Bruno: Status Quo Bias in Action on Dropout Age
This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno:
I for one was pleasantly surprised to hear President Obama endorse increasing the dropout age to 18 in his State of the Union address, since compulsory attendance laws both significantly improve students' lifetime earnings and relieve a number of other burdens to society. So I've been somewhat surprised at the objections to the proposal based on worries about unintended consequences: that, for example, compulsory attendance may financially burden poorer families that rely on a child's extra income or strain the instructional capacity of schools.
I agree that these are serious concerns, but think they're overstated in part because compulsory attendance laws are likely to accommodate them and in part because I think we're seeing an example of status quo bias in action.
One way to think about it is to imagine a scenario in which the status quo is compulsory schooling until the age of 18 and the President's proposal is to reduce the dropout age. In that situation I don't think we'd feel comfortable saying, "Well, yes, if we reduce the dropout age many of our already-disadvantaged students will enjoy considerably less professional success in their lives, but we think that's worth it to reduce the strain on our nation's high schools and compensate for our ragged safety net."
As a country we probably do need to strengthen our economic safety net and build capacity in our high schools, but I don't think those are burdens that should be borne on the backs of kids who should be in school. To some extent the trade-offs we're making seem more palatable than they should just because we happen to be used to them. - PB (@MrPABruno)