According to a survey done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 11 per cent of schools in the United States require students to wear uniforms. That number is on the rise, raising questions about the pros and cons of uniforms in schools.
School uniforms have been a topic of debate since the 1980s, when concerns over violence in schools and falling academic standards pushed schools to look for ways to improve student success. Uniforms were suggested as a way to improve schools, but there's no clear consensus on whether uniforms are good or bad for students.
Uniforms are different from basic dress codes, which many schools have in place. A uniform is a specific list of acceptable clothing for students. It may be as specific as a blazer, tie and slacks or skirt that must be worn every day or it may offer more choices, such as collared shirts in a choice of two or three colours and slacks in a choice of two colours.
Supporters of uniforms---including former President Bill Clinton, who spoke favourably about school uniforms in his 1996 Inaugural Address---say they make a real difference in the academic experience.
In areas with high gang activity, uniforms can help deter gang formation in schools by making it difficult for members to visually detect or intimidate one another. Another safety advantage is that uniforms can make it much easier to detect people who shouldn't be on campus because they stand out from the uniformed students.
Uniforms also help to alleviate obvious class differences. Because all students wear the same clothes, there is no fashion peer pressure.
Advocates of uniforms say that they also foster a sense of school pride and improve behaviour.
There are also a number of opponents, who say uniforms don't solve any problems and instead create new ones.
A central argument against uniforms is that it violates a child's freedom of speech and limits her creativity. Additionally, a uniform policy may be difficult to enforce in state schools, where requiring specific clothing may put an unfair burden on some poorer families. Uniforms also can make students targets for bullies from other schools.
The research into the benefits of school uniforms has been inconclusive at best.
One study of 64 Ohio schools conducted at Youngstown State University found that schools with mandatory uniforms had higher attendance and graduation rates than schools that didn't require uniforms. The study reported no correlation between uniforms and improved academic performance.
In 2004, University of Missouri professor David Brunsma analysed uniforms in the context of academia in his book "The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade." He reported that he found no correlation between uniforms and school safety or academic success.