One of the more interesting lines in President Obama's State of the Union was this: "when students aren't allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen."
I thought the president was lifting an idea from a friend of mine who is a Boston City Councilor who has been pushing this idea in Massachusetts. Connecticut is reportedly going to 18 as the dropout age in the 2013-2014 school year, while New Hampshire's change to 18 from 16 went into effect in the 2009-10 school year. Students are starting school older these days, so the change doesn't necessarily mean those who drop out will be actually getting more years of education.
Wikipedia, in an entry on "raising of school leaving age (often shortened to ROSLA)" reports that 15 states and the District of Columbia have already raised their dropout age to 18. And it has the kicker that helps explain what may be a factor motivating Mr. Obama on this one: "The National Education Association, the main teachers' union in the United States, advocates requiring students to earn a high school diploma or stay in school until age 21." I read that sentence in Wikipedia and thought to myself, "oh, that explains it." A Bloomberg article has details, including the news that the teachers themselves estimate that the compulsory education until 21 plan would cost an additional $1 billion a year, much of which would naturally be spent on unionized teachers paying dues to unions that reliably support Democratic candidates.
How about trying, instead, to make the schools good enough that the students want to go there, and the parents want to send the students there, without being forced to do so by law?