Isn’t it silly to suppose that the way students dress would have an effect on their education? Suppose you were in Court for something important, and the judge decided that a jogging suit would be more comfy than judicial robes. Would that be disturbing for any other reason than it being non-traditional? Costume is a way of reinforcing mindset. A judge in robes is reminded of his judicial responsibility. Students in uniform are similarly reminded of their roles as students.

A school uniform is a specific design for clothing designated to be worn while attending academic classes at a school. The school context comprises grades one through twelve of public and private schools in the United States. Different schools and different grades within schools may have different uniforms, as determined by parents and school administration. The paradigm is that of Japanese schools, as shown in anime. We assume that Fairbanks will adopt different uniforms from Key West … but you never know.

The reasons for requiring uniforms are:

1) It promotes identity with the school and class, which emphasizes the common educational purpose. It puts everyone in the same boat so they are more likely to help each other succeed. This is a reason why players on sports teams wear identical uniforms. It would suffice to identify the team players if, say, one team wore predominantly red and the other predominantly blue, or even just predominantly dark and light. Yet there is widespread agreement that having identical uniforms is important for the team psychology.

2) It removes the distractions of fashion trends and fashion competition from school hours, thereby reinforcing the educational purpose of the enterprise. It helps students focus.

3) It teaches boys to be neat and girls to be attractive.

4) It encourages students to evaluate people by their behavior and personality rather than by their manner of dress.

5) It allows individuals to express themselves in fashion outside of school, which reinforces the distinct nature of the educational environment. School uniforms in Japan coexist with cosplay outside of school.

There are many factors that go into overall academic performance, so certainly school uniforms are not the only thing that counts. Nonetheless, the countries that score best on international tests (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan) are those that have the tradition of school uniforms. We may therefore reasonably conclude that it makes a positive contribution to having a serious attitude towards education.

The largest and most prominent example of a school uniform policy experiment in the United States is that of the Long Beach Unified School District, the third largest school district in California having 97,000 students in 90 public school programs, with 46 different languages spoken by local students:

“The quantitative outcomes of the policy have been remarkable. Crime report summaries are now available for the five-year post-uniform policy period and reflect that school crime overall has dropped approximately 86%, even though K-8 student enrollment increased 14%. The five categories of school crime where comparisons can be made between 1993 levels and 1999 levels are as follows: (a) sex offenses down 93% (from 57 to 4 offenses); (b) robbery/extortion down 85% (from 34 to 5 cases); © selling or using chemical substances down 48% (from 71 to 37 cases); (d) weapons or look-a-likes down 75% (from 145 to 36 cases); and (e) dangerous devices down 96% (from 46 to 2 cases; LBUSD, 1999). … Analysis of attendance figures has also provided interesting outcomes for the uniform initiative. In the fourth year that school uniforms have been required in K-8 grades, the percent of actual attendance reached almost 95%, noted as the highest point in the 18 years that the district has maintained statistics. Middle schools also registered comparable improvements in student attendance reaching almost 95% (LBUSD, 2002).”

The city of Baltimore provides another major experiment with positive results:

“Eddie Scott, principal at Meade Middle on Fort Meade, tells the Baltimore Sun’s writer, Anica Butler, “There’s research that shows a correlation between appropriate dress and academic performance.” Students will not be distracted with who is wearing what brand of jeans, shoes or shirts. Students can focus on learning which is why they are there.”

In addition to the experience of foreign countries, there are also the evidence of private and and parochial schools that generally require uniforms and achieve better performance.

The policies work most effectively when parents support them, as in Long Beach and Baltimore, and there are examples when other factors overwhelm the effect of having uniforms. Requiring uniforms is a step in the right direction.

Before-and-after studies in the Long Beach and Baltimore schools show that uniforms achieve positive effects.

If you look up school uniforms on Wikipedia, you will find reference to a study that claims to prove that school uniforms have no effect. The Brunsma and Rockquemore study, is a classic case of a bogus study. The key defects are that the study contained almost no public schools, and even more importantly, never considered data from the same school before and after the policies were implemented. They basically end up studying schools that already had high levels of discipline, and conclude that if all else is right, then uniforms make no difference. The authors made statistical corrections for the statistically biased sample, but they give almost no information on what they did in order to get the answer they sought. They admit, for example, that Catholic schools achieve better performance, but they apply corrections to the data so it doesn’t correlate to uniforms.

The authors claim to be surprised by their results, but go on to reveal clear bias. For example, they dismiss the solid before-and-after case of the Long Beach School system by saying that a $1 million study ($10/student) introduced unspecified “educational reforms” that produced the dramatic changes. If dramatic improvement could be achieved effortlessly, the “reforms” would surely be adopted universally, which they were not. Beyond that, the authors would surely name the reforms if they were so compelling, but they did not. Moreover, absolutely no one in the school system attributed the improvements to anything but the uniform policy. The authors bias shows throughout their intemperate and unjustified conclusions. A statistics package in the hands of a social scientist remains a dangerous thing. They should wear tuxedos when they sit down at the computer; it would promote discipline.

The authors made one valid point. They suggest that the parental involvement that precipitated a policy of requiring uniforms in Long Beach may have precipitated other improvements. I suggest that parents and educators showing that they cared about educational performance had a positive effect upon performance. That’s a good result and a good reason for parents and educators showing they care by adopting a uniforms policy else where.

Cost is cited by opponents as a reason for not adopting a uniform requirement. In fact, one of the main reasons that Baltimore parents wanted to have school uniforms was to reduce clothing costs. Chasing fashion fads and buying many different stylish outfits is far more expensive than just a few uniforms. However, while costs are lower for middle and upper income families, there is a potential hardship for poor families. It is well worth it for the school system to provide uniforms to such families. The uniforms are guaranteed to be used, so poor kids get better clothing and costs are lowered overall.

Adopting school uniforms will not solve all the problems of education. Before-and-after studies show significant improvements in performance, and virtually all of the top school systems in the US and abroad have uniform policies as part of an overall program that focuses students on education.