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Home Family Parenting Advice The Competent Parent: Compulsory school attendance

The Competent Parent: Compulsory school attendance

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Compulsory School Attendance

Dear Dr. Debbie,

A new Maryland law regarding school attendance beyond age sixteen has me thinking. Apparently states are moving toward higher ages of compulsory education – Maryland is at age 16, but will move up to age 17 starting June 1, 2014. Then on July 1, 2016, it will move up again to 18. The intent seems to be forcing otherwise “drop outs” to stay in school a little longer hoping that will help them meet graduation requirements. Unfortunately, the legal consequences – fines and jail terms levied on the parents – don’t seem to be effective in keeping disinclined students in class. Just wondering if you agree we’re attacking the issue too late and from the wrong direction.

My children love learning


Click here to read what Dr. Debbie says about leaving your baby with relatives to go on vacation.

Dear MCLL,

Yes. As does the Brown Center on Education Policy. You can read an analysis of this new legislation in an article by Russ Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield here.

The report says states with older ages of compulsory education don’t, in fact, have higher graduation rates. They suggest that “targeted interventions” will work better than largely unenforced laws. Often a last resort for getting attendance back on track, in Maryland a parent can be found guilty of a misdemeanor for a student’s excessive unexcused absences and face $50 and or up to 10 days in jail for a first conviction. Subsequent convictions can bring fines of $100 and or up to 30 days in jail. Not sure what this is supposed to accomplish for the student.

Parental poverty and parents’ low levels of completed education was mentioned in the Brown report as predictors of their children’s non-completion of high school. An alarming 25% of our country’s students do not graduate. We know that EARLY intervention, with totally family involvement, can make a huge difference. The success of Head Start which includes all kinds of family support, parental involvement, and parenting education, backs this theory as does Geoffrey Canada’s amazing accomplishments with the Harlem Children’s Zone. Getting the whole family off to the right start can make all the difference in a child’s potential with school and with life.

What about changing what happens IN school, to make it more relevant and rewarding for the students? In the year 2014, our country will mark 100 years since compulsory education was the law in every state. Private schools, charter schools, and home school families have been more ready than public schools to try some new approaches to the 100-year-old model we started with. A fascinating and entertaining look at changing the paradigm of what constitutes education is narrated by Sir Ken Robinson here.

Unless a student of 16 or 17 is met with something different than what he’s been failing at (perhaps since first grade), adding time in school will not improve his chances at success.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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