School Uniforms in Waterloo Public Schools?

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TRABZON - High School Uniforms by Andra MB.


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. 

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For as long as I can remember I have always been against the idea of uniforms and for a number of different reasons. First of all, as noted above, it takes away a person's sense of individuality. Part of the beauty of public school is that you can be who you want to be and express yourself through your dress. This is an outlet some may feel is lacking in other areas of their lives. Secondly there is nothing that really shows it does ANYTHING for anyone. If people are easily distracted in jeans and a t-shirt I am sorry but they are still going to be easily distracted in dress pants and a sweater. People define the outfit, doesn't define them as many may think. Another problem is the false sense of safety from cruelty for being "poor". Schools often say that by implementing uniforms everyone will look the same and no longer will brands matter, but this just simply isn't true. Those who had the best shoes and pants before are still going to be the ones with the best of the best now. Some families may even have issues affording the type of clothes they are asked to buy for their children. I think it is too easy to rely on on opinions instead of actual fact. They can't place a uniform code in a school because they WANT it to make a difference. I think this school needs to focus on the reality of the "problems" they are having with the students and stop making excuses.

This topic actually has some personal relevance to me; I work as an interviewer at The Center for Social and Behavioral Research on campus and we conducted the study in which one parent from each household who had one or more child enrolled in a Waterloo public school was asked to give their opinion on the possible implementation of a district wide dress code policy. They were asked various questions pertaining to change in gang affiliation, socioeconomic status recognition, comfortability, distraction, academic improvement, and a drop in disciplinary rates.

I was actually surprised at how few respondents reported opposing the policy. Every respondent had some concerns or found drawbacks within certain aspects of the policy but the majority of parents interviewed reported positively when asked about the matter. Like the poster above me said, many of the respondents said even if a school-wide dress code is in place, the higher socioeconomic status students will still be wearing brand name pants, shirts, and shoes. There would still be a distinction amongst students. Many parents indicated that students would still find a way to differentiate themselves from the group. Funding or financial help for lower socioeconomic families was reported as being provided in the proposed policy.

Many of the parents reported that they perceived academic or disciplinary affairs to be unaffected due to a change in apparel. Professor Maclin you're correct and data supports the idea that a school dress code does not promote egalitarianism or improve performance or behavior in the class room. Administrators and faculty perceive the change as a having a positive impact on unity, conformity, and productivity while practical evidence shows marginal effect if any. Decisions (such as this) should be made on solid observable evidence that's applicable to the debate at hand; not by the ideas or positions held by a board of superiors.

The Ann Bodine article (School Uniforms, Academic Achievement, and Uses of Research, 2003) examines the disparity between two opposing articles, one that showed a negative correlation between school uniforms and academic achievement who's data was later found to be flawed and misreported (it actually showed a positive correlation in the majority of school sectors studied), and an article an article from the Educational Testing Service that shows reports no correlation between the two. Here's the link:

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