Do Uniforms Make Schools Better?
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
What's a uniform?
One school might require white button-down shirts and ties for boys, pleated skirts for girls and blazers adorned with the school logo for all. Another school may simply require that all shirts have collars.
In Toledo, Ohio, elementary school students have a limited palette of colors that they can wear: white, light blue, dark blue or yellow on the top half and dark blue, navy, khaki or tan on the bottom half.
Toledo girls are allowed a fairly wide range of dress items, however: blouses, polo shirts with collars, turtlenecks, skirts, jumpers, slacks, and knee-length shorts and skirts. Boys have almost as many choices: dress shirts, turtlenecks, polo or button-down shirts, pants or knee-length shorts.
When Toledo students reach junior high, they are treated to one more color choice: maroon.
What Research Says About School Uniforms
Virginia Draa, assistant professor at Youngstown State University, reviewed attendance, graduation and proficiency pass rates at 64 public high schools in Ohio. Her final analysis surprised her: "I really went into this thinking uniforms don't make a difference, but I came away seeing that they do. At least at these schools, they do. I was absolutely floored."
Draa's study concluded that those schools with uniform policies improved in attendance, graduation and suspension rates. She was unable to connect uniforms with academic improvement because of such complicating factors as changing instructional methods and curriculum.
University of Missouri assistant professor, David Brunsma reached a different conclusion. In his 2004 book, The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade, Brunsma reviewed past studies on the effect of uniforms on academic performance. He also conducted his own analysis of two enormous databases, the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study and the 1998 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Brunsma concluded that there is no positive correlation between uniforms and school safety or academic achievement.
Meanwhile, the movement toward uniforms in public schools has spread to about a quarter of all elementary schools. Experts say that the number of middle and high schools with uniforms is about half the number of elementary schools. If uniforms are intended to curb school violence and improve academics, why are they not more prevalent in middle and high schools, where these goals are just as important as in elementary schools? Because, says Brunsma, "It's desperately much more difficult to implement uniforms in high schools, and even middle schools, for student resistance is much, much higher. In fact, most of the litigation resulting from uniforms has been located at levels of K-12 that are higher than elementary schools. Of course, this uniform debate is also one regarding whether children have rights, too!"
It's a Big Issue
A new trend is the mounting pressure to establish dress codes for teachers. Apparently the same casual mind-set toward revealing outfits is cropping up in the ranks of our teachers.
The debate over uniforms in public schools encompasses many larger issues than simply what children should wear to school. It touches on issues of school improvement, freedom of expression and the "culture wars." It's no wonder the debate rages on.
The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade, David Brunsma. Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2004.
School Dress Codes: A Pro/Con Issue, Barbara C. Cruz. Enslow Publishers, 2001.