Compulsory attendance in America began in the second half on the 19th century, partly as a means to assimilate new immigrants. Today, all states and the District of Columbia have compulsory attendance laws that set the minimum and maximum age that students must attend school, as well as how many days there will be in the school year. These laws have both advantages and disadvantages for families and society.

Guaranteed Access

Compulsory attendance laws exist to ensure that every child in this country receives a free, public education. Without this free access, some parents would not be able to afford private education for their children. Also, these laws ensure that children who need them have access to essential services that may not be available unless they were attending school. Schools not only provide a free education, but also special education interventions and services, free breakfast and lunch programs and vision and hearing screenings.

States with No Exceptions

All states require students to attend school until they are between 16 and 18 years old. While some states offer exceptions to this rule if there is parental approval or other requirements are met, in 21 states students cannot be exempt from this law. These rules can constrain some students that have extenuating circumstances, like the necessity to work to support family.

Better Economic Future

Compulsory education laws keep students in school until they are near graduation. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there is a direct correlation between the level of education students achieve and their economic future. Those with more education typically make more money and have lower unemployment rates. In 2012, the unemployment rate for workers without a high school diploma was over 12 percent, while those with at least a diploma had rates of around 8 percent. On average, high school graduates make about $9,400 less a year.

The Root of the Problem

Forcing children to attend school does nothing to address the real reasons they decide to drop out. According to BoostUp.org, the top reasons that students quit school include that it was not interesting, they had low family expectations that led to poor attendance and grades or they became teen parents. Perhaps instead of forcing students to sit in a classroom, energy and resources could be used to create schools with relevant, interesting coursework and address some of the social issues that lead to high drop-out numbers.