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 last week by the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education policy think tank.
The changes have led to a patchwork of state laws. American students are now required to attend school for as few as nine years and as many as 13, depending on which state they live in. At the high end of the range, 24 states and the District of Columbia now require students to attend school until age 18, 11 states make schooling mandatory until age 17, and 15 set the compulsory-attendance age at 16.
In all states, schools are required to offer free education services for students outside the years during which compulsory attendance is required. In most states, the lower age limit for providing free education is 5. Only Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin set the entry age lower than 5—at least 3 in Massachusetts and 4 in the other three states—according to the ECS report.
However, 41 states don’t require school attendance until children reach age 6; Pennsylvania and Washington state don’t mandate it until age 8. Many early-education advocates have pushed for mandatory kindergarten attendance as a first step toward improving early learning in K-12.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as States Are Extending Mandates For Compulsory Education