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Raise the Age, Lower the Dropout Rate? Considerations for Policymakers

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Publishers: Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy

Publication Date: Apr 9, 2009

Copyright Info: Copyright 2009 Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.

Summary/Abstract: In the United States, nearly 1.23 million public school students from the class of 2008 failed to graduate with a diploma. In Massachusetts, 91 students drop out of high school each day. Nationally, and in our state, there has been much recent attention paid to the dropout crisis. One initiative being used by states in their efforts to reduce the dropout rate is to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18. In Massachusetts, the current compulsory attendance age is 16.

The passage of a new law in August 2008 led to the establishment of a state-level Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission in Massachusetts. The Commission is charged with making informed recommendations on ten issues, including whether or not the compulsory attendance age should be raised from 16 to 18.

The Rennie Center's recent policy brief, entitled Raise the Age, Lower the Dropout Rate? Considerations for Policymakers, focuses on the question: Is there empirical evidence to support Massachusetts raising its compulsory school attendance age to 18?

Through an examination of research and analysis of other states' policies, the Rennie Center examines the arguments for and against raising the compulsory age of school attendance to 18 and concludes that there is no credible empirical evidence to support this policy alone as an effective strategy to combat the dropout crisis. The Center argues that prior to considering a raise in the compulsory age of attendance, the Commonwealth should focus its energy and resources on developing policies and programs that research has shown to be successful in helping at-risk students stay in school and persist to earning a diploma.

We recommend the following considerations for policymakers. Our hope is that this information will contribute to the current policy discussions focused on the issue of raising the age of compulsory school attendance in Massachusetts.

  • Consider empirical evidence.
  • Address student disengagement and alienation from school.
  • Improve attendance monitoring and early intervention systems.
  • Increase alternative education options.
  • Examine and consider eliminating some of the existing exemptions that permit 14- and 15-year-olds to leave school prior to graduation.
  • Examine and consider updating the current process for legally leaving school.
  • Examine the fiscal impact of increasing the age of compulsory school attendance, including examination of: the cost of enforcement; funding outreach programs; increasing capacity to serve youth who would return to school; expansion and professional development of teacher workforce; expansion and professional development of school staff.