UNIFORMITY: Does Uniforms In Public Schools Improve Education? 


SPECIAL REPORT--Not much more than a decade ago, student school uniforms were primarily associated with private schools that were religious-based or college-preparatory in their foundation and often viewed as prestigious educational institutions for the privileged. Today, however, many public schools in an effort to improve both overall school and student testing scores and curb disciplinary problems have chosen to make khaki and navy unofficial school colors across the country.

The adoption of school uniforms over the years is often associated with apparel becoming influential in implied social status at school among kids. As children grow into adolescents, uniforms are often thought of as the most simplistic means of enforcing a dress code and keeping inappropriate clothes out of the classroom. As notable gang activity has increased in recent years, such dress codes can also curb the displaying of gang-related colors or pieces of clothing associated with gangs.

Long Beach Unified School District in California is often credited for being the pioneering public school system for implementing the typical school uniform dress code seen nationwide today in 1994. It was in a 1996 State of the Union address that President Bill Clinton’s praise of Long Beach’s efforts that drew national attention to the efforts to curb inner-school behavior and sociology problems associated with clothing and education. 

Within the first year of implementation, school district officials reported that overall school crime decreased 36 percent, fights decreased 51 percent, sex offenses decreased 74 percent, weapons offenses decreased 50 percent, assault and battery offenses decreased 34 percent, and vandalism decreased 18 percent. Less than one percent of the enrolled students had elected to opt out of the uniform policy.

Dick Van Der Laan of the Long Beach Unified School District explained, "We can't attribute the improvement exclusively to school uniforms, but we think it's more than coincidental." According to Long Beach police chief William Ellis, "Schools have fewer reasons to call the police. There's less conflict among students. Students concentrate more on education, not on who's wearing $100 shoes or gang attire."

While many parents and school administrators see the idea of school uniforms as a good idea, many parents express displeasure that such requirements violate a child’s right to be freely expressive and see it as unnecessary in the early development years of elementary school. There is also the cost factor, because North Carolina does not provide state funding allocation when a particular school district enacts a school uniform dress code. For example the dress code enacted in the Pitt County School System does not dictate the number of uniforms parents must purchase nor are parents or guardians required to buy from any particular source.  


With many school systems nationwide having had limited long-term exposure to a detailed dress code, most report disciplinary problems on the decline, attendance being up and bullying due to clothing trends being down. However, the usage of school uniforms is not always met with enthusiasm. Two sociology researchers collaborating on 10-page study relating to school uniforms found that “The findings indicate that student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems, or attendance.” The study draws a comparison between the brightly colored shirts often chosen for uniforms and a fresh coat of paint applied to a deteriorating building and goes further to imply that it “only implies the presence of serious problems that necessitate drastic change.” The study was conducted by David L. Brunsma, Ph.D, University of Missouri-Columbia and Kerry A. Rockquemore, Ph.D., University of Illnois at Chicago.


Other factors involved in school uniforms is profit for manufacturers and retailers. Many apparel manufacturers greatly benefit from school uniforms sales. In fact, the growth of school uniform policies across the country has created a multi-million dollar market. Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company, which has produced Dickies brand workwear since 1922, has become a leader in school uniform wear and even promotes the usage of school uniforms from its website.


In the past, private schools were most often noted for more stringent dress codes, however school uniforms have become more closely associated with public school and will likely continue in popularity.

View the Brunsma-Rockquemore Study by clicking here. You can also visit www.ed.gov to visit the U.S. Department of Education website.