As states look to prepare students for 21st century jobs, many have extended the upper and lower limits of their compulsory education requirements, according to a report published by the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education policy think tank, on May 5.
The changes have led to a patchwork of varying state laws. American students are now required to attend school for as few as nine years and as many as 13, depending on what state they live in. In all states, schools are required to offer free education services for students outside of the years during which compulsory attendance is required.
Here’s the ECS summary on rules for the lower end of free education provision requirements:
In most states, the lower age limit for [providing] free education is 5 years old. Only in Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois,and Wisconsin are students younger than 5 (but at least 3 in Massachusetts, and at least 4 in Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin) entitled to a free education.
However, according to the chart provided in the report, 41 states don’t require school attendance until children reach at least age 6. In fact, Pennsylvania and Washington don’t require school attendance until the age of 8.
Many early-education advocates have pushed for mandatory kindergarten attendance as a first step toward improving early learning in the K-12 years. Right now, that is far from being a reality, according to this report.
The report does not look at actual attendance rates for kindergarten and other nonrequired grade levels. In most states, kindergarten attendance rates, though lower that 1st through 12th grade attendance rates, are still comfortable majorities of the appropriately aged population.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.