Moms Talk: Will Compulsory Education to Age 18 Help or Hurt Our Kids?

The Middletown Moms Council talks about the recent decision to mandate education to the age of 18 for all of Rhode Island's kids.

For as long as folks can remember, Rhode Island State Law has required students to stay in school until the age of 16. It looks like the face of compulsory education may get a facelift as according to the Providence Journal, "Legislation requiring students to stay in school until the age of 18" is headed to the Governor's Office following General Assembly approval in a recent late night session. 

This would mean that students who currently could "drop out" of school at the minimum age of 16 would be mandated to remain in school for two more years to work toward graduation.  According to a press release distributed by the Rhode Island Legislative Press Bureau,"The legislation, (2011-H5061), would allow for a waiver of the compulsory-to-18 requirement for pupils over the age of 16 who are involved with an alternative learning plan. As spelled out in the bill, an alternative learning plan could include a number of extended learning opportunities, such as independent study, private instruction, performing groups, internships, community service, apprenticeships and on-line courses."

Many legislators felt that keeping kids in school would give all students the opportunities needed to compete in an ever-competitive market. 

We wondered if parents shared the same opinion. So the Middletown Moms council asks...

Question: What are your thoughts on raising the mandatory age for compulsory education to 18?

Kerri, Mom of a Preschooler

I think this is a much more complicated question than it first appears. Of course, as a teacher and a mom, I want all kids to be educated and able to function as fully productive members of society. Given that one needs to be 18 for almost all things adult and legal, having to be in school until that age or until you complete an approved educational program seems to make sense.

But then, I think about former students. I think about the many kids that I've worked with who have gotten the message somewhere along the line that school is a torturous nightmare that is to be endured until their parent/guardian can sign them out at age 16 so that they can start working or seek their GED. Of course, my heart broke for these kids and I did everything I could to try to convince them otherwise. I could only imagine the tough road that they had ahead of them and I just wanted them to be in a place where they had choices. I didn't want their lack of education to make choices for them.

I think we are in an interesting place in education, though, and I think that's the bigger issue. There are plenty of kids who are just not college-bound. They want to work, or be in the military, or attend a vocational school, or even open their own businesses. They want to be done with formalized learning so that they can move on and do something else. However, most traditional schools have little room for this type of kid.

If this is so, why would holding them back from moving toward their goal be a bad thing?

There is also the other side of the coin to consider. For example, I graduated high school at age 17. I understand that the current legislation has stipulations that would allow for that but would there then be a stigma attached?

The bottom line: It's not the age that is the problem. Education needs to be more flexible to fit the needs of all of our students. We are moving toward this goal but we have a lot more work to do.

Carm, Mom of a pre-teen, teenager and adult child

This is such an interesting question to me as my children are at three different stages of their development: one who graduated from high school but did not go on to a formal 4-year college program, a soon-to-be high school senior who is planning on the full college experience and a pre-teen who is two years away from high school. I would answer this very same question so much differently for each child.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this proposal. I wonder, if the clause that allows students to apply for a waiver is what we concentrated on, would we need to raise the mandatory age? 

What if we considered, as my friend Kerri suggests, the possibility of a individual learning plan for students who reach that crossroads that could help them to reach proficiency in education but in a way other than the traditional system provides. I think the wisdom may lie in the waiver instead of the legislation itself. It's a thought.


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