Top Pro & Con Arguments


School uniforms do not improve attendance, academic preparedness, or exam results.

A study that analyzed a national sample of 10th graders found “no effects of uniforms on absenteeism, behavioral problems (fights, suspensions, etc.), or substance use on campus” and “no effects” on “pro-school attitudes, academic preparedness, and peer attitudes toward school.” [14][66] Brunsma also found a “negative effect of uniforms on academic achievement,” and later found that uniforms were equally ineffective on elementary students and eighth graders. A peer-reviewed study found “no significant effects of school uniforms on performance on second grade reading and mathematics examinations, as well as on 10th-grade reading, mathematics, science, and history examinations… [I]n many of the specifications, the results are actually negative.” [2] [14]

The problems arise because focusing on uniforms takes attention away from finding genuine solutions to problems in education. Spending time and effort implementing uniform policies detracts from more effective efforts to reduce crime in schools and boost student performance. More substantive improvements to public education could be achieved with smaller class sizes, tightened security, increased parental involvement, improved facilities, and other measures. Tom Houlihan, former Superintendent of Schools in Oxford, North Carolina, stated that school uniforms “are a distraction from focusing on systematic and fundamental transformation to improve our schools.” [12] [14] [42]

That uniform policies are a distraction is most evident when we realize that the push for school uniforms is driven by commercial interests rather than educational ones. Americans spend around $1 billion on school uniforms every year. Retailer J.C. Penney Co. says school uniforms are “a huge, important business for us.” In one year alone, uniform company Lands’ End spent $3 million on marketing efforts directed at public schools and districts. Multiple studies used to promote the effectiveness of uniforms were partly funded by Lands’ End, and at least one of those studies is “so wholly flawed as to render itself useless,” according to David L. Brunsma. Reuters reported that retailers were “sensing their opportunity… stepping up competition in the uniform aisles and online. Walmart has set up ‘uniform shops’ or temporary boutiques within some stores.” [14] [32] [43] [44] [74]

The commercialization of school uniforms in public schools also undermines the promise of a free education by imposing an extra expense on families. Parents already pay taxes, and they still need to buy regular clothes for their children to wear when they’re out of school and for dress-down days. The Children’s Commission on Poverty (UK) found that over “95% of parents on low incomes reported difficulties in meeting school-related costs,” including uniforms, despite their children attending tuition-free schools. Anderson, Indiana, parents Laura and Scott Bell argued against their children’s school uniform policy, saying the $641 for their children’s uniforms broke the guarantee of a free public education. In York County, Pennsylvania, a local NBC affiliate reported that some children were missing class because their families couldn’t afford to purchase the required uniforms. And, all of that is before the uniform policies themselves are examined. Most operate like dress codes and are classist, racist, and sexist. [10] [84] [94]

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