Many public school systems across the country have instituted school uniforms in an effort to improve overall school performance and to reduce negative behavior. Standardized school clothing has become a heated national debate with experts taking stands on both sides of the dispute.
The commonly cited advantages of uniforms are increased academic performance, reduced behavioral problems, increased social harmony, and reduced costs of clothing students.
Many educators believe that students who wear school uniforms perform better academically in school. Several studies, such as one from Walden University, back up this claim noting that uniforms seem to correlate not only with improved academic outcomes but also school uniforms seem to be a contributing factor to less bullying and a higher sense of safety in the overall school climate. Students are often so focused on their wardrobe that it distracts them from learning. The idea is a mandatory uniform policy will remove this distraction and improve student attention, and that uniforms set a more serious tone within the school environment that is more conducive to learning and can improve student performance. In addition, many parents report that their children spend a great deal of time planning and choosing their daily clothing and that uniforms allow students to use this time to sleep or study.
One of the hallmarks of a well-performing school is its ability to keep teachers on staff. When schools have a lot of teacher turnover, students tend to suffer under the hands of less experienced teachers. One study in the Journal of Urban Economics, notes that school uniforms in an urban setting significantly impact teacher retention. Where a school uses uniforms, teachers tend to stay longer. This, in turn, benefits students who have the opportunity to learn under more experienced teachers who 'know the ropes.'
It is generally thought that students who wear school uniforms behave more appropriately in the school environment. They believe that uniforms dictate a stricter atmosphere and that students who wear uniforms are more likely to follow school rules.
In a comparison of two schools done by Walden University, one without a uniform requirement and one with a uniform requirement, teachers from the school with the requirement ranked the social environment of their school significantly higher than the other teachers. They also noted an increase in safety, a decrease in bullying and an overall increase in positive social change.
Children are often ridiculed by other children because of the way they dress. Many children use clothing to express themselves and to define themselves. This self-expression and definition often leads to the formation of cliques in the school environment. Many students feel that they are judged according to what they wear by other students as well as by teachers and administrators. School uniforms remove these factors from the social environment within the school, thus relieving students from the pressure to fit in. Experts believe that, by improving the social environment through mandatory standardized dress, both academic and behavioral outcomes improve.
In some cases, the use of school uniforms is more affordable to families because there is not as much pressure to buy expensive, trendy clothing. Uniforms are made to last and can be washed easily and frequently. After the initial cost of buying uniforms, there is no need to spend as much money on clothing.
Commonly cited cons of school uniforms include a reduced amount of opportunities for self-expression, a reduced sense of individuality, possible increased costs in clothing and possible reduced comfort.
Many educators and sociology experts argue that requiring children to wear standardized uniforms stifles their self-expression. Self-expression is an important part of child development, with research noting that those who do not wear uniforms have a better understanding of self-perception. Some believe that curbing it with uniforms can be detrimental to children. Experts also believe that students who are forced to wear uniforms will only find other, less appropriate ways to express themselves, possibly through the inappropriate use of makeup and jewelry.
Some experts believe that public education attempts to strip children of their individuality. They believe that public schools do not meet the needs of children who do not fall in the norm and that uniforms attempt to force every student into one mold. They see standard dress as yet another way for educators to remove student individuality where they should be embracing and celebrating diversity. Those who are opposed to uniforms suggest that it is not in the best interest of the child to try to control socialization, which is a part of human nature. They believe that such use of school uniforms does not prepare children for the real world, in which they will be judged by appearance. Many students also report purposefully defying the rules around what their uniforms should look like as a way to maintain some semblance of individuality.
There are just as many experts who believe that the cost of school uniforms is a negative factor as those who see it as a positive factor. Some claim that having to purchase uniforms increases the amount of clothing parents will have to buy for their children because the children will still want and need clothing for the hours they are not in school. Cost can be seen as a negative aspect of school uniforms because there is no use for them outside of school.
Many educators and experts believe that, although in theory uniforms should improve academic, behavioral and social outcomes, in reality, they do not. These experts argue that the studies of schools who initiate uniforms report very minimal improvement if any in these areas; therefore if the desired outcomes are not reached, there is no valid reason to standardize student dress.
There are also, of course, experts who maintain that uniforms do have advantages. Every school district decides on this issue separately, usually following much debate surrounding the advantages and disadvantages of requiring students to wear uniforms.