Title: A Uniform Look
Authors: Yasmine L. Konheim-Kalkstein
Source: American School Board Journal, Aug. 2006, Vol. 193, No. 8, pp. 24-27 Document Type: Journal Article
.A Uniform Look
When students dress alike, proponents say, the school climate may be improved
By Yasmine L. Konheim-Kalkstein
Since the 1990s, the practice of having public school students wear uniforms--like their private school peers--has been credited with some amazing results. School uniforms, proponents have said, can lead to improved discipline and classroom behavior, increased school attendance, respect for teachers, better school performance, higher student self-esteem and confidence, lower clothing costs, promotion of group spirit, reduction in social stratification, and lower rates of violence and crime. Uniforms, in short, seem like the solution to all of education's problems.
Of course, there have also been naysayers. They argue that requiring school uniforms violates students' rights, that uniforms are not responsible for decreased violence, that students will find other ways to compete, and that uniforms have no direct bearing on academic achievement.
Which side is correct? Like so many other educational issues, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes. For answers, we can look to the research on and articles about school uniforms, particularly in the areas of violence prevention, school climate, and finances.
Early Signs of Success
Schools have always had dress codes, of course. But in 1986, Baltimore's Cherry Hill Elementary School became the first U.S. public school to adopt a school uniform policy. The policy was an attempt to reduce clothing costs for parents and to help curb social pressures. According to a 1996 issue of Communicator, a newsletter published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Cherry Hill Principal Geraldine Smallwood reported increased attendance, reduced suspensions, less frequent fighting, increased test scores, and improved school performance after students began wearing uniforms.
A similar success story was reported when, in 1995, Long Beach, Calif., became the first large urban school district to require uniforms for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Five years later, overall crime in the school district had dropped by 91 percent. Suspensions were down 90 percent, sex offenses had been reduced by 96 percent, and vandalism had gone down 69 percent.
New York City adopted a policy in 1999 that allowed schools to vote on whether to opt out of a new school uniform policy. About 70 percent of the city's elementary schools adopted school uniforms. In 2000, the Philadelphia School Board unanimously adopted a districtwide policy requiring some type of uniform. That same year, 60 percent of Miami public schools required uniforms, as did 80 percent of public schools in Chicago. Also, 37 state legislatures enacted legislation empowering local districts to determine their own uniform policies.
With so many school districts adopting such policies, it seemed as though uniforms were doing something to prevent violence, improve school climate, or help parents out financially. A look at the research and literature on the effect of school uniforms on these areas is revealing and can help you decide if such a policy would be useful in your district.
Proponents suggest that school uniforms can reduce violence in schools by diminishing gang influence and easing competition over clothing as a source of conflict.
In fact, gang violence is one of the most influential reasons for adopting uniform policies. In urban schools, fashion trends are often characterized by gang-related clothing. In theory, then, school uniforms would prevent gang activity by not allowing students to wear gang colors or gang insignia. And in practice, there is some evidence that...
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