School Uniforms: Good Only for the Lower Grades

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School Uniforms: Good Only for the Lower Grades

The debate over school uniforms has been ongoing for years throughout the United States. Those advocating for school uniforms believe that one’s individuality is not determined by the style of clothes a student wears and that uniforms will build a sense of community. They also believe that students will care more about their education if they are dressed as if they are heading off to work instead of off to play. The opposition for school uniforms feels that uniforms squelch the students’ individuality and therefore violate their First Amendment right. It is also believed by the opposition that uniforms will not stop the students from acting out in the classroom. Does requiring students to wear school uniforms improve the educational experience for the student?

School uniforms are said to be highly beneficial. The case is best stated by Carleton Kendrick Ed.M., LCSW in his article “Reviewing School Uniforms.” “According to proponents of school uniforms, a wealth of potential benefits will follow their adoption: socioeconomic equalization, reduction in student violence and theft (related to clothing), increased attendance, restriction of gang activity, better identification of school intruders, reduction of peer pressure, improved ability to focus in class and better grades” (Kendrick). All good things from both the parents and educator’s viewpoint.

The most often cited pro-uniform study, Long Beach Unified School District in California, collected data from the 1993-94 school year in 56 elementary and 14 middle schools. It showed dramatic reductions in various crimes including drug use and credited a policy of requiring school uniforms (Kendrick).

Anecdotal evidence abounds. Anthony Poet, assistant principal at the Pueblo Del Sol Middle School in Arizona, reports that the uniform policy in his school has produced a decrease in discipline problems. While not at all popular with the students, one was quoted as saying “Uniforms make the school safer, but I don’t like them” (Svensen). Rhonda Thompson, a Baltimore, MD middle school official, has noticed a “sense of seriousness about work” since implementing their voluntary uniform policy (Kelly).

On the other side of the coin, detractors point to a distinct lack of scientific evidence supporting the use of school uniforms.

In a serious long-term study from 1998 it was shown that uniforms did not improve the academic experience of the students. To quote the abstract summation “tenth grade data from The national Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 was used to test empirically the claims made by uniform advocates. The findings indicate that student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems, or attendance. Contrary to current discourse, the authors found a negative effect of uniforms on student academic achievement. Uniform policies may indirectly affect school environments and student outcomes by providing a visible and public symbol of commitment to school improvement and reform” (Brunsma, and Rockquemore 53-62).

Aside from the only scientifically rigorous investigation discounting their effectiveness, other objections to school uniforms arise. Cost of the uniforms might be prohibitive to many parents. The right of students to express themselves, protected by no less than the Supreme Court decision in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School (1969) which said that “a student’s freedom of expression in school must be protected unless it would seriously interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline” (Kelly), would be seriously hampered by a mandated dress code. School children, especially in high school, are striving to form their identity and efforts to force them into conformity often fail. While the experiences of a few educators seem to support school uniforms, they are mostly from the lower grades and don’t mention the other policies...
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