Should teenagers be forced to go to high school? Here’s President Obama from the State of the Union speech on Tuesday:
We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.
Another idea that sounds good as a bullet point in a speech, but not so much in reality.
1. As the Los Angeles Times points out, 17 states already mandate compulsory education until age 18, including California. But the most recent figures show that 18.2 percent of California students drop out.
2. A 2009 study, also noted by the LA Times, by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy (the source of the accompanying chart) found such mandates ineffective:
The primary rationale behind raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 is the belief that it will decrease the number of students who drop out and increase the number of students who graduate. However, our review revealed that there is little research to support the effectiveness of compulsory attendance laws in achieving these goals. As we have described, the evidence that does exist is dated. The research suggests that these laws had an impact on high school students in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when the circumstances behind the decision to drop out were likely quite different than they are today. In addition, the findings themselves suggest that the impact of laws requiring students to stay in school until they are 18 has decreased over time.
3. In his must-read book Real Education, AEI’s Charles Murray (whose new book, Coming Apart, I will soon write about) notes that whatever the educational advantage of charter schools over government schools, they certainly succeed in providing students a safe and orderly classroom for those who want to learn. “The worst inner-city schools … contain classes in which competent teachers cannot be heard over the din … daily student-on-student and student-on-teacher altercations, frequent assaults … and the occasional assault with a deadly weapon.” In response, Murray offers a few basic rules:
1. Disruptive students are not permitted to remain in class.
2. Students who are chronically disruptive are suspended.
3. Students who in any way threaten a teacher verbally or physically are expelled.
Now, Murray realizes that “alternative schools” may not be able to absorb all the disruptive students and many may end up on the streets. But that may be a price we have to pay to reestablish order in our schools. And just how high a price is it really?
Students who are suspended are often learning nothing when they are in school — literally nothing … Nor are their hours in the school building keeping them out of trouble. The kinds of activities that get teenagers into trouble in the inner city (or anywhere else for that matter) do not usually take place from 8:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m. … Most of them are already on the street for all but a few hours of the day when they are preventing teachers and other students from learning. … The overriding priority for inner-city schools must be the children who are trying to learn. It is morally unacceptable to sacrifice their futures … just because we do not know how to reach the children who are not trying to learn.
Keep every kid in school no matter how disruptive they are? A perfect example of government creating a mandate without thinking through the unintended consequences.