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Obama's speech, dropouts and an often-ignored California law

January 24, 2012 |  7:27 pm

SOTU-ObamaCould keeping kids from dropping out be as simple as telling them they have to stay in school? President Obama implied that in his State of the Union address Tuesday, calling on all states to require students to stay in high school until they either graduate or turn 18.

"We know that when students aren't allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma," he said.

But it might come as a shock to many Californians to learn that the law here (and in 17 other states) already mandates compulsory education until the age of 18. And as we know all too well, a lot of students aren't doing that. In fact, it probably ranks second among the least-observed laws in the state, outflanked only by the law against talking on the cellphone while driving. The most recent figures show that 18.2% of California students drop out, and I doubt very much that all or even most of them are 18.

In this, California is not alone.

A 2009 study by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy found "little evidence to support the idea that raising the compulsory age to 18 decreases dropout rates and increases graduation rates."

Like most things in education, it isn't quite that simple.


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Photo: Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner  listen as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 24 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Credit: Saul Loeb / EPA

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