Compulsory Attendance Until 18 Not Enough to Address H.S. Dropout Problem

Jan 26, 2012

By Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

In his State of the Union address, President Obama challenged governors to raise the compulsory school attendance age to 18 years. Currently, only 20 states have such a requirement and another eleven states mandate school attendance until age 17. The remaining states require attendance until 16, but many, such as Kentucky and Delaware, are now debating a change and have introduced legislation to raise the age.

It is important to ensure that high school students complete their education. Failure to do so has significant impact on them as individuals as well as on the economic viability of our communities and our nation. Raising the compulsory student attendance age, however, doesn't go far enough to assure that students complete high school. Preventing dropout requires far more than a statute that makes it illegal to do so. In fact, there is a lack of substantive evidence to demonstrate that raising the compulsory school attendance age alone significantly affects high school completion.

To truly impact the high school dropout rate, raising the compulsory student attendance age must be coupled with other key actions:

  • Increase school supports for struggling students
  • Create multiple pathways to attain a high school diploma, including competency-based instruction, strong career and technical education models, and alternative programs
  • Ensure that compliance policies do not put truant students and dropouts into the juvenile justice system
  • Train effective teachers to work diligently with struggling students
  • Increase the number of school counselors available to work with students
  • Create incentives to high schools to increase their graduation rates
  • Build a dropout recovery system to reengage older students to complete their education
  • Provide wrap-around services in schools for students to meet their needs in areas of physical and mental health, social services, housing assistance, etc.

Addressing the high school dropout crisis comes at a cost, which Congress and the Obama Administration must acknowledge and address. If policymakers are serious about being a nation that ranks first in educating its students, we must make the necessary investments to ensure a quality education for even our struggling students. These investments must begin in middle school, where we know there are the greatest opportunities for dropout prevention, and span all the way to dropout recovery for older students who want to come back and complete their education. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act presents an opportunity to boldly address the national issue of high school dropout through meaningful reforms that signal our commitment to well-educated students and a well-prepared workforce. It is our hope that Congress and the Administration will make reauthorization of ESEA a priority in 2012.

See CLASP's recommendations for ESEA reform to impact high school dropout.

site by Trilogy Interactive