I received an automated phone call last night from my third grader's principle. This phone call informed me that on May 24th, the school board will be voting on whether to implement a school uniform policy in the public schools. First I've heard about it (and we all know how long it can take any committee to draft a policy, so this has probably been kicking around for awhile), and after some passing thoughts on why I receive a million fundraising emails from my PTO but none on this issue, I decided to look into this whole school uniform thing.
There is little to no empirical evidence demonstrating that school uniforms are beneficial for school climate, discipline control, lowered drug use, or academic achievement (Elliot et al., 1998; Loeber & Farrington, 1998; Sugai, Horner, & Gresham, 2002; Brunsma & Rockquemore, 1998). What support there is for benefits of school uniforms on academic achievement are highly debated (e.g., Bodine, 2003; Brunsma, 2003) and largely based on opinion, not data (Ryan & Ryan, 1998). There is some evidence that school uniforms lower violence levels in urban schools with documented gang problems (McGloin, 2009), and can sometimes improve attendance (Shimizu, 2000). NO school in our district remotely falls in the category of having significant urban/gang problems that may benefit from school uniforms. School uniforms are a popular but ineffective control strategy (Cornell, 2006). Controlled studies demonstrate that school uniforms DO NOT impact discipline referrals or suspensions; in other words, schools with and without school uniforms show no difference in discipline problems (Washington-Labat, 2004; McCarty, 2000). In fact, one of the only consistent findings is that teachers and administrators THINK that school uniforms improve discipline issues (Alleyne, LaPoint, Lee, & Mitchell, 2003; Washington-Labat, 2004; Britt, 2001), but in fact all the data say otherwise: there is no impact. Further, there are real constitutional (free expression) issues at play (Mitchell & Kinechtle, 2003) with regard to mandatory dress codes and uniforms in public schools. My issue though, to be clear, is the problematic practice of governing bodies making decisions based on gut feelings, impressions, perceptions, and things that sound like "good ideas". At best, the data available on the benefit of school uniforms in public schools is inconclusive, with mounting evidence that school uniforms do little to nothing to improve discipline issues or raise academic achievement. On these grounds, I am strongly opposed to Waterloo Public Schools adopting a school uniform policy.