Teachers, parents, school administrators, and students are considering the question of if school uniforms are appropriate for their classrooms. While school uniforms have been used in private schools for years, they are increasingly being considered and used in public school systems. Students, parents, and even some experts have concerns about uniforms such as expense, suppression of individual expression or creativity, and whether or not there is are any positive effects for schools. However, many experts and studies show that there are big advantages for schools that adopt school uniform policies. Schools with uniform policies have, better safety, better attendance, better discipline, reduced peer pressure, a bigger sense of school pride, reduced clothing expenses for families, and a better learning environment with greater academic achievement for everyone.
One of the big reasons why school uniforms have gained increasing support over the past two decades is because of President Bill Clinton’s January 1996 State of the Union address. In this speech, he said, “If it means teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require students to wear school uniforms” (Children’s World, n.d.). Although President Clinton is not specifically an expert in the field of Education, his experience as a national leader gives his words value, and the experiences of educators and experts support the idea that school uniforms offer a safer environment in classrooms.
Safety for students may be the number one reason why schools choose to begin using school uniforms. According to Professor of Education Dr. Larry Wilder, “The National School Board Association estimates that approximately 135,000 guns are brought to America’s 85,000 public schools each day. This is one reason school districts use to implement dress codes” (Wilder and Key 2007). Although dress codes may not require uniforms, uniforms are a more rigid type of dress code. A survey conducted by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 2000 supports the idea that uniforms increase safety in schools, reporting that following the implementation of school uniform policies, overall crime dropped by 14.7 percent (Wilder and Key 2007). A survey of a school district in Long Beach, CA, showed that after school uniforms began to be required in 1995, the overall crime rate dropped by 91 percent (“School Uniforms Statistics” 2012). Considering the reports of violence in schools with highly publicized tragedies such as Columbine, safety in schools has taken priority in the minds of administrators, teachers, parents and students. With statistics showing drops in crime rates when school uniforms are required, it is not surprising that more schools are creating school uniform policies with the main reason being safety.
Figure 1 -- Long Beach, CA Uniform Statistics ("School Uniform Statistics" 2012)
Better discipline is another reason why schools choose to create school uniform policies. For instance, in November of 2007, Ohio created five new public high schools focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math; the Hughes High School of this group decided to use school uniforms to reduce “tardiness, student misconduct, detentions, and suspensions” (Rhodes, Stevens, and Hemmings 2011, p. 86). Those who support the use of school uniforms believe that uniforms will deliver these results concerning discipline by “creating a sense of order, uniformity, and a positive school environment” which are crucial in creating a favorable educational environment (Sowell 2012, p. 2).
Sowell came to an interesting conclusion in his study, which says that President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is a newer motivation pressuring schools to adopt school uniforms; his study showed that attendance was better in the school with uniforms but did not necessarily create better discipline (2012, pp. i, 1). What Sowell implies is that hastily created school uniform policies may not have all of the hoped-for effects. The Hughes High School of Ohio is a good example of both problems with and success with school uniform policy implementation. Hughes High School began by requiring a school uniform for its students, but had no enforcement policy for it in place (Rhodes, Stevens, and Hemmings 2011, p. 89). Without an enforcement policy, naturally some students resisted wearing the uniforms. However, once policies were enforced, it was part of what “propelled the school into a notable upswing” (Rhodes, Stevens, and Hemmings 2011, p. 89). Based on what Sowell found in his research and the experiences of the Hughes High School, school uniforms have their best effect on discipline if the policies are carefully created and strictly enforced. Carefully created policies must account for the specific needs of and factors affecting a district’s students; for example, if gangs are a problem in the area, schools should not select any colors or symbols that could be associated with the gangs.
Reduced peer pressure and competition is another reason why school uniforms are implemented. Research shows that 88 percent of parents believe that school dress codes reduce “teasing” between girls and boys and 84 percent believe dress codes create increased gender equality (Wilder and Key 2007). Peer pressure and competition is directly related to safety issues, because many of the tragic school shooting events are attributed to the psychological effects of bullying, a negative type of peer pressure. While that presents the worst case scenario, peer pressure and competition is also seen as a distraction to what is really important at school, which is focusing on academics and learning. The idea that school uniforms can promote school safety and a focus on academic achievement is a big incentive for many schools to turn to using school uniforms. Interestingly, one research study showed that 80 percent of female students and 62 percent of male students liked wearing school uniforms (Wilder and Key 2007). Other research has shown that school uniforms deal with the problem of “‘fitting in’ by wearing specific brands” with 47 percent of parents agreeing with this and 90% of teachers agreeing (“School Uniforms Statistics” 2012).
Anyone who has attended American public schools that do not have school uniforms has experienced the pressure from other students to wear the latest “in” fashions, else face teasing by other students. Therefore, “The use of uniforms at school, as opposed to the latest fashions, also may help the child avoid ridicule, embarrassment, or abuse from others over the 'have and have-not' stigma” ” (Children’s World, n.d.). Basically, what this means is that in schools that use school uniforms, social or economic status issues between students are less of an issue than in schools where there are no uniforms and such status is readily discernible by the students and even teachers who see what brands and styles different students’ families can afford or select. With this status issue lowered, there is less opportunity for bullying and more opportunity for students to develop a positive sense of self-esteem based on personal achievement.
Related to the issue of peer pressure being lowered through the requirement of school uniforms is a greater sense of school pride and being a part of a team. For instance, the planning team of the Hughes High School in Ohio “felt they could strengthen students’ identification with the school by requiring them to wear uniforms” (Rhodes, Stevens, and Hemmings 2011, p. 89). Other research supports this idea that students gain a greater sense of community with school uniforms, with 42 percent of parents and 80 percent of teachers agreeing (“School Uniforms Statistics” 2012). The NYPD survey also reported a better sense of belonging and greater tolerance among students in schools with dress codes (Wilder and Key 2007).
It seems natural that a greater sense of community between students can come from wearing school uniforms, especially since social and economic status factors are reduced. Without the distraction of judging each other based on fashion choices, students can see more about what they have in common with their peers rather than what is different. It is easy to see at any school with a football team how proudly students wear and wave school colors. Therefore, it seems reasonable that associating a school’s colors and school uniform styles in the classroom can foster a sense of school spirit and a community that is a team in an academic environment as well. Schools within districts or states can foster a positive sense of competition for academics similar to the competition between their sports teams, in which schools that have the best math, science, reading, and other scores proudly fly their colors in events designed to celebrate improved achievement. Students will feel less like lost individuals competing against each other and more like a team all working together to each do their best in academics.
One of the biggest fears parents face when a school uniform policy is implemented is that the uniforms will create expenses the family cannot afford. Matt Buesing, a leader in school uniform policy creation, writes, “While families certainly can choose to purchase the same number of non-dress code items for their children, most opt to scale back the purchases of fashion items for their children and instead create a wardrobe of both school uniform and non-school items. Families who choose this approach quickly see some sizable savings” (2010). According to a New York Post article, one study reported that a family spends an average of $729.50 on school clothing and supplies with at least $300.00 spent on clothing alone (Buesing 2010). In contrast, buying five bottoms and five tops for school uniforms is about $150.00, half the cost of normal fashion expenses (Buesing 2010).
Figure 2 -- National Average School Expenses (Calabrese and Olshan 2010)
Statistics from another study show that school uniform clothing is less expensive than regular fashion clothing and the average amount of money spent by households where children were required to wear uniforms is lower than in households where children were not required to wear uniforms (“More About School Uniforms” n.d.). The lesser cost of individual pieces of clothing is only one reason why school uniforms reduce yearly expenses. According to the same study, at least 10 percent of the uniform items are “carryovers from the previous year or other children” (“More About School Uniforms” n.d.). In other words, some items of the school uniform are reusable or can be handed down to other children in the family or other students who can use the items. Being able to reuse items directly contributes to saving on school attire.
It is easy to understand why parents may hesitate at the idea of school uniforms before realizing that they no longer need to buy as many fashion items for their children. In fact, if a family chooses to buy the same number of fashion items for their children in addition to school uniforms, they certainly will not see the cost savings possible. School districts that decide to implement a school uniform policy must offer advice and evidence to parents that the school uniform can save them money. Parents need specific information on how to buy the uniforms and exactly what items are necessary so they can take advantage of the cost savings. A big part of a school district’s success in beginning a new school uniform policy is in its ability to thoroughly inform parents and students about the requirements concerning the uniforms. Schools that do not reach out to parents and students and offer advice on cost savings or straightforward information on exact requirements of the uniforms may encounter resistance and less success by families who do not understand the advantages.
Figure 3 – Average School Clothing Expenses in Dollars (Buesing 2010)
The factor that many educators and parents see as most important in a school is its ability to foster a learning environment that will lead to academic success. Considering all of the previously mentioned factors such as school safety, discipline, peer pressure, school pride, and reduced expenses for families, it is easy to see that improving the situation for students, teachers, and families in all of these areas can reduce the distractions that remove attention from focus on education. Professor Anne Bodine of the University of San Antonio, Texas, found positive correlations in standardized achievement test scores in private-but-not-Catholic and public schools that used school uniforms (2003, p. 68). Professors David L. Brunsma and Kerry Ann Rockquemore of the University of Alabama and the University of Illinois, respectively, refute Bodine’s findings, saying that Bodine “has lost sight of the only important question relevant to school administrators: Will school uniforms increase academic achievement?” (2003, p. 76). Considering the other factors previously mentioned, Brunsma and Rockquemore’s belief that the only thing important to school administrators is academic achievement is not correct. There can be no argument that academic achievement is a primary concern of school administrators, teachers, parents, and students; Sowell’s reference to the No Child Left Behind Act points to the greater urgency at schools to improve standardized test scores. However, evidence from other studies does not support the idea that academic achievement is the only concern of school districts; for example, schools today also feel an increasing responsibility to find ways to ensure safety.
Though academic achievement is not the only reason why schools choose to have a school uniform policy, evidence supports the idea that the factors affecting students when uniform policies are in place, such as less peer pressure, school and team spirit, and better discipline all contribute to a better learning environment in which the focus is on learning. One study shows that 35 percent of parents and 81 percent of teachers believe that school uniforms improve the learning environment (“School Uniforms Statistics” 2012).
As of 2009-2010, around 19 percent of public school principles said their schools now require school uniforms, which is an increase of 12 percent from the decade before (“Fast Facts: School Uniforms” n.d.). Each factor that goes in to supporting the decision to require school uniforms are important in tandem to one another in promoting the best learning environment for every student. In addition, cost savings for families on school expenses is a considerably positive factor, especially in times of recession. A carefully planned, well-thought-out and strictly enforced school uniform policy will not only have the benefit of increasing academic achievement, but also positively affects safety, discipline, peer pressure, school pride and team spirit. Considering all of these positive factors, it is no surprise that school uniform policies are on the rise in the United States and that their implementation should be encouraged throughout non-uniform requiring school districts in the nation.
Bodine, Ann. “School Uniforms, Academic Achievement, and Uses of Research.” The Journal of Educational Research 97.2 (Nov./Dec. 2003): 67-71.
Brunsma, David and Rockquemore, Kerry Ann. “Statistics, Sound Bites, and School Uniforms: A Reply to Bodine.” The Journal of Educational Research 97.2 (Nov./Dec. 2003): 72-77.
Buesing, Matt. “Case Closed: School Uniforms Cost Less.” Uniform Web, 27 Sept. 2010. Web.
Calabrese, Erin and Olshan, Jeremy. “City’s ‘Grand’ Child.” The New York Post (27 Sept. 2010). Web.
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“Fast Facts: School Uniforms.” National Center for Educational Statistics, n.d. Web. Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
“More About School Uniforms: Facts and Figures.” French Toast, n.d. Web. Accessed 19 Oct. 2012.
Rhodes, Virginia, Stevens, Douglas, and Hemmings, Annette. “Creating Positive Culture in a New Urban High School.” The High School Journal 94.3 (Spring 2011): 82-94.
“School Uniform Statistics.” Statistic Brain, 7 Jul. 2012. Web.
Sowell, Russell Edward. “The Relationship of School Uniforms to Student Attendance, Achievement and Discipline.” Diss. Liberty University, Jan. 2012. Dissertations and Theses. Web.
Wilder, Larry and Key, Scott. “Pros and Cons of School Dress Code.” Fresno Pacific University News, 11 Nov. 2007. Web.