J. Michael Smith, President — Michael P. Farris, Chairman
November 7, 2007

Raising the Compulsory Attendance Age Fails to Achieve Significant Results

A recent legislative trend is to raise the age of compulsory school attendance to age 17 or 18. This legislation results in an increase in government spending, increased taxation, and a removal of parent’s rights to make educational choices for their children while achieving few academic and social benefits.

Twenty-two states attempted to raise the age of attendance during the 2007 legislative season, three of which passed. Several arguments are offered to support this move toward expanding the age of attendance, but the benefits do not come near the anticipated results.

Reducing the Dropout Rate

Proponents of raising the compulsory attendance age argue that this measure will reduce the dropout rate and result in higher graduation percentages. In fact, a comparison of the dropout rates in the United States reveals that states with compulsory attendance until age 16 have a higher average for high school completion than the states which require attendance until 17 or 181. Additionally, states which compel attendance to 16 have a lower dropout rate than the states that compel attendance until 182. Thus, raising the age of attendance will not result in greater high school completion.

Preventing Juvenile Crime

Many supporters of the movement to expand the compulsory attendance age argue that keeping children in school until they are 17 or 18 will prevent juvenile crime, as children will be in school rather than out on the streets. In a comparison of juvenile arrest rates released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, there is a strong showing of evidence that compulsory attendance ages have no effect on juvenile crime3. The violent crime and property crime indexes reveal many factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency. However, there is no support for the proposition that keeping children in school will reduce crime rates.

High Cost, Low Results

The financial burden resulting from expanding the compulsory attendance age should be considered. Teachers, classrooms, facilities, and transportation for the increased level of students impose severe burdens on taxpayers4.

While cost alone should not be a determining factor, the evidence shows that raising the compulsory attendance age does not produce the results anticipated. Thus, the increase in funding will not produce any noticeable difference in the quality of students graduating.

Prepared by the legal staff of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Reprint permission granted.

  1. Dropout Rates in the United States: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Office of educational Research and Improvement, Doc. No. NCES 2002-114. John Hopkins research using Department of Education results for 2004, 2005, and 2006: http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/wdc/dropout/index.html?SITE=AP
  2. Ibid.
  3. Table of arrests adapted from H. Snyder, Juvenile Arrests 1999.
  4. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000.
  5. Ex-ante Evaluation of a Policy Increasing the Compulsory School Attendance (CSA) Age From 16 to 18 in the State of New York; specifically looking to see if such a policy will decrease withdrawal prior to graduation and enhance high school completion rates; Cornell Study by Mary Burkhauser, written for Assemblywoman Michelle Thomas, October 2002