Uniforms in American public school would have numerous benefits for all class and group of people. Issuing uniforms in public schools would foster school unity with fewer distractions to the learning environment. This would consequently increase student self-esteem, motivation and focus. Another benefit would be a reduction of violence and other behavioral problems associated with social pressures, classism, and status differentials. Children are often ostracized for not wearing the same apparel as the “in” crowd, creating discord. In turn, uniforms will save parents money on clothing for their children. Studies have shown uniforms improve attendance and academic achievement across the board.
It has been documented that the key to success in schools is highly related to income, which is itself related to race and urbanization. This may explain why an examination of results for the demographic and socioeconomic factors associated with uniform policies show that more affluent schools are less likely to have uniform policies, while disadvantaged schools are more likely to have them. Schools with high levels of poverty and a high proportion of minorities also have a much higher propensity for school uniform policy adoption, as do schools that have low levels of parental involvement.
This finding is intriguing, given the fact that parents must be supportive of such policies in order for them to be implemented. Compliance from both parents and students are vital to its effectiveness. Yet there are findings from previous research that urban/minority, and poorer parents are more likely to defer educational authority to the school and its staff, and therefore are less likely to be involved in their children’s education. Another factor being a lack of order which many who support school uniforms want restored. Dress code standards across the board have declined in the U.S. A disturbing number of Americans seek the least common denominator in many aspects of society. The standards are incrementally relaxed until “anything goes”, leaving children bewildered as to why they must follow protocol. Providing this structured environment prepares them for success in the adult world.
There are some who seek to defy any code of conduct set in place, regardless of venue. Whether attending public or private institutions, both parent and child need to understand the rules and what is expected of them. Administrators should be prepared for variations of downtrodden, and hard luck stories attempting to justify non-adherence. This is particularly true if the mandate of school uniforms are a newly implemented policy. Resistance to such challenges is of the utmost importance to maintaining decorum. This propensity to try and make up the rules as we go along is ingrained deep within human nature. But those who mature realize that those same rules, even though we don’t always agree with them, are in place to maintain a level of behavioral expectation and civility.
Looking at the relationship between zero-tolerance policies and school uniform policies, one sees that these Policies overlap a good deal of the time. Elementary schools with uniform policies are also more likely than other schools that do not have such policies to have security guards, metal detectors, sign-in policies, and limited restroom time. And yet, according to a recent study (Educational Testing Service 2000), such policies do not deter delinquency on campus.
School officials have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure, and productive learning environment. Dress and appearance play a role in doing so. There should not be any support of violating the law, including the legal rights of others; there is a believe that properly implemented policies and strategies around dress and appearance are within the realm of reasonable actions which can be taken by school officials to promote a positive school climate. Reducing conflict stemming from socio-economic status, i.e., conflicts stemming from comments and personal attacks about who has better clothing and so on. Reducing ways in which gang members can identify themselves which, in essence, is a form of intimidation and creates fear. Reduces the risk of students being robbed to and from school, or for that matter in school, of expensive clothing, jewelry; In the case of uniforms, could help school administrators identify non-students, trespassers, and other visitors in the hallways who stand out in the crowd.
These are general observations and, of course, there are exceptions. For example, one group of students told us that although they had uniforms, the school policy did not specify specific types of uniforms, so some students wore very expensive dark pants and light shirts, while others wore less expensive ones, and the status reduction argument was thus moot. Of course, there are also many ways for gang members to identify themselves in addition to dress, too, so uniforms do not eliminate gangs or all of their ways to identify. Still, the fact that there are some glitches and ways to beat the system should not shoot down the entire concept.
Student and parent input should be received on the front-end of implementing such policies, especially school uniforms. Anecdotal information suggests that such involvement reduces non-compliance and increases ownership into the program. Ironically, once implemented, many students and staff are pleased with uniforms, for example, and parents are also pleased with the idea that they are often cheaper than common popular clothing, plus they do not have the hassle with their children each day of dealing with "what to wear" to school.
Do dress codes and uniforms violate freedom of expression opportunities? One could say that this argument is misleading. Students are free to dress as they and their parents choose during non-school hours. They also need to realize that dress codes and uniforms are a reality of the workplace in the adult world including in professional offices, retail and food stores, delivery services, government offices and service providers such as post offices, public safety employers, and so on.
Although we would question whether uniforms or dress codes alone are responsible for major school crime reductions, our anecdotal information, experiences, and observations in the field suggest that they do improve school climate.