Field of Study for High School: What it Means to Study the Core Curriculum

“What is your field of study in high school?”

For non-Americans, this question, which crops up plenty in job applications in the country, can seem confusing: a field of study during high school? Didn’t we all just take general education classes?

Technically, yes, but in America, high schools across the country operate on what’s called a Core Curriculum. Core curriculum refers to a school’s selection of courses that all students are required to take up and complete before they can move up a grade. American high schools will also have a required amount of courses to take before you’re allowed to graduate. A student’s ‘field of study’ will include specific classes in one of the four ‘core’ subject areas: Social Studies, Math, English language arts, and Science.

Most schools will focus on specific classes in one core subject for each of the standard years of high school (grades 9 to 12). Unlike elementary and middle school, which have a predetermined set of classes that fulfill their school’s academic program, high schools will most often offer plenty of optional courses for each of the four core subjects. For a student to get a diploma in a specific field of study, they’ll have to take certain classes that their high school program will set.

In some high schools across the country, majoring in a field of study will require additional credit requirements in the student’s chosen subject area. Usually, these subjects include world languages, computer sciences, health physical education, or the arts. Of course, different schools will have different fields of study available to students, but in general, most schools will offer some kind of program that can satisfy the academic needs of most students, with the hope that what they learn can be carried over to their post-secondary education and beyond.

Take note, however, that a field of study typically does not include electives; that is, optional classes that students can take for independent purposes. However, some electives might offer course credits that satisfy the school’s requirement for graduation.

Field of Study in High School: What’s It For?

The whole point of a field of study in high school is to take up and finish certain classes or courses that the school believes to be culturally and academically essential. These classes are typically chosen because they are believed to be critical in teaching student’s foundational knowledge and skills that they’ll use in college, future careers, and their adult lives in general.

Depending on the school and the type of academic program they offer, different students might take up different fields of study in their high school life, with students being encouraged to take up a field of study that they feel will not only fulfill their curiosity about that subject but also teach them essential skill sets they’ll need to excel in that field of study after high school.

Some schools will offer a parallel academic program that’s distinct from their regular program; theme-based academies will almost-always offer an academic program that’s more in line with that institution’s particular expertise (e.g. a drama school might offer an academic program with a field of study in theater), while internationally-inclined high schools might offer an International Baccalaureate, or IB, program that satisfies the international organization’s criteria for graduating.

Reforming the System

For as long as a formal and regulated system of education has existed in the country, all secondary academic institutions had to implement a set of graduation requirements that ensured that all students were given the opportunity to receive a well-rounded education and receive a diploma for their efforts. Different states enacted their own legislation that determined, among other things, a field of study for high school students, minimum credit requirements, and many more. These requirements were typically enforced in public high schools, although districts and individual schools can choose to increase or modify the requirements needed for graduation. Even to this day, graduation requirements differ depending on the state, and even depending on the school, with different states and schools requiring a different number of credits or courses per core subject and the kinds of courses available for that particular field of study.

However, with the introduction of various legislations in the first few years of the twenty-first century, graduation requirements (e.g. mandatory courses, subjects in particular fields of study in high school, etc.) were subject to inquiry, and eventually, reform. With the advent of the internet and other digital technologies, many states, districts, and schools scrambled to keep up with the changing world around them and enacted reforms to graduation requirements to further academic excellence, but also to further preparation for adult life for their students.

This meant reshuffling or changing certain course requirements to reflect the growing needs of the world around them: for example, states moved to make four years of English credits a mandatory requirement while increasing the required credits for science, math, and/or social studies to 4 years. Additional classes focused on computer sciences, including programming and robotics, were also introduced. In fact, some schools might even require students to take additional courses and not just credits: in some states, students must complete 4 years of math, including courses that are in an Algebra II level and above.

All of these changes, of course, were deemed to be effective in improving academic test scores, college preparedness, and expanding general knowledge. By expanding their learning and skills acquisition, students are now more prepared for college-level courses and have expanded career opportunities because they are better educated, better prepared, and generally smarter than before the reform.

Field of Study in High School: Is It Even Necessary?

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But even with all these reforms, many education leaders and teachers are questioning the necessity, and even the usefulness, of adding more courses and requirements for students. For many education leaders and teachers, an influx of courses and subjects does not directly translate to more knowledge, nor would it improve their skills acquisition. Progressive education leaders also doubt that adding or shifting graduation requirements, whether in high school or in the highest levels of education, would mean that students would be better prepared for adult life.

Instead, educators believe that states should focus on learning standards rather than course requirements. They argue that learning standards have better key performance indices that are both useful and measurable, as opposed to course requirements which simply counts a student’s attendance and their rote memorization of facts. Learning standards are concise, exact, and specific descriptions of what students are expected to know after a specific amount of time in a class. By focusing on these rather than course credits, educators believe that not only would you alleviate the high amounts of stress most high schools are in now, but you’d be expanding the field of study of high school students across the country.

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