During his State of the Union speech, President Obama drew an awkward half-applause to his call to raise the compulsory education age to 18 in all 50 states. Of all the things needed in education today, this seems like one of the least likely winners.
For one thing, this policy forces many unwilling (and therefore disruptive) students on those who actually want to learn. For another, it just seems like something a U.S. president has no business proposing. What is he going to do, cut off funding for states that fail to comply?
More importantly, why did this come up in a State of the Union speech? As with many political proposals, Ockham's razor applies here. A crucial Obama political ally has something to gain from it. Ira Stoll notes:
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.
Here is that Bloomberg piece on "ROSLA" courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser.