Few education issues have been more hotly debated than the issue of school uniforms and whether requiring students to wear them makes a healthier, safer school climate.
Sometimes school teachers, principals, and parents make decisions about school uniforms without getting adequate information first. This can result in inaccurate assessments about how well the program works because the assessments are based on beliefs and feelings rather than scientific research. When school communities fail to do their homework before making school uniform decisions, they may get poor or inflated results.
Supporters of School Uniforms
According to Dr. Karen Walker in a research brief for Principals’ Partnership, a Program of Union Pacific Foundation, the following are some of the reasons given by those who believe that uniforms make schools safer:
•socioeconomic differences lessened
•wearing of gang-related attire reduced
Against School Uniforms
Others believe that requiring uniforms is a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment. Dr. Walker listed some reasons that are frequently given by those against school uniforms:
•restrict student freedom of expression
•cuts down on attention
•spend more on clothing
•fewer opportunities for students to appreciate diversity
•fewer opportunities to make choices
•restricts expression of religious beliefs (yarmulke)
Research has not clearly answered the question whether school uniforms do or do not affect such markers of school climate as school safety, student achievement, reduced violence, or increased student appreciation of diversity. Instead, the results of some of the research have been clouded because of the way in which much of the research has been done.
In her article, “Parents: Do School Uniforms Make a Difference?” Pauline Wallin, Ph.D noted that when principals, teachers, and parents were asked whether they believed that school uniforms made a positive difference, they often answered that their school’s attendance, behavior, and achievement had improved.
However, when researchers measured such markers as school attendance, number of fights, and discipline referrals, the results were inconclusive. In some schools, there actually were improvements, but in others, the markers were the same or even worse.
Another issue sometimes muddies accurate assessment of the effect of school uniforms on school improvement. Changes in curriculum, better enforcement of rules, or more parent involvement may have been implemented at the same time as school uniforms, and could also be responsible for positive effects.
Research School Uniforms
It’s clear that more scientific research is needed to help parents, teachers, and principals make decisions about school uniforms. School uniforms must be the only variable included in scientific research on the subject. Assessment of the effectiveness of any program including school uniforms should be based not on the beliefs or feelings of individuals but on markers like the number of discipline referrals, number of fights, records of achievement, and number of suspensions before and after the implementation of school uniform policies. Only when the school community has looked at scientific inquiry can they make rational decisions about the use of school uniforms.