The Kentucky House Education Committee approved a bill this week that would raise the state’s compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 by the year 2015. The bill states that Kentucky’s high school graduation rate must be a least 90% by July 1, 2015. Advocates of the bill cite the social and economic importance of children earning a high school diploma in the 21st Century. Currently, compulsory attendance ages across the country range from 16 to 18 years of age. Several states currently have compulsory attendance ages of 18, including CA, CT, HI, LA, and NE; but there is no correlation between states’ compulsory attendance ages and their high school graduation rates (here is a list of state’s compulsory attendance ages by state).
So here is my take on this. If passed, this bill will not bring about an increase the high school graduation rate in Kentucky. Let’s be honest here; lots of kids physically drop out of school now before the current compulsory attendance age of 16, and they mentally drop out of school as early as late elementary school. Increased numbers of children will not graduate from high school simply because we write it into law, any more than they will stop doing drugs, drinking, or smoking because the law forbids it. However, I do believe that this bill has some symbolic significance. It symbolizes the commitment that Kentuckians are making to improve public public education in the state., and to move Kentucky beyond fighting to not be last. That is important. It is an important statement to make to the rest of the nation, but I believe it to be even more important to make to Kentuckians; that what we have always done and always expected of ourselves is not good enough anymore. Kentucky education is moving. So as long as there is enough substance to go along with the symbolism, symbolic bills like this one are okay with me.