A DASH of this, a DASH of that

A recent article at CNN.com about the Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH) in Miami, Florida enlightened me to the fact that a magnet high school devoted to architecture and design exists. Vocational high schools, geared towards automotive, building and "hands-on" trades, are common, as are math, science and language academies or magnet schools. But this is the first instance, that I know of, where a school allows, "future fashion designers and architects to start focusing on [their] prospective careers while still in their teens."

Here are some facts:

- Programs include Architecture, Entertainment Technology, Fashion Design, Industrial Design and Visual Communications, as well as Fine Arts and the Apple Web Design Academy.

- 462 students are enrolled; last year 110 of 538 applicants were accepted.

- Approximately one teacher for every twelve students.

- Students have eight classes per day, as opposed to the typical six, and graduate with 32 credits, instead of 24.

- Students are given college credit by local colleges for design classes.

- DASH is ranked third in Florida, based on FCAT scores and student/teacher ratio.

- Eight Internships with local design companies are available to seniors every year.

When I read about this type of school I can't help but compare it to my experiences. I was fortunate to have both drafting and architecture classes in high school, but these fell under electives, to be used by students however they saw fit. But I did not know by my sophomore year, when I took drafting class, if I wanted to go to college for an architecture degree. Rather the class suited my interests at the time: drawing, working with my hands, appreciation for technical "things", etc.

Needless to say, DASH is both unique and successful, but I wonder if it's appropriate to locate a student in a profession or industry as early as thirteen? Is the growth in the popularity of these and other specialized high schools, witnessed by the high number of applications, a concomitant spread of specialization in general? Their presence seems to have positive and negative implications: increasing the exposure and education of design is definitely positive, while creating a situation where students are learning what's now being taught in universities, possibly affecting university curricula in the future, would be unfair to students of "traditional" high schools, who would be at a significantly lower level. But maybe this will all balance itself out, as specialized, magnet schools replace traditional high schools, at least to those with the right grades and parent's salaries.

All this is tied to the larger problems of public education in the United States. The President seems to favor private schools and the means to make those an option for more people, thereby ignoring the problems and possible solutions of the majority. Schools like DASH fall somewhere between private schools and struggling public schools, but they do raise questions about specialization and the right to equal, primary education in this country.