Public Schools Should Not Have Mandatory Uniforms and Dress Code

About this essay

This essay will discuss the recent trend amount public schools of requiring their students to wear uniforms, and whether or not it serves as a deterrent to crime. It will critique each article and discuss the author’s assumptions, compare and contrast the authors’ points of view, explain the methods used for data collection, and evaluate the data.

For generations, private schools have required students to wear uniforms, according to the theory that such uniformity of dress inspired order, equality, and pride.

In recent years, public schools across the nation have joined in, and recently President Clinton gave his support of the movement.

Attorney General Janet Reno, speaking in Long Beach, California, whose school district adopted a dress code for elementary and middle schools in 1995, said that Clinton believes that uniforms help reduce crime and gives his support to schools that try them. The Long Beach school district saw a 36% decrease in crime within a year of the dress code implementation.

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The main reason for the switch to uniforms is to protect students from clothing-conscious gangs and criminals, who have reportedly gunned down children for jackets or shoes. However, there is less than total support for the measure. The Long Beach district has been sued by two legal-rights groups, requiring that parents be allowed waivers for the uniform code, and that the district provide help for parents with the purchase of uniforms if they so require.

Additionally, the director of Public Schools for the American Civil Liberties Union has made a statement that contends that uniforms at the elementary and middle school level do not address the areas where most offenses occur, which is in high school.

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The three studies which shall be discussed here are the survey done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (1998), “Uniforms in the Schools: Proponents Say It Cuts Competition, Others Are Not So Sure” by Susan Thomas, published in Black Issues in Higher Education (1994), and a counterpoint argument against uniforms from Loren Siegel, Director of the Public Education Department, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (1996).

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), more than one-quarter of elementary and middle school students in ten states attend public school with a mandatory uniform code (11%) or where one is being considered (15%) (NAESP 1). Nearly two-thirds of the present dress codes of mandatory uniforms, which affect approximately 3,000 schools in the states that were surveyed, have been adopted in the last two years.

This information comes from the organization which conducted the survey. The survey sampled a regionally diverse group of 958 principals, both elementary and middle school, from California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. This study was relevant as to positive changes in four areas: peer pressure, image in the community, classroom discipline and school spirit.

There is data presented differentiating between these four elements in schools with a uniform policy opposed to schools without one. The schools with policies already in force reported higher percentages of benefits than schools without policies. Principals from the schools which did not have uniforms indicated lesser feelings about the potential effects on student safety reporting: (46% positive), academic achievement (45% positive), and attendance (36% positive).

Negative predictions were negligible from both groups. The methodology of the survey was that it was conducted from February 2-20, 1998, by Market Facts, Inc., of Arlington Heights, Illinois for the NAESP. 5,850 principals were asked to participate of which 958 responded. The majority of the respondents (834 or 87%) did not have uniforms.

This study was professionally conducted and the results reported objectively and clearly. The supporting data is understandable and covers several facets of the issue. It was a beneficial study for other principals or teaching professionals who might be considering implementing such a uniform policy in their school district.

By contrast, Susan Thomas’ article in Black Issues in Higher Education is not presented as a survey but as a journalism piece. She reports on the nationwide shift to uniforms and a 1994 California law which authorizes school districts to implement policies requiring students to wear uniforms. She makes several references to administrators who have dealt with the uniform issue, but curiously, most of the references are not cited. Instead, Thomas refers to “one administrator” or “a respondent”. It would be useful and interesting to know to whom these quotations can be attributed.

Thomas does present both sides of the issue, referencing a spokesman for the Petersburg, Virginia, schools who did not feel uniforms would make a significant difference in preventing crime. One reason given is that most of the crime is at the high school level, which is unaffected by the uniform laws.

Several examples are given, which are presented in an interesting format and are engaging to read, detailing success stories from schools around the country who have implemented the policy. Thomas gives several accounts of decreases in gang activity and violence once the policy was implemented. She claims, however, that few studies regarding the effectiveness of uniforms in schools have been made public, citing one 1991 study from Washington D.C..

Thomas says that “across the board, school officials agree that schools with uniforms appear to have a better order of discipline about them than some that don’t”, but it would be useful to know what survey that statement was based on, since she contends that there have been so few studies done. By and large, however, she supports the idea of uniforms and gives many cited instances where crime in the schools was significantly diminished through the implementation of the uniform policy.

The opposing point of view comes from Loren Siegel, Director of the Public Education Department of the ACLU. In his 1996 article, Siegel contends that there are no empirical studies indicating that uniforms produce positive student behavior.

His article is in the format of an editorial, and brings up the argument again that uniforms on the elementary and middle school level are insignificant as a deterrent to school crimes because so little crime occurs on that level anyway, citing President Clinton’s remark that he was in support of uniforms “if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets (Siegel 1).

Siegel offers alternative advice for improving the schools, such as seriously addressing issues of racial and cultural conflict, since these are often the foundations of violence; implementing “safe corridor” programs for students so they can safely travel back and forth to school; securing school entrances; increasing extracurricular activities; providing open forums for student grievances; job-finding programs; and teaching conflict resolution.

Furthermore, he contends that uniforms are a “Band-Aid” solution to the problem of school violence when there are more serious issues to address, such as overcrowding, outdated school buildings, and decreased educational funds. He also supports an “opt-out” clause, which he says is necessary for the legality of a mandatory policy. This would provide a loophole for parents who objected to the wearing of uniforms on moral or ethical grounds.

Siegel’s information is completely his own opinion, based upon his position as director of Public Schools for the ACLU. His article is also the shortest of the three cited here. Thomas’ article, by contrast, is better supported, with many references, including one to an ACLU spokesman who also refers to the legality of a mandatory policy.

Of the three articles, the best-researched is the NAESP survey results. These are based not on opinion but on survey information and statistics. The data presented in that survey is the best argument for implementation of a uniform policy, because results can be quantified.

The mandatory uniform policy is still a subject of debate. However, with more scientific studies on the results of such policies, it will become increasingly easier to make an educated decision as to the viability of such a policy in any given school. The benefits as to crime deterrence may have to be studied at length before any results can be stated with certainty, but the indications are that such a policy does in fact deter violence in the schools.

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Public Schools Should Not Have Mandatory Uniforms and Dress Code. (2023, Jan 16). Retrieved from

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