Requiring attendance won’t cut dropouts

“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better,” said President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union address. “So tonight, I am proposing that every state, every state, requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Raising the compulsory school attendance age wouldn’t raise high school graduation rates, concludes a Brookings Institution analysis by Russ Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield. States that require attendance till 18 don’t have higher graduation rates than states that let students quit at 16 or 17. In fact, states with a higher attendance age have slightly lower graduation rates, even with controls for “state demographics that correlate with graduation rates (e.g., the racial composition of the student population).”

“Compulsory” attendance is a “misnomer,” they write. Teens drop out when they feel like it, regardless of the law.

There are effective interventions for high-risk students, the researchers write. For example, “Check and Connect, a dropout prevention strategy that relies on close monitoring of school performance, as well as mentoring, case management, and other supports, results in a substantially increased likelihood of students staying in school.”


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  1. Another DumbA** idea by the president…I live in Nevada, and we’ve had a compsulory attendance age of 18 for more than a few years now (It was 16 when I attended high school).

    Raising the age won’t make a bit of difference to a teenager who wants to drop out of school, now we’ve coupled high school attendance to obtaining a driver’s license, but when the person turns 18, the state must issue them a license if they can pass the written and driving tests, regardless if they have a high school diploma or not.

    More stupidity from our elected leaders…

  2. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to allow unmotivated students to drop out? Whenl they see the need to complete high school allow them to finish on nights and weekends.

  3. Like most industrialized nations, the US needs to offer graduation at sixteen. A diploma for people not pursuing a bachelor’s or higher should be allowed – and it can be linked to career and technical education. Senior high school (11 and 12) should be bachelor degree focused an grounded in AP/IB/CE classes.

  4. I’m in favor of reducing mandatory schooling regs to age 14 or completion of 8th grade. Stop allowing the intentional non-learners to clutter up HS; it shouldn’t be used as babysiting or warehousing. I’m also in favor of returning the ES-MS curriculum and instruction to serious academic fundamentals. Kids should be PREPARED for HS work and it takes 9 years for most to do this. I also like the vo-tech diploma/certificate recommended above. One of the major faults in the current system is that it takes a one-size-fits-all approach, and it doesn’t fit many.

  5. Too many of those held captive by mandatory attendance are quite disruptive, and adversely affect class performance by those who attend willingly.

  6. What an annoying restriction that would have been for me when I left high school after my junior year to go on to college. I didn’t meet the PE requirement, so I couldn’t have graduated from high school. But I was ready to move on and I’m glad the law permitted me to do so.

    • PE requirements for graduation?  Mark that down as one of the myriad insanities of our so-called “education” system; it proves that it’s actually a jobs program for suitably certified adults, and filling the ranks of union dues-payers.

      • My younger kids, both elite full-time athletes, attended an affluent suburban HS with a very high proportion of kids playing school sports. Trying to manage their school schedules to maximize their academics (high rates of APs) and their other activities was made more difficult by PE requirements. In a discussion with other parents, I mentioned that my DH’s HS had allowed HS athletes to substitute one school athletic season for a semester of PE – as did all the surrounding schools. The first reaction was; “But then we wouldn’t need as many PE teachers!”

        BTW: there was a required swimming semester in freshman year. My daughter and her two classmates who swam on the varsity team didn’t even change into suits, at the PE teacher’s direction. They stood on the deck and coached – a really valuable use of their school day – and certainly a misuse of the term “PE”. They certainly didn’t need or want the exercise, but, since they were practicing twice a day (4 hrs), they would have had more benefit from another academic period or a study hall. PE requirements are another example of the idiocy of the one-size-fits-all approach, as well as being a jobs program.

  7. I still say if high school graduation is good, having “kids” in school until they are 23 is even better! Make it a requirement that every student gets a PhD in physics from an accredited university, and watch all the boats rise, right??



    These kids are American citizens, and yet they are slaves to the system.

  8. SuperSub says:

    It won’t cut dropouts, but it will increase votes in November by dumba$$es that think it will work.

  9. Engineer-Poet,

    Two years of physical education was a requirement when I attended high school (grades 9 and 10) back in the late 70’s. Exceptions were if you participating in a sport (football, baseball, basketball, track and field, softball, etc), if you were a cheerleader (back then, they worked out pretty hard), or if you had a medical issue which prevented you from participating (verified by a doctor, not the standard school physical stuff).

    Given the level of obesity in today’s kids, I’d prefer a mandated 4 years of physical ed. A side note, a recent study showed that 75% of this nation’s draft age population (ages 18-25) were unable to join the military due to moral/criminal issues, educational issues (usually a lack thereof), or health issues.

    Food for thought…

    • It should be remembered that, although we have more obese and sedentary kids, we also have far more kids playing elite sports on a full-time basis. Some geographic areas and some districts/schools tilt one way and some tilt the other. I do not feel that it is reasonable to take the one-size-fits-all path (as I usually don’t); there’s no reason not to exempt both school-based athletes but others, as well. Do the girls on our Olympic gold-medal gymnastics team really need PE? What about swimmer Missy Franklin (4 gold, 1 bronze)? It’s not difficult to verify actual participation, should there be questions. Yes, doctor’s exemptions, too – although those can be abused, too (just ask my DH; the Jewish kids at his HS all had exemptions, so they could sit in the bleachers and study). There are probably millions of kids putting in 15+ hours a week on serious sports; school sports should be optional for them, not mandatory.

      The other issue to consider with school PE is its efficiency. Beyond ES, showers are certainly necessary (and for some in ES), if kids actually exercise, thereby wasting half of the class. Also, even in the Jurassic era when I was in school (and we had PE only sporadically), those kids most in need of exercise were the least likely to get any. Foot-dragging and passive non-participation have no limits.

      I also heartily second Caroline’s comment about interference with academics, which should be the primary purpose of schools; a scheduling nightmare on steroids. This was especially critical at my older kids’ HS, since all APs had honors prereqs and all AP sciences were double-period, every day and there was no zero hour. In terms of numbers of periods, my kids took 8 years of science, 4 years of Spanish (starting with 3), 4 years of English and 4-5 years of history/gov’t/econ – all at honors and AP levels. The musicians were REALLY stretched; at least the athletes practiced outside of school hours. My kids did varsity sports and full-time club (single) sports. The same issue extends to “nice-to-have” things like fine arts, practical arts etc – at least Montgomery County (MD, DC suburbs) pushed those down into MS. I’m sure strong parent pressure was applied, because they would have made my kids’ HS schedules impossible, and you couldn’t get into the top 10% with less (and As).

  10. @Bill, I participated in the process of setting CA state PTA recommendations on PE. The problem w/requiring 4 years is that it’s so hard for kids under pressure regarding course requirements, APs etc. — a logistical/scheduling nightmare.

    I’m a strong advocate of flexibility, though I also agree with the point about Americans’ fitness, so I guess I say compromise & stay with 2 years’ PE requirement. I love @HappyElfMom’s and @SuperSub’s comments.

  11. Sorry, that should have been that PE should be optional for serious athletes, not mandatory.