Compulsory School Attendance: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Elementary school teacher and her pupils in classroom

How Did the Education System Start?

In 1852, Massachusetts passed a universal public education law, requiring that each town offer a grammar school and each parent send their children to school or face a fine. Sixty-six years later, Mississippi was the last state to adopt similar legislation and every child in the United States was required to attend school. By 1980, the United States Department of Education was created to oversee the education systems that were created in each state.

What are the Education Laws?

The laws that require children to be in school are created and enforced on a state level. The National Center of Education Statistics offers a breakdown of the laws. Children must start school between the ages of five and eight. Ten states require that schooling start at age five, and Washington and Pennsylvania require that schooling start at age eight (although most parents choose to send their children earlier). The laws break down the age ranges in which children are required to receive specific education and outline the youngest and oldest ages of children to whom the state must provide free education.

How Many Days are in a School Year?

The typical school year ranges from 142 days a year to 180 days a year. The times of year students attend school vary depending on the state and even the city. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 86 percent of public schools operate on a traditional calendar, which starts in late summer and ends in early summer, giving students and teachers an extended summer break (typically about 60 days).

What’s a Year-Round Schedule?

The year-round schedule is an alternative to the traditional calendar. The most popular schedule is called the 45-14 plan, although exact dates vary from school to school.  Under this plan, children attend school for 45 days and then have 14 days off periodically throughout the year instead of one, long summer vacation as the traditional calendar model provides. Other popular year-round schedules include 60-20 and 90-30.

Which School Schedule is More Popular/Common?

According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, four million students in grades K-12 operate on a year-round schedule. While that may seem like a lot of students, that number represents only about four percent of total children in school throughout the country. The most popular school schedule model is the traditional model, originally created so that children could be home to help their parents grow crops during the summer.

Is Year-Round or Traditional Scheduling Better?

The biggest benefit of year-round scheduling is that students avoid the “brain dead” period that can accompany summer vacation. Experts have shown that students lose cogitative and language skills over the summer because they are not using those skills every day. The year-round schedule combats that argument, as students take many smaller breaks rather than one large one.

How Do I Know When My Kid Needs to Be In School?

Your child’s school schedule and the requirements to attend vary by state, location and the child’s age. Review the frequently asked questions section of the Department of Education website. You can also Google the name of local schools to locate information about districting, health and age requirements.

Additional Resources





  • Attendance, by David M. Reed Software, available on iTunes for a fee
  • Attendance2, by David M. Reed Software, available on iTunes for a fee



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