teaching you, you can't use the rest of your life. And that's why high schools have to become more relevant to kids.

DIFIORE: Under the plan, ninth graders will choose majors ranging from English to math to the fine arts. Any major that school districts can offer and the Department of Education approves is possible. Governor Jeb Bush hopes allowing students to choose an area of emphasis will produce children who are more eager to learn.

JEB BUSH: I hope that they'll stay excited with their coursework. I hope they'll stay, they'll connect their learning with their aspirations. I hope that they'll take more rigorous coursework.

DIFIORE: Bush says the plan is designed to give students more control over their futures by adding relevance and rigor to high school diplomas. But at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Principal Rocky Hanna is not convinced that majors are a good idea. He says the state's core curriculum leaves no room in the students' schedules for additional classes.

ROCKY HANNA: There's a lot of other state requirements. There's only, again, so many hours in the day and I don't see the state backing off and saying, well, if you're going to be some type of medical major, declare a major, then you don't have to meet these other social science or social studies requirements. You don't have to meet the fine arts requirements or the — you know, do we drop the P.E. or exactly how does that fit?

DIFIORE: But what even more skeptics of the major requirement are worried about is whether children who are barely teenagers are mature enough to make decisions about their futures. One 16-year-old thinks they can. Sophomore George Manheimer knows he wants to study medicine in college and he's ready to declare science as his high school major right now. He says children younger than he is can make the same decision.

GEORGE MANHEIMER: I think at the age of 13 or 14, you need to start realizing what you wanna be when you're older. If you don't know what you're gonna do in high school, it's gonna be the same thing in college, you keep denying what you wanna be. And this would be a good opportunity for kids to start picking what they wanna be and become smarter in that.

DIFIORE: But 16-year-old Liz Way doubts the majors will work. She pictures herself in the business world someday, but hasn't ruled out pharmacy either. Liz could handle picking a major if she had to, but knows many of her classmates would be left in the dark.

LIZ WEIGH: You're interested in a lotta different things and you really can't even know what you're interested in because you haven't had to sit through the classes that don't interest you. You kinda have to find out what you don't like before you can find out what you like.

DIFIORE: Liz says college is not for everyone, so declaring a major may not be for everyone either. She also wonders if this plan will make children grow up too fast. But Governor Bush thinks that's a short view of today's youth.

BUSH: I think we underestimate the capabilities of young people. And when we do so, we do it at our perils in the future. I mean, this is positive, not punitive.

DIFIORE: The plan has passed in the State House of Representatives and is still working its way through the Senate. But the high school majors requirement is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

For NPR News, I'm Ami Difiore in Tallahassee.

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