School uniforms have typically been the purview of private schools, but they are being adopted by U.S. public schools in increasing numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 20 percent of all American public schools now require students to wear uniforms. A multitude of research studies tout the benefits of school uniforms in areas such as attendance and academic performance; but there appear to be just as many studies that report no causality between uniforms and performance.


The debate surrounding school uniforms persists, leaving parents to educate themselves and to determine their own opinions on the subject. Here are some of the most cited arguments for and against uniforms for your consideration.


Arguments in Favor of School Uniforms

Leveled playing field. When everyone is required to dress the same, the visible economic differences among families are reduced or eliminated. This homogeneity can also serve to reduce peer pressure to own the newest or trendiest brands.


Clear dress rules. When students wear school-approved uniforms, there is no confusion about what clothing is considered appropriate dress at school. By default, there should be little to no dress code infractions.


Increased student focus. If everyone is wearing the exact same thing then, in theory, that mental energy can be turned towards learning.


Improved school attendance. Some studies suggest a positive relationship between uniform policies and attendance rates. One theory is that uniforms help instill a sense of belonging and identity, which can translate to better attendance as students feel more connected to their school community.


Heightened safety. Uniforms make it easier to identify students who don’t belong on school grounds. In areas where gangs are active, uniforms can help ensure that gang-related colors are not worn, either intentionally or accidentally. Finally, uniforms can reduce bullying that comes from being picked on for wearing certain types of clothing.


Eased parental burden. Everyone knows the particular hecticness of a school morning in a household with children. When kids don’t have to decide what to wear, that early more stress is reduced. Additionally, school uniforms have the potential to reduce costs for families.


Arguments Against School Uniforms

Can be expensive. Depending upon the school’s uniform choice, there may only be a limited number of suppliers. The resultant lack of competition can lead to higher pricing. Additionally, some schools require more expensive components, like dress shoes or a nice jacket, that some families may have difficulty affording.

Limited self-expression. Uniforms can restrict individuality and personal style. Children don’t have many areas of control and clothing is typically an area where they are able to exert some autonomy. Removing that ability and homogenizing the student body can make some students feel stifled and unseen for their true selves.


Reinforced traditional gender stereotypes. School uniforms can reinforce unwanted gender stereotypes if they prescribe different dress codes for male and female students, such as pants and a shirt for boys but a skirt and shirt or a dress for girls.


Interferes with parental rights. School uniforms can sometimes interfere with a parent’s right to choose their child’s dress by imposing mandatory clothing requirements that override parental preferences. This can be especially true in the case of cultural or religious beliefs and requirements of dress.


Increased policing of students. If a school selects a uniform policy, it will typically enforce that policy by monitoring students’ compliance and by giving consequences for infractions. This requires staff, teachers and administrators to be the ones to ensure that students comply with the uniform policy. Not only does this add an additional task to their already full plates, but it creates a negative atmosphere among the student body.


Removes cultural diversity. When everyone is required to wear the same clothing, individual differences in style and cultural heritage are erased. Ideally, cultural diversity should be something that is visible, celebrated and discussed, especially in schools.

Disparity remains. Kids are observant and will continue to be aware of socioeconomic differences despite a homogenous look. More well-off students can afford pricier shoes, backpacks and other accessories and will continue to purchase them. Pressure to own certain brands will simply switch to those categories of dress that aren’t included in the uniform requirements.


Research on the benefits of school uniforms yields mixed results. Ultimately, whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks depends on multiple factors, including family, student needs and perspectives, cultural considerations and the specific circumstances of each school and its population.


Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.

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