Yes, compulsory education serves a meaningful purpose, because a child should have a chance to succeed at life, even if his or her parents do not see the value of education, and even if his or her parents are not capable of teaching. A child is too young to decide they want to be uneducated for life.
For kids to be forced to learn is not correct, because it is not ethical to force a child to be judged on their aptitude to learn skill sets that may not even benefit them latter in life. Yes, education should be mandatory, but the required work and attendance for a set time of the year should not be.
As I sit here at the high school I teach at after school is over, I am in a unique position to comment on this question. Whether education should or should not be compulsory is a question of what economists call "opportunity cost." Opportunity cost is defined as "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen." Every action has an opportunity cost. For example, The Economist informs us that "the opportunity cost of choosing to train as a lawyer is not merely the tuition fees, price of books, and so on, but also the fact that you are no longer able to spend your time holding down a salaried job..." Education is a service. The question of compulsory education is essentially, "should individuals be legally forced to consume a service [education]?" In my experience, the answer is no. It makes us feel safe, knowing that students will have roughly at least thirteen or so years of education. However, as a high school teacher (someone who experiences this on a daily basis), I can inform you that there are plenty of students who will simply not work and are not interested in school (that is, when they show up to school). Now, we as educators wonder what would motivate these students. So one day, I finally asked a student after class, "what are your thoughts on school?" He was honest and said, "I don't want to be here. I'd rather be working for my dad." Let's think about this situation from an opportunity cost standpoint to understand his perspective. He could be bringing in at least $15,090 (granted forty hours of work per week at minimum wage). Instead, my state is wasting $8,671 per year on a student who has no interest in consuming the service he is legally being forced to consume. You can not force a student to learn, much less want to learn, so why spend on average $12,608 ($632 billion/50 states) to demonstrate this point? As I mentioned earlier, education is a service. Simply declaring education a “right” and coercing individuals to consume it, in fact, diminishes quality. I feel that parents in a market economy are best equipped to make the decision of how much education they need. The poor could be aided through vouchers, which would enable them to choose where they would like to have their children educated. It may take years, if not decades, for individuals to realize that if they want a better life, an education plays an important role. Having been said, if you have an unruly sixteen or seventeen year old (as I have many) who belligerently refuses to cooperate or work, then why should the states subsidize them to do so, at the average cost of $12,608? Let parents and students decide the level of education they will choose based off of their needs and direction in life. Quality will undoubtedly improve.
When education is compulsory, it only creates resentment and results in children defying the very system that seeks to make them conform into a manageable, cookie cutter design. Education should be personal and meaningful, and people need to realize that it happens at every hour of the day, not just in school.