School Uniforms in Public Schools

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


The October 8, 2007 issue of the Jackson Park Monday Memo lists School Uniforms at Jackson Park as a topic of discussion at the Thursday October 11, Quality Council meeting. In general, I think uniforms in public schools are bad idea. But, I try to keep an open mind and do my own research. There is quite a bit of information available on Uniforms in public schools. Rather than recreate most of it, I am going to provide links to the articles I found helpful.

There is an excellent book called "Freakonomics" by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, that takes empirical, statistical looks and situations and reports on the results. One of the authors’ findings is that “Conventional Wisdom” is an opinion that is widely repeated as fact, but has no proof. For example, “there are more suicides between Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other time of the year”. It turns out that just about 1/12th of all suicides happen in December. There is no increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I bring this up because almost all of the reasons presented for school uniforms simply have no statistical facts to back them up. They are either based on antidotal evidence or, no evidence at all.

For and Against

The reasons for School Uniforms:

  • reduce violence
  • reduce gang presence
  • increase school safety
  • increase school attendance
  • improve grades
  • provide financial benefits for parents
  • make economic differences between students less discernible
  • have no effect on safety or violence without other discipline policies
  • have no direct bearing on students' academic achievement
  • teach an undesirable lesson about individuality and making choices based on internal values
  • may mask risky behaviors (e.g., gang participation)
  • violate students' rights to free expression

The reasons against

The first thee “For” arguments are really one in the same. "Increasing school safety”. I don’t think you will find anyone against that. The question becomes, do school uniforms do this. The answer is, probably not. The only school system that can statistically prove a reduction in school violence is the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD). In 1994 the LBUSD instituted a school uniform policy and lowered school crime by more than 70%. Great! Now take a closer look. Do you remember the movie “Colors”? LBUSD had a severe, some would say extreme gang problem. Does Jackson Park have an extreme gang problem? No other school or school district has been able to document a reduction in crime at school because of uniforms. This is after more than ten years of other schools copying the LBUSD example. Also, school uniforms were not the only change to the districts security policies. Today LBUSD schools still have uniforms. They maintain that they still contribute to a better school environment. Almost every advocate for school uniforms uses LBUSD as an example.

What kind of an example is LBUSD?

LBUSD has had school uniforms in their schools for 13 years now. Almost all of theirs schools participate in the school uniform program. No one has copied their program with as great a success as LBUSD has had in the last 13 years. One of the requirements for an experiment to be scientifically valid is the ability for the results to be repeated.

Improvements in attendance and academic achievement are much harder to quantify. I found no study where the effects of uniforms on either test scores or attendance were outside of the margin of error for the study.

Shot for His Air Jordans

I looked very hard for statistical evidence of violent crimes directed at someone to steal their trendy clothing. I did find antidotal evidence of these kind of crimes. Over the last ten years, there have been a handful of robberies where the victim was chosen specifically to steal a trendy piece of clothing. They are more "News of the Weird" than a danger. Any danger that may have existed, has been further minimized by the changing tastes of criminals. iPods and high end cell phones are now more likely theft targets. iPods are smaller, easier to hide, and one size fits all. All advantages to a street thief.

Economic Impacts

Economic impacts of uniforms take some very broad assumptions. Assumption 1: “Parents by name brand or designer brand clothes that are worn exclusively at school.” I don’t see it and someone would need to prove it to me. Do students were designer labels to school? Yes. Would or do they were the same clothing after school or on weekends? Yes. I simply don’t see someone not buying a new (insert your brand to pick on here) outfit because they are wearing a uniform and not Lucky Brand Jeans or Vokal to school. For some families, uniforms would add more than $100 per child to clothing purchases.

Even assuming that a family spent 100% of their “school clothes” budget on uniforms, how much would they save. According to the studies I have read, they would save less than $20 per student.

That uniforms "mask class differences" is plain baloney. The "haves" have five or more school uniforms. The "have nots" two or maybe three. The wear and tear on the same article of clothing becomes evident as more than once a week washings take their toll.

School uniforms are a big business. Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, Sears, Lands' End, Target and Children’s’ Place compete with other online retailers and mom and pop shops in a multi billion dollar industry. Several studies used to show the advantages of school uniforms have been paid for by Lands' End and French Toast. French Toast is the largest online retailer of school uniforms.

The most frequently cited reason against school uniforms is the violation of a students right to freedom of expression. Courts have sided with schools on the vast majority of school uniform decisions

Life in a school uniform environment

school uniforms

I asked a teacher at a private school, that wears uniforms, his thoughts and what the girls have said about school uniforms. Here are his thoughts.

Uniforms do not change economic class distinctions. The "haves" and the "have nots" can still be separated by the brands of shoes and purses.

Individual expression is not stifled. The girls find a way, even in a sea of navy jumpers and white shirts, to let their individualism shine through. It is not the same as slogans on a t-shirt, but nail polish, hair color and accessories make a statement.

With every one in uniform, you need to get closer to someone before making judgments about them. You cannot make a nanosecond judgment about someone when everyone is dressed alike.

One thing in a school with uniforms, more than 70% of the students will pay the $1.00 on "dress out" days to not wear their uniforms to school.

Sources

Google: Uniforms in public schools

ParentSmart Dress codes and school uniforms

 

Mandatory School Uniforms - NOT

Uniforms in Public Schools and the First Amendment: A Constitutional Analysis

 

School Uniforms: Does What Students Wear Really Make A Difference?

National Association of Elementary School Principals: Public School Uniforms

 

French Toast: America's leading seller of school uniforms

The Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement

 

Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management: Policy Report on school dress codes and uniform policies

ACLU: Student Speech
ACLU: Rights of parents fighting school uniforms

 
     

Significant Court Cases

   

Tinker v. Des Moines

Landmark Supreme Court case on student free speech and dress.

 

BETHEL SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 403 ET AL. v. FRASER

Does the First Amendment prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a high school assembly?

Hazelwood School District v.
Kuhlmeier

Can a school censor a student publication?

Canady v. Bossier Parish School
Board,

Do school uniform polices violate the first amendment rights of students