school uniforms within a school system. Ideas such as school discipline, student behavior, and academic achievement are discussed along with examples of why different schools have implemented student use of uniforms. Various viewpoints are presented, along with proponents and opponents concerns for the actual implementation of uniforms.
IMPLEMENTATION OF SCHOOL UNIFORMS WITHIN A SCHOOL SYSTEM: AFFECTS ON DISCIPLINE AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Many schools across the United States have adopted school uniforms to meet the needs for a mandatory dress code. There are many opposing arguments on the issue of whether public school students in the United States should be required to wear uniforms or obey dress codes. Improvement of discipline and academic performance, reduction of fashion competition among students are a few of the reasons given in support of implementing school uniforms. However, the opposing viewpoints maintain that requiring school uniforms are a violation of students' First Amendment right to freedom of speech, students' self-expression through the way they dress. [This paper will examine the pros and cons when considering the implementation of school uniforms within a school system and when utilized, how they affect student discipline and academic achievement scores.]
Some educators say that fashion has become too distracting for students. Benjamin Bushman, principal at Beverly Hills High School in California, states that, "Students should come to school dressed like they are coming to work" (Scholastic Action, 2001). To get over the ongoing debate of proper and appropriate clothing to wear, many schools are requiring that students wear uniforms. Some critics argue uniforms aren't always cost-effective and are just a "quick fix" for urban-school problems that demand much deeper reform. However, many students don't want to wear uniforms (Cook, 2002).
Opponents of adopting uniform policies stress the legal and financial effectiveness of implementing uniform policies (Brunsma, 1998). Some parents have challenged "the constitutionality of uniforms in public schools" in areas such as Dallas, Texas and Waterbury, Connecticut. In Waterbury, students who were suspended or expelled for breaking a dress code claim the code violates their civil rights and right to a free public education. However, support came from Philip Giordano, the mayor of Waterbury as he defended the policy, "saying it has reduced distractions and disciplinary problems in class." The trend of students wearing uniforms is gaining popularity. Cities such as New York and Philadelphia have recently mandated uniforms for just such reasons. With the implementation of school uniforms, areas such as crime and fighting discipline have declined. More than two-thirds of principals at middle and elementary schools with uniforms also saw improvement in their students' concentration on work, according to a recent survey by various school uniform suppliers such as Land's End and French Toast along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Supporters for school uniforms and dress codes provide several valid reasons for their position. Some persuasive arguments for the use of uniforms is a noticeable difference in student discipline and academic performance (Scholastic Action, 2001). While most school dress codes do not allow this type of inappropriate clothing, it is more difficult to enforce the rule than by simply requiring standard uniforms. Dress codes have also been put into place in an attempt to reduce fashion competition among the student body, thus eliminating the concept of "dress to impress."
Another pro-is that uniforms and dress codes help curb school violence associated with gang-identified clothing. President Clinton has often spoken about this and is even quoted as saying:
This morning I want to talk with you about what we can do to break hold of gangs and violence in our schools and what we can do to create an atmosphere in our schools that promotes discipline and order and learning... I believe we should give strong support to school districts that decide to require young students to wear school uniforms (Clinton, 1996)."
President Clinton advocated the use of school uniforms in his 1996 State of the Union Address. Clinton supported the use of uniforms in order to "make public schools more orderly centers of learning and safer sanctuaries for children" (Clinton, 1996).
After that, many schools decided to take his advice and created dress codes using uniforms. Clothing that might identify association with any gang activities on school grounds was eliminated and deemed inappropriate. There have been positive results. Administrators across the nation report that school crime has been reduced by seventy-six percent since uniforms have been required.
The government development of the Manual of School Uniforms (1996) was based upon the achievements of "a few dozen public schools that had mandated school uniforms." With the availability and backing of the United States Department of Education passing legislation, schools within twenty-five states have adopted a uniform dress code. For the most part this legislation gives authority to local boards to implement school uniform policies or to strengthen dress codes. So far, no state has mandated that all schools adopt uniforms. Washington state has a clause stating that students who participate in a nationally recognized youth organization must be allowed to wear the organization's uniform "on days that the organization has a scheduled activity." The law also stipulates that a district may not prohibit students from wearing clothing in observance of their religion.
Advocates cite several reasons are valid for school officials to implement uniforms within the school system (Department of Education, 1996). Use of uniforms decreases violence and theft. Life-threatening situations that occur among students over designer clothing or expensive sneakers occur less often. When students are all basically dressed alike, there are fewer distractions, thus allowing students to concentrate more on studies resulting in higher achievement scores. Implementation of uniforms helps prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school while instilling all students with self-discipline. Use of uniforms, helps school officials to recognize visitors and intruders who come onto the school campus. This is a very important deterrent when considering safety within the school.
Students who wear uniforms take less time deciding what to wear;
Parents find that they spend less time and money when shopping for back to school clothes;
Uniforms make it harder to tell who can afford expensive clothes and who can't;
Uniforms boost school spirit and make students take school seriously; help parents and students resist peer pressure.
While there are many pros to the use of uniforms within the school system, there are also many opponents of a uniform dress code. Opposition to uniforms argues that they are a "violation of students' First Amendment right to freedom of speech" (Brown University, 2000). They feel a person should have the right to dress as an individual and that a part of their creativity is stifled as a result of having to wear school uniforms.
Many have sued states and declare in court that a state, being in the form of the public school system, cannot legally tell students what to wear. As one lawyer who opposes the Philadelphia policy pointed out, "Public schools are supposed to be teaching democracy. Uniforms are adverse to teaching people how to make choices" (Junior Scholastic, 1999).
In Miami-Dade County, Florida the public schools system discovered that a school uniform policy is was not a one size-fits-all solution to prevent school crime and violence. For years, "uniforms won rave reviews as an important part of maintaining a safe school atmosphere. However, administrators now suggest that uniforms have not necessarily made Miami elementary and middle schools safer. Although principals, counselors and superintendents maintained that "uniforms meant less competition among students, less aggressive behavior, and less theft, along with better discipline and more learning, evidence of gains based upon uniform usage was not documented through official records. However, in the area middle schools where uniforms were adopted, there was a documented increase in the number of fights by more than fifty percent (Frandsen, 1999).
Loren Siegel, director of public education for the American Civil Liberties Union feels that uniforms do not decrease problems in school (Starr, 1998), saying "No empirical studies show that uniforms consistently produce positive changes in student behavior over the long run." Experts also 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, 1998).
Many oppose school uniforms based upon the following reasons:
Uniforms are the first step to communism by not allowing students to remain individualized and stifling creativity.
For students who move often, having to buy new uniforms again can be very expensive.
Violation to First Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech.
Others say that mandating uniforms within the school systems only provides a "cheap educational fix" and provides a cover-up to other discipline issues such as drugs, violence, poor attendance and other discipline problems (Wilkins, 1999). While there is much evidence to support mandating school uniforms, there is…