According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2009 to 2010 school year, about 19 percent of public schools required students to wear uniforms, an increase from only 12 percent in the previous year. Proponents of school uniforms claim that the policy makes schools safer and creates a more positive environment, but opponents say that it places unnecessary limits on students and and can be costly.
Supporters of uniforms claim they can increase school safety. Uniforms allow staff to quickly identify people who do not belong on campus and limit the ways that gangs can identify themselves. In 1994, Long Beach United School District in California began requiring uniforms with the hopes of improving safety. Just five years later, the overall crime rate in the district was down 91 percent. Specifically, sex offenses dropped 96 percent and number of incidents of vandalism had decreased 69 percent.
When all students are dressed alike, economic and social barriers between students are reduced. There is no peer pressure to wear expensive clothes or bullying of those who can't afford designer labels. Children have one less distraction, as they do not have to concern themselves with what others are wearing. Common dress can also make students feel like they belong to the school community, increase pride and even improve attendance. A 2012 study by the University of Houston of 160 public, urban schools, found that student attendance increased after schools began mandating uniforms.
Supporters of school uniforms often cite increased academic achievement as a main reason to adopt such a policy. While there is some anecdotal evidence to support this claim, overall, studies yield inconclusive results. A study by Ryan Yeung analyzed student data collected from 1988 to 2004. His research found that although some test scores were higher for schools that required uniforms, in others, scores were actually lower.
Some opponents claim that uniforms are not a fix-all for the problems that plague schools, but instead, violate a student's right to express themselves, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. They claim that a dress code can provide guidelines and exclusions for certain types of dress, such as clothing with drug references or vulgar language printed on them, while still allowing students to make their own choices and be an individual.
Even with uniforms, parents would still need to purchase "regular" clothes for when students are not in school, thus creating an additional expense. A 2012 presentation by North Brunswick Township Public Schools in New Jersey reported the average cost for families to purchase uniforms would be about $300 per student each year. Students receiving free or reduced lunch would not be required to purchase uniforms, but instead, this expense would be covered by the school. In this particular district, that means needing over $700,000 in additional funds.
- National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts -- School Uniforms
- Psychology Today: Uniform Improvements
- University of Houston: UH Study Suggests School Uniforms Reduce Student Absences, Disciplinary Problems
- GreatSchools.org: Do Uniforms Make Schools Better?
- North Brunswick Township Public Schools: School Uniform Task Force
- Pacific Standard: No Uniform Solution
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