Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Hot Topics/School Uniforms

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Should school districts implement school uniform policies?

To start off it is important to define what a school uniform actually is. Some schools have reverted to using the traditional catholic school looking uniform. This includes the nice dark pants with a white shirt for boys. For girls it includes a jumper and white shirt with a knee length skirt. The other option, the one that seems to be the most popular is a more casual approach. The more casual uniform is khakis or jeans with a set color for the shirts. Many schools are using the more casual approach because it makes sense financially. Many of these casual uniforms can be worn outside of school.

The uniform discussion is a hot topic debate in education and one that more and more school districts are looking into – Should students be required to wear a school uniform? As school districts look for a quick fix to problems such as school violence, poor test scores, poor attendance, and substance abuse, they are considering school uniforms as a possible solution.

Before a school district decides to take such a drastic step there are many important factors and questions it must consider. Is implementing a school uniform or strict dress code the solution to the school’s problems or just a temporary Band-aid that fails to address the true causes for youth violence? And do the potential gains earned from implementing a school uniform policy outweigh the obvious negative effects it will have on the students’ morale and sense of individuality?


There are many reasons why the school district has been wanting to implement school uniforms. They have high hopes that wearing uniforms will dramatically help improve the focus on school. The first reason they want uniforms to go into effect is to reduce gang colors in schools. Many children grow up poor and in the ghettos. Gangs are not uncommon, even for young children. Simply wearing the wrong colors to school could lead to violence. Another reason for wearing uniforms is to prevent theft. Theft is not uncommon in any school these days. If kids were to wear uniforms, all the kids would dress the same. No single child would wear anything flashy or expensive. This drops the target rate for theft among shoes, and clothing. Another reasons uniforms could be helpful is for the simple fact of discipline. In today’s society children are wanting to dress like the stars on TV. The only issue is many of them are showing off too much skin. If all kids wore the same clothing there would not be the issue of determining what is too short, or showing too much. This leads us to the next reason. Especially during middle and high school when the students start to date and become interested in the opposite sex showing off too much skin could be a distraction. If a young lady wore a shirt that was too tight and a skirt that was too short it could distract some of them young men. They could lose focus on what they are learning. Another reason for uniforms is to instill a sense of “community” among the children. If all the kids are dressed alike there is no reason to feel that anyone is inferior. If a poor child and rich child went to the same school but they both wore the same uniforms who could tell the difference just by looking at the two? The last reason uniforms could be a good idea according to the school districts is a safety reason. If all the children are dressed alike it is very easy to spot out an intruder. This could play a huge role in safety issues when it comes to kidnappings or any scenario of that sort.

Principals, parents, and students have noted a possible connection between school violence and the clothing students wear in school. The fashion trends of today is largely dominated by students wearing gang-related clothing. Gang members frequently roam the streets near inner-city schools. The color of a students clothing can result in them becoming targets of violence. Additionally, such clothing arose from the clothing style of inner-city gangs, who wore oversized shirts and baggy pants to hide weapons and drugs from the police. Such clothing is glamorized in music videos and on television, but it can still be the means of transporting weapons or drugs onto school property and therefore increasing school violence. Also, children’s desire to be fashionable brings another connection between clothing and violence. Children may envy other children’s clothing, but lack the money to purchase similar styles. Consequently, children have been violently injured or even murdered for their designer clothes, sneakers, or professional sport-team paraphernalia. School uniforms may help to reduce these occurrences. Many schools feel that uniforms would help schools more easily recognize intruders. Other schools have implemented a mandatory dress code policy for both students and teachers, rather than adopting uniforms, because they believe students and teachers tend to act the way that they dress.

The Long Beach Unified School District Uniform Initiative[edit]

Those that argue for the effectiveness of school uniforms point to one case in particular, The Long Beach Unified School District Uniform Initiative in 1994. In that year the school district in Long Beach, California were the first to institute a mandatory dress code. School officials there say that since then, school crime has decreased by 76 percent, assaults committed on school property have dropped by 85 percent, incidents of school vandalism have decreased from more than 1,400 to less than 100 a year, and average attendance has reached an all-time high at nearly 95 percent (Starr).

The results of this particular case has led many school districts to follow the lead of Long Beach and implement their own mandatory school uniform policies. They look at the statistics in this case and come to the conclusion that school uniforms are an efficient deterrent against youth violence that also help boost attendance rates and test scores.

The case study done at Long Beach has also had its share of critics. Some suggest that other changes instituted to the school at the same time as the school uniform policy had more to do with the results of the Long Beach experiment. Experts such as Ray C. Rist, a professor of education and sociology at George Washington University, argues for the implications of the "Hawthorne effect," which states that a group of people who are treated in a special way may behave differently because of that treatment. In other words, Long Beach students may behave better simply because they are the focus of so much attention. "No one," says Rist, "has ever been able to establish that uniforms, in and of themselves, can result in a dramatic reduction in crime" (Starr).

The Root of Youth Violence[edit]

Proponents for school uniform policies argue that school uniforms are an effective deterrent against school violence. Dr. Alan Hilfer, senior psychologist in the Children's and Adolescent Unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn says, "Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetrated by older kids on younger kids for their sneakers and other possessions” (School Uniforms). But is forcing a student to wear a uniform really the solution to this problem? If a student is willing to assault another student for his or her sneakers, is forcing them to wear a uniform and look like everyone else, suddenly going to make them a non violent person that accepts life’s proper values?

The root of most youth violence is a result of students that come from dysfunctional households and forcing them to wear a uniform to school is not going to fix that problem. Reducing drug use, broken homes, out-of-wedlock births, gangs, poor schools and all the rest takes big money and big effort, not little gestures (Twomey). Instituting school uniform policies may seem like an easy and cheap solution to reducing youth violence but it hasn’t proven to be an effective one.

School Uniforms: How Effective Are They?[edit]

In a study published in The Journal of Educational Research, the authors concluded that requiring students to wear uniforms has no direct effect on substance abuse, behavioral problems, or school attendance. They found, in fact, that the students they studied who were required to wear uniforms actually scored lower on standardized achievement tests than did a comparable group not required to wear them (Brunsma, Rockquemore).

Critics of this research will still point to the case study in Long Beach and other school districts that reported positive results to installing school uniform policies. However, without accounting for other outside factors, it is impossible to know what true effects if any, school uniforms have on student’s behavior. Loren Siegel, director of public education for the American Civil Liberties Union says "No empirical studies show that uniforms consistently produce positive changes in student behavior over the long run" (Starr).

Social Effect on Students[edit]

When students are forced to wear the same school uniform as the rest of their peers and have their individuality taken away, what kind of message does that send to them? Students no longer are given the opportunity to express themselves creatively and be who they are. Instead they are being told they have to look like everyone else. We are trying to prepare students for the future world, and get them to start to think for themselves, but already we are taking one of their basic rights away.

Many educators feel that forcing a uniform on students limits the choices they can exercise in this aspect of growing up, restricting their development both in school and later in life. If students feel uncomfortable and insecure in class because of their dress, they will be less receptive to learning due to their feelings of anger and embarrassment. As a result, they will be less likely to attend school, behave appropriately in class, pay attention to instruction, and perform at a higher level of achievement, which is what those in favor of school uniforms hope to improve (Caruso).


Rather than looking at for a quick and simple solution school districts should consider other factors when dealing with problems in schools. Many experts suggest that measures such as violence prevention courses, closer links between schools and local law enforcement agencies, smaller classes, better facilities, and tighter school security are much more effective than school uniforms in preventing school violence. And they warn that many school districts may see uniforms as an easy solution to a much more complicated problem (Starr).

The fact is there is no substantial proof that school uniforms alter students’ behavior and improve test scores and if these problems want to be remedied, school districts should look at root problems. School uniforms may seem like an effective solution, but in the end the only thing they are proven to be effective in is suppressing individuality among students and lowering a child’s self-worth. Schools should be encouraging uniqueness among students and respecting their right to freedom of expression rather than taking that away.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

By how much did school crime decrease in the Long Beach school district after implementing a school uniform policy in 1994?
A. 12%
B. 48%
C. 76%
D. 90%

C. 76%

In The Journal of Educational Research, the authors concluded that requiring students to wear uniforms had what effect?
A. A huge decrease in behavioral problems among students.
B. A small decrease in behavioral problems among students.
C. No direct effect on behavioral problems among students.
D. An increase in behavioral problems among students.

C. No direct effect on behavioral problems among students.

According to Ray C. Rist the study in the Long Beach School District is flawed because...
A. Of the "Hawthorne Effect".
B. School officials misrepresented the data.
C. The school district is too small to believe the statistics are accurate.
D. Youth violence actually increased after the study.

A. Of the "Hawthorne Effect".

Implementing school uniform policies has a negative effect on a student's right to express their...
A. Emotions
B. Individuality
C. School spirit
D. Violent behavior

B. Individuality

Which of the following is NOT a reason school districts want to implement uniforms?
A. To prevent theft.
B. To stop racism.
C. To cut back on the distractions.
D. To help with intruder alerts.

B. To stop racism.

Why have many of the school districts chosen to go with a more casual form of uniforms?
A. They look better.
B. The kids like it better.
C. It is more cost efficient. The kids can wear these clothes outside of school as well.
D. None of the above.

C. It is more cost efficient. The kids can wear these clothes outside of school as well.

What does this article mean when it says uniforms give the children a sense of “community?”
A. That all the kids will be wearing the same uniforms so they will all feel equal.
B. They can hang out with all the kids in the community.
C. The community wants them to wear uniforms.
D. B and C.

A. That all the kids will be wearing the same uniforms so they will all feel equal.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to view sample responses.

What are some of the arguments against implementing school uniform policies mentioned in this article?

The main argument against having uniforms in the school system is that having the children dress up in alike uniforms does not actually in reality solve any of the problems that many of us think it would. Also you mentioned that uniforms could limit or restrict an individual’s freedom of expression. Children will be children. It does not really make a difference if you are wearing the same clothes as everyone else. Yes, it may seem like a good idea but there are many downsides to this as well. You see kids will find a way to pick on other kids despite clothing issues. Most kids don’t make fun of their peers for their clothes, they make fun of them because they are fat, ugly, or say something “dumb.” Uniforms will not solve the issue of bullying that much, if any at all. If a kid wants to be a bully he or she will find a way regardless of clothing status. I think the most important factor here is that having kids wear the same uniform really does limit a child’s expression of freedom. Each child has his/her own personality. The way one dresses is a statement of individuality. That freedom should not be taken away. Part of growing up is making decisions. A child must learn to make decisions on the simplest things, even deciding what to wear. As trivial as this may seem, it does have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. A child must learn how to dress themselves and learn what is appropriate for every situation. The way a child dresses may possibly be one of their highlights to going to school. It is a way to creatively express how they feel, and what they like. Is it really fair to take away this right?

One of the primary arguments against school uniforms is that it limits children's individuality by making them look like all of their peers. We can all remember getting ready for the first day of school and taking great pains to pick out the perfect outfit. Everyone wants to make an impression of their personal style on their peers. The way students dress at school is often the biggest dividing line. Appearance allows students to find friends with interests similar to their own. When we first walk into school and see a group of students with polo shirts and khakis and another group of students wearing jeans and band t-shirts, we will automatically gravitate towards the group that is dressed similarly. Perhaps this kind of individuality is just an easy way out. Why not encourage students to use their personalities to identify themselves. In this materialistic culture we live in, we tend to look to our belongings for meaning. Perhaps school uniforms would allow students to look inward for their own development rather than constantly trying to stay in fashion.

Another argument against school uniforms is that they simply don't work the way their supposed to. School uniforms are supposed to reduce bullying and stem the spread of gangs. Obviously putting all of the kids in uniforms isn't going to stop these problems overnight. However, limiting the students' choice of clothing might be beneficial. There would no longer be a dividing line between those with fashionable clothes and those without. I can still remember a student from my high school who always wore sweat pants and t-shirts to school. He was ridiculed for his choice of clothing, but perhaps he simply could not afford more elaborate clothes. Perhaps he simply enjoyed being comfortable. Whatever the case, the fact that this young man was teased for his choice is a tragedy.

Finally, the financial issue. One responder to this essay question claimed that the public school system would have to supply these uniforms in order to enforce the policy. This is simply untrue. In many Newport News Public Schools, there is a casual uniform policy. The parents are able to opt out of the uniform code if they wish, but the students are unable to participate in some activities if they are out of uniform. The uniforms are not a financial problem as the requirements are very simple. A plain colored polo shirt and slacks. These are items available in mass quantities at any thrift shop. If uniforms are chosen with this sort of practicality in mind, the financial strain on buying school clothes can actually be reduced. —Brian Foster

Despite what proponents may claim, there is no factual evidence that implementing a school uniform policy has any positive effect on classroom behavior and student attendance. To deal with problems such as student misconduct and poor attendance, you have to get to the root of the problem and forcing students to wear school uniforms, is just looking for an easy solution.

One thing we do know is that forcing the students to wear school uniforms takes away their individuality which causes some to feel insecure in class. School uniforms can have many other negative social effects on the students as they feel uncomfortable in class which leads to feelings of anger and embarrassment. This makes students less receptive in class which causes students to be less likely to want to attend school, pay attention in class, or strive to do well academically. —Sabrina Lee

The school uniform policy has been an ongoing argument for many years. There are many good reasonable arguments supporting the idea of making school uniforms mandatory. However, there are also many logical arguments against this policy, as well. Those supporting uniforms argue that mandatory dress eliminates competition, pressure, and bullying. Uniforms could very well help these situations, however, most likely they will not tackle the issues, for dress is not usually the cause of these problems. Another idea is that uniforms will help bring a more positive school environment overall. However, in reality, dress has not helped raise test scores, reduce drug and alcohol abuse, or raise school attendance. These two elements do not correlate together. All in all, making uniforms mandatory eliminates student’s ability to be creative. Everyone expresses their own uniqueness and style through their dress. Uniforms give a sense of likeness and forces everyone to be alike, when everyone has always taught students to be different and stand out. In today’s society, creativity is the driving force for many things and making uniforms mandatory blocks student’s creativity early on in life. —Christina Wells

There are several arguments against school uniforms presented in this article. The main argument is that having all students wear the same clothes does not really solve any of the problems proponents of the uniforms think they do. For example, will enforcing school uniforms stop students from bullying each other or stop violence in schools? Even when students look the same by their clothing, they are still very different. Kids will find something to pick on a student about no matter what they have on. There will still be short kids, overweight kids, and ugly kids. Honestly, I would rather be picked on for what I have on than a personal trait I can’t change.

Also, uniforms limit individuality and eliminate freedom of expression. We have standardized our educational content so much, that we should at least allow students the ability to express themselves (within limits) as to how they dress. Uniforms give the impression that everyone should be the same and act the same. Wouldn’t the world be boring if this were really the case?

One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article is cost. For the public school system, the schools would have to provide the uniforms in order to enforce the rule. I believe there are many more important things that our schools need to spend money on than uniforms. —Kendra McPherson

A school enforcing a uniform policy to help lower gang violence and other assaults is outrageous in my opinion. The people that are going to steal, bully, and physically harm others while in school are going to do these things regardless of whether or not they are wearing khakis and a white polo. Implementing a school uniform and demanding student’s follow the dress code is detrimental to the student's unique personality and sense of individuality. In a classroom full of peers dressed identically, I would feel my right to reveal my creativity had been taken away. Many children choose to dress differently from others based on their feelings that standing out and showing their true identity can be exposed through clothing, piercings, and hair styles. We are each individual human beings with different thoughts, needs, and emotions so how is it possible to wear the same type of clothing and suddenly hide our many differences? Some of the arguments mentioned in this article against implementing a school uniform policy include tighter school security and a smaller amount of students in the classroom to prevent violence rather than taking away the right to wear what you want. I agree school violence has to decrease; however, school uniforms are not the change we need. —Rachel Landreth