In a growing number of school districts across the nation, students must wear a uniform.
This is not the stereotypical school uniform associated with Catholic schools – pleated plaid skirt with a blouse for girls; a button-down shirt, a necktie and dark pants for boys. Instead, these are mostly khaki and blue or khaki and red shirt/blouse and skirt/pants uniforms.
According to the US Department of Education, wearing a uniform can decrease the risk of violence and theft, instill discipline and help school officials recognize intruders who come to the school.
As a former teacher, principal and superintendent and now a policy and law scholar, I am skeptical about such claims.
Research on the effects of school uniforms is still nascent. And the findings on the impact of school uniforms on student behavior, discipline, connection to the school, attendance and academic gains is at best mixed.
Lawsuits, protests, individuality
About half of schools around the country have dress codes policies. A dress code identifies what clothes cannot be worn to school. A school uniform policy defines what clothes must be worn to school. Dress codes limit clothing options while school uniforms define clothing options.
Schools claim that when students come in uniforms, it improves discipline and leads to academic gains. The Bossier Parish School Board in Louisiana enacted a uniform policy in 2001 in order to increase test scores and reduce disciplinary problems.
However, such mandatory policies that decide what students can or cannot wear to schools, have led to free speech violations lawsuits. Students allege such policies are unconstitutional, as they restrict their freedom of expression.
There have been nine lawsuits up to 2014. School districts have won almost all the cases, except one, where an appeals court found the uniform policy of a Nevada school unconstitutional. The school required students to wear shirts emblazoned with the school motto, “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” which the court found to be a violation of students’ free speech rights.
In addition, students have protested in their schools as well.
An example of student and parental reaction to school uniforms is found in my home state of New Hampshire when Pinkerton Academy, a private secondary school, considered adopting a “uniform dress code” (a school uniform).
Students in an online protest wrote:
[A school uniform] takes away individuality. Also, [it] will not change study habits of students. [It means] too much money [needs to be spent] for each child. Parents do not have that type of money, especially in this economy. We have the right to freedom of expression and would like to keep it that way.“ [And] "its [sic] my right to wake up in the morning and have my own unique individuality.”
Mixed impact of school uniforms
A more important question is whether there is any evidence to show that mandatory uniform policies can lead to improved student outcomes.
Research shows mixed results: it’s true that some studies show a reduction in the incidence of misbehavior. But then, there are others that show an increase in student suspensions. A few others show no significant change in student misbehavior.
For example, a 2010 study in a large urban school district in the Southwest found that asking students to wear uniforms did not result in any change in the number of suspensions for elementary school students.
In fact, middle and high school students experienced a significant increase in suspensions.
By contrast, a 2003 study that used a large national data set concluded that elementary and middle schools with school uniforms had fewer student behavior problems.
But, again, it found that high schools had a greater frequency of misbehavior.
Interestingly, even when evidence is available, educators’ perceptions could be at odds with it. For example, a study of educators in 38 North Carolina high schools found that 61% of the responding principals and assistant principals believed that there was a reduction in cases of misbehavior on campus when school uniforms were introduced. In reality, the data showed no change in incidents of crime, violence and suspensions.
Similarly, research on the efficacy of school uniforms on increasing student attendance and achievement is conflicted. For example, one study concluded that school uniforms resulted in increased student achievement and increased attendance.
However, another study found little impact on academics at all levels and little evidence of improvement in attendance for girls and drop in attendance for boys.
Implications for policy
So, what does lack of consistent research mean for policy?
In my view, it does not mean that schools should not implement such policies. It does mean, however, that educators must be clear about the goals that they hope to achieve with mandating school uniforms.
There is often a cost associated with mandatory school uniform policies. Lawsuits and community reactions can take up scarce resources of time and money.
Decreased discipline problems, increased attendance and increased academic achievement may not be achieved just by wearing khaki and blue. But there may be other benefits, such as, it could help a school promote its brand through a uniform look. School uniform may also serve as symbol of commitment to academic achievement.
The point is that clarity of purpose and outcome is necessary before students don their uniform in the morning.
I believe school uniforms may be part of a broad array of programs and approaches that a school may adopt to bring change. However, as a standalone measure, it implies that schools are simply trying to find an easy fix for difficult and complex problems.
School uniforms alone cannot bring about a sustained or large-scale change.
Focus of school uniform research paper on functionality
Focus on the school uniform policy which previously was a source of mockery and harassment and this has led to improvements on the school uniforms in terms of designs and even choice of color. School uniform plays various roles as outlined:
- Source of identification: here, as an essay writer, you should show how uniforms provide a sense of identity for institutions as well as the students. The identifying factor can come from either the color scheme or designs of the uniform or the badges and school names that are printed on the uniforms.
- Promotes equality: what equality brings is a sense of togetherness and unity. Uniform are a standardizing element. This is where you explain to your audience how it would be emotionally stressful for some students if there were no uniforms in school. Lack of which would mean attending school in home clothes. The problem of which would be some would obviously be better dressed than others. This in turn would affect the self-esteem of the less fortunate and affect their concentration and performance. On the other hand, those well off would probably take this as an opportunity to seclude some students based on class which would lead to bullying among other cases of indiscipline.
- Improves behavior of students: it is important to show the relationship of school uniforms and mannerisms, this is mostly because if students misbehave while having uniforms on, they are easily identified with the school and this has led the administration to put a lot of controls in terms of behavior. This continuously improves the behavior of the students and respectively improves the reputation of the school.
The debate about School uniform research papers
In the research, paper it is important to state the fact that school uniform has been debated a lot because it leads to an additional cost, which in some institution recurs after several years where all students have to get new uniforms to replace the old ones. Choice of school uniforms is also a topic of study because most institutions do not engage students or even the parents in the selection of colors or designs of the school uniforms, however we have seen improvements in that policy where students are asked to suggest colors with the meanings they hold and in some instances, there is an option of picking two colors to cater for diverse choices and some schools allow one to come up with their design of choice.
School uniform research papers should also address the differences of schools, which embrace school uniforms, and those that do not embrace school uniforms; one can look at things like
- Performance-look at subsequent results of schools, which embrace school uniforms and contrast with schools that do not embrace school uniform.
- Reputation-the reputation/what people think about a school that embraces school uniforms and those that do not embrace uniforms.
- Discipline-look at cases of indiscipline in both instances and contrast on the frequency and nature of the disciplinary cases reported.
- Cost-in writing school uniform research paper it is also important to look at the difference in the cost incurred to purchase uniforms in contrast with the cost of buying different outfits for students who wear home clothes and have to fit in by the mode of dressing which is influenced by various things like current trends.
While writing school uniform research papers, it would help a lot if as a writer you would get feedback from both the students as well as the teachers to help you understand what impact there has been because of schools agreeing on a similar garment design for a school. This will help you come out balanced and not biased in your research paper. You could also look at how long the practice has been in effect and what the future looks like for the same.
In conclusion, remember that apart from the school and the students, there are other players involved in this including the manufacturers of the uniforms and their input should as well be sought to complement school uniform research papers. We provide articles on school uniforms to augment your businesses or academic work. Contact us for details.
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