I love Twitter! After I published my Nation column on the education proposals in the State of the Union, friend and Obama admin alum Josh Bendor got in touch to alert me to some interesting research on the positive effects of forcing kids to stay in school until age 18. Some of this work was done by Alan Kreuger of Princeton, who is now the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Another paper, by Philip Oreopoulos, found that "dropping out one year later increases present value income by more than 10 times forgone earnings and more than 2 times the maximum lifetime annual wage."
I still think that alongside any discussion of raising the age of compulsory schooling, we must talk about how high schools can provide more relevant career and technical education. Keeping would-be drop-outs in the classroom without making sure they are engaged is a recipe for a dysfunctional school climate, and we know high-risk students are hungry for instruction with real-world applications. A 2006 Gates Foundation survey of high school drop-outs found that about half left school because it wasn't interesting to them, and a third felt they had to leave school in order to support themselves or their family financially. These are some of the teens who benefit most from courses and extracurricular activities that provide clear training for a career, and indeed, 81 percent of the survey respondents said they would have benefited from more connections between the worlds of school and work.
Update: Slate asked me to dig a little deeper on this economics research. Check it out.