I’ve written previously about initial US state compulsory schooling laws in regard to literacy and in school attendance rates. I ended with a political economy hypothesis. Here’s the logic:
- Legislators like lower costs, all else constant (more funding is available for other priorities).
- Enforcing truancy and educating an illiterate populous is costly.
- Therefore, state legislatures that passed compulsory attendance legislation will already have had relatively high rates of school attendance and literacy.
That’s it. Standard political economy incentives. But is it true? Well, we can’t tell what’s going on in politician heads today, much less 150 years ago. Though, we can observe evidence that might corroborate the story. In plain terms, consistent evidence for the hypothesis would be that school attendance and literacy rates were rising prior to compulsory schooling legislation. The figures below show attendance and literacy rates for children ages 10 to 18.Continue reading