Have you ever told your kids, “You have to go to school: it’s the law”? This article discusses the history of compulsory education, compulsory education requirements in the U.S. and how U.S. education requirements compare to the rest of the world.

Compulsory education is education that is required by law. Compulsory education laws exist not only in the United States, but in many other countries. Countries, and states for that matter, differ in the length of time that they require each young citizen to receive state-approved education. Read on to learn more about compulsory education.

History of Compulsory Education

In the United States, compulsory education was first established in Massachusetts in 1852. The law specified not only a requirement for education, but a requirement that children attend public school.

The requirement to attend public school is not a universal element of compulsory education. For example, although it was in 1918 that compulsory education became law in every state, many states now allow private or home school education to substitute for public education, though the presumption in the United States is that the responsibility for schooling lies with the state.

In the United Kingdom, the presumption is quite different. There, responsibility for a child's education resides with the child's parents, and whereas education is compulsory, there is no requirement for where that education should or must take place.

Recent changes in Colorado law reflect a similar perspective. Title 22, Colorado Revised Statutes: Education Article 33: School Attendance Law of 1963 Section 104.5, as amended states that Colorado's general assembly has declared that “it is the primary right and obligation of the parent to choose the proper education and training for children under his care and supervision.”

What Are the Compulsory Education Requirements in the United States?

The compulsory education requirements in the United States vary by state. Here is a summary of the 50 states and the District of Columbia:


Age Range

States with this Requirement

Total # States

5 - 16

Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina


5 - 17



5 - 18

District of Columbia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia


6 - 16

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming


6 - 17

Mississippi, Tennessee


6 - 18

California, Hawaii, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin


7 - 16

Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota


7 - 17

Louisiana, Maine, Nevada


7 - 18

Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon


8 - 17

Pennsylvania, Washington


In some states, there is a grade level attainment requirement, along with the upper age limit. Note that in the states with the greatest range, a student might spend 14 years in school, whereas in those with the smallest range, 10 might suffice.

How Do US Compulsory Education Requirements Compare to the Rest of the World?

Estimating the national average of years of compulsory education as 12 years, a reference site places the United States among those countries with the greatest compulsory education requirements. Following the countries that require 13 years on average - Belgium, Dominica, Germany, Netherlands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia - the US requirement of 12 years is shared by Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brunei, Grenada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

In the list of 171 countries that had data available, these are the results. Thirty-seven countries have a requirement of 9 years - the most frequently found length requirement for compulsory education, while thirty-five require 10 years; eighteen require 11 years; seventeen require 8 years; fifteen require 7 years; twenty-seven require 6 years; six require 5 years; and one - Angola - requires 4 years.



Encyclopedia of Everyday Law - enotes.com

National Conference of State Legislatures - ncsl.org


Department for children, schools and families “2006041 - Prevalence of Home Education in England - A Feasibility Study” - dcsf.gov.uk

Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities, - dcsf.gov.uk

The Colorado Department of Education “Home Schooling in Colorado: Title 22, Colorado Revised Statutes: Education Article 33: School Attendance Law of 1963” - cde.state.co.us