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.”