The School Uniform Debate: Measuring Effectiveness
Pete Cade Jr.
With the rising numbers of violence in schools coupled with a decline in academic achievement, many stakeholders have begun to condemn the state of public school education. The situation has prompted schools across the country to look for unorthodox approaches to improve schools and the performance of their students. The result has led to a spreading initiative that dictates what students can wear. More than just a dress code policy, school uniforms take into account colors and styles from head to toe. Even with the ongoing debate of being constitutional, the trend continues to be adopted throughout ...view middle of the document...
While these early standardized dress standards were voluntary, most parents supported the idea and nearly all students participated. School officials described the push as adding positive changes to students “frame of mind” and stated that uniforms had “sharply reduced discipline problems” and had quickly “reduced the preoccupation of students with expensive designer clothes for school wear and eased the financial burden that was placed on families.” (Lee, 1987) Incidentally, Baltimore’s school uniform policy was put into place after a 1986 shooting which involved a public school student who had been injured during an altercation over a pair of $95 designer sunglasses. (Brunsma, 2004)
In only one year’s time, 39 public elementary schools, as well as two public middle schools had followed suit. Like wildfire, the movement expanded into other states, mainly in districts with high numbers of low income and minority students. Soon after a pilot uniform program was introduced in New York City in 1989. Then mayor, Ed Koch, expressed support for the uniform crusade, indicating that the uniforms encourage “common respect and improve the learning environment.” (Brunsma, 2004) As the movement began to illustrate results, entire school districts joined in the campaign. Long Beach Unified School District in California became the first school district in the United States to mandate that all of its K-8 students wear uniforms. This 1994 milestone prompted California Governor Pete Wilson to sign a bill which would officially allow schools across his state to put into place mandatory uniform policies. (The New York Times, 1994)
As support for the movement grew across the states, it was President Bill Clinton’s address to Congress that thrust the worth of the initiative into the national spotlight. Within his 1996 State of the Union Address, President Clinton was clear on his stance on school uniforms. “If it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.” (Clinton, 1996) The following month President Clinton took his message on uniforms to the airwaves, first in his weekly radio address and then to a string of interview and appearances. During the same period, he ordered the distribution of a detailed school uniform manual to each of the country’s 16,000 school districts. Within the manual, school districts were provided with direction in the legal enforcement of the uniform policy. Just two years later, President Clinton continued his campaign in support of school uniforms as he spoke at the annual convention of the American Federation of Teachers stating that wearing uniforms help children “feel free” and reduce crime and violence. ( (Mitchell, 1996) Although various politicians accused him of “a tendency toward intrusive government”, the initiative was larger than life and soon became the standard for many school districts. ...