According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of state schools that implement a school uniform has significantly risen in the last 10 years. In 1999, 12 per cent of state schools had a uniform. By 2008, 18 per cent had adopted a uniform for students. The NCES considers school uniforms to be an "indicator of school crime and safety," and safety is one of the top advantages of school uniforms. However, a strict uniform policy also has its disadvantages, and there have been numerous controversies generated by their use.
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Advantage: Safety Concerns
School uniforms restrict the ability of students to wear gang-related clothing. According to an article featured at MSNBC.com, "Dress codes are supposed to reduce violence and bullying by taking style differences out of the equation." As noted by the National School Safety and Security Services' article, "School Uniforms, Dress Codes, & Book Bags," uniforms may also reduce the risk of student robbery and carrying of weapons.
As noted at Education Bug.org, a school uniform policy is much easier to control and enforce than a more lenient dress code. Uniforms also make it easier for teachers to recognise any nonstudents and keep track of their group of students at school events and field trips.
Advantage: Equality and Community
School uniforms reinforce the idea that all students are equal, despite a diversity of races and cultural backgrounds. Students are less likely to form cliques or bully certain member of the class for not being up to the latest fashion. Having a school uniform may also lead to a greater sense of community and unity, as noted in the article "State School Uniform Debate" at Education Bug.org.
Disadvantage: Lack of Expression
Many opponents of school uniforms argue that wearing a uniform suppresses a student's right to free speech or expression. In 1969, the first court ruling regarding school uniforms was related to this issue. When two high school students in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, they were suspended and sent home until the armbands were removed. The families of the students filed a complaint, and the case, called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in the students' favour and emphasised students' rights to free speech, stating that "A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments." Many parents and administrators believe that school uniforms are in conflict with this fundamental right.
Disadvantage: Economic Concerns
School uniforms can be quite expensive, and economic concerns are another commonly noted disadvantage of their use. Of course, buying children uniforms does cut back on the amount of "normal" back-to-school clothing that parents must purchase.
School uniforms are often criticised for being simply ineffective. A student named Grace Davis, cited in MSNBC's article on school uniform controversy, sums up this disadvantage of uniforms: “It doesn’t fix the disease. It just covers the symptoms. I think we’re still going to have the same gang problem. We’re just going to be angry at the administration, and I don’t think that’s the way to go.”
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