Yet another attempt to raise the minimum high school dropout age in Kentucky to 18 is going to be debated during the current legislative session in Frankfort. This idea stalled at least twice before, but that doesn’t seem to stop some non-data oriented, feel-good folks from wanting to try again.
Several years ago when this idea first surfaced, I did some research based on how this policy has actually worked in states that had extensive experience with Age 18 minimum dropout age laws.
Fourteen states plus Washington, DC have had such policies in place since 2004; in fact all but Nebraska actually had such policies on the books back to at least 2001.
Since this dubious idea is coming at our legislators again, I have now updated my original study with the latest data from 2010, which just released a week ago.
This new graph shows how that looks.
One of the most shocking things on this graph involves the five educational jurisdictions shown on the right with the red data bars. All have had Age 18 laws in place since at least 2001 except for Nebraska, where this policy became law in 2004. Each of these five states has actually seen a DECLINE in its high school graduation rate over this period. That certainly shows Age 18 laws by themselves are no magic answer.
Also of interest is the dashed red line, which shows the overall annual increase per year in graduation rates across the whole country since 2001. That rate of increase was just shy of a half a percentage point a year.
Notice, however, that nearly all the Age 18 states on the graph have not performed as well as even the national average.
So, Age 18 laws don’t even guarantee a state will see graduation rate improvements at least as good as the overall national average.
One last point: As I recently mentioned, Kentucky’s graduation rate improvement in the new 2010 data looks pretty nice. We still have a way to go, but we are making progress. In fact, over the past 10 years, Kentucky outpaced EVERY ONE of the Age 18 states shown on the graph – EVERY ONE of them. And, we did it without an Age 18 law.
Could an Age 18 law add disruption in our schools with kids who absolutely don’t want to be there? Could that actually cause our current rate of progress to decay, just like has happened in some of the states shown on the graph?