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School Attendance: The Rules Governing U.S. Students

Requirements on attendance vary from state to state.

Education takes time. There’s a wealth of information children need to learn before they can become successful adults. No one disputes this. But not everyone agrees on how much of our children’s daily and yearly time should be devoted to schooling.

In the United States, the federal government has only limited control over education. Most decisions on education happen at the state level, with each state having its own system of educational leadership. As such, the amount of time a child spends in school is dependent on where they live. Here’s what you need to know.

School Attendance: The Rules Governing U.S. Students

Differences in Years Spent in School

U.S. children are required to attend school for 9 to 13 years, depending on which state they live in.1 All states except Alabama require students to stay in school until they’re 18 (in Alabama, it’s 17). However, states are quite varied in their rules governing the ages at which free public schooling can start and when it finishes. Massachusetts offers free schooling beginning at the age of 3, the earliest age of any state. Texas allows students to take advantage of free schooling until the age of 26, the latest age of any state.

Differences in Days Spent in School

As with years spent in school, the number of days per year each student must attend school varies by state. Colorado requires the lowest minimum number of days a year at 160 days, while North Carolina requires the most at 185 days.2 However, several states leave the number of school days up to individual districts and only regulate the total number of yearly hours students must spend in school.

Differences in Hours Spent in School

The number of hours students spend in school each day is another part of the education equation. And here too, different states have different policies. The average U.S. public school student spends 6 hours a day in school, with higher grades typically requiring more time per day than lower grades.3 However, not every state regulates the minimum number of hours students have to be in school each day and, among those that do, some regulate total hours (including breaks like lunch) while some regulate instructional hours only. This regulatory variety means the length of a school day often varies not only from state to state but from district to district, making direct comparisons between states difficult.

How You Can Develop the Leadership Skills Needed to Influence Education

The amount of time students spend learning is just one of the many issues facing education leaders. If you want to gain the knowledge and develop the leadership qualities that can help you influence educational policy and decision-making, then you should consider enrolling in an Education Specialist degree program.

An Education Specialist degree (EdS) is an advanced education degree above the master’s level. As the name implies, an EdS degree is a specialized degree. At a good university, you can choose from a variety of EdS programs such as an EdS in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, an EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration, an EdS in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment, and an EdS in Special Education, among other specialties.

Earning an EdS can be an important step in becoming a principal or district administrator, or in taking your teaching career to new heights. And the good news is, earning an EdS degree doesn’t require you to take time off from your current job. That’s because you can earn your education specialist degree online. Unlike campus-based education, online education lets you study from home and on a flexible schedule that gives you the freedom to choose when in the day you attend class.

If you want to become a school principal or take on any other form of educational leadership role, an EdS can help make your goal a reality. And online learning can help make earning an EdS possible.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a variety of Education Specialist degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,