Controversy: The True Effectiveness of School Uniforms

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In history, students were not always required to wear a school uniform. When the school system started, most students were only required for students clothing to be appropriate for the learning environment, meaning no sexual, gang-related, or distracting clothing. If students did have to wear a uniform, they did not attend a public school. For many years now, it has been an argument of whether or not school uniforms should be options or should be removed out of schools. Many advocates think that school uniforms allow students to stay safe in schools, reduce crimes, increase attendance, and improve students performance in the classroom. Many people who are opposed to school uniforms are saying by putting kids into school uniforms, we are allowing them to have limited ways to express themselves. Low-income parents are concerned with trying to pay for these uniforms that can be very pricey. Despite this, school officials and school boards believe that uniforms are golden. When and why did school uniforms become widespread in public schools, and did they deliver the results that advocates promised?

The school uniform movement began a lot of cases that were set on student were wearing. Then a local community school in Long Beach, California became what advocates looked like an example school; however, the movement became more popularized after Bill Clinton gave his State of the Union address in 1996. Advocates, school official and school boards, hope that by having school uniforms would decrease in distractions, leveled socioeconomic barriers, and less student worried or concerned that they do not have the best clothes. Over time, school officials saw the change in students; however, researchers do not see the same correlation across many school districts.  


In 1969, there was a supreme court case Tinker v Des Des Moines Independent Community School District. This case was a very important case for U.S school system. In this case, some students of the Des Moines school wanted to protest the Vietnam War, and they did this by wearing black armbands. The principal of the school learned about what was going to happen, and she required students to be removed from the schools if they are wearing the armbands. Students would also be suspended and would not be able to attend school until they agreed to not wear the armband. The Tinker family had a big issue with that because they felt that the school violated their first amendment right. They sued the school district saying that violation. The school simpled argued that they are violating school policies. According to Dress Code in Public Schools: Principals, Policies, and Precepts, “But, a closer look at Tinker may reveal less support for an expansive view of students’ rights to wear any clothing of his or her choice”(DeMitchell, Todd A.; Fossey, Richard; Cobb, Casey 35). The Tinker case is how we see school officials dictating what students wear.  

There was a public school, Jackie Robinson Academy, in Long Beach, California that President Clinton recognized for wearing school uniforms. After leaving the school, he recalled a conversation that he had with his wife about school uniforms. He recalled her mentioning to him that school uniforms would make things better in school in terms of student behaviors. He made Jackie Robinson Academy the face for school uniforms in 1994. There begins to be a large wave of school districts in Long Beach that turns over to school uniforms being the solution to their problems, “uniforms [became] mandatory for all 58,500 students in its elementary and middle schools”(Mitchell “Clinton Will Advise Schools on Uniforms.” ). The school district found that by enforcing students wear polos and blue pants or plaid skirts decreased crime in schools by 36 percent. Many people argue that it takes away from children individuality. He defined advocates by stating 

“‘I think these uniforms do not stamp out individuality among our young people,” he said at the rally.”Instead, they slowly teach our young people one of life’s most important lessons: that what really counts is what you are and what you become on the inside, rather than what you are wearing on the outside’” (Mitchell).

In this, the President is recognizing the problems that are going on; however, he is making it clear that adding uniforms will make things easier and more practical for school boards.
President Clinton and students from Jackie Robinson in Long Beach, California, in February 1996. Photo: Getty Images

By January 23, 1996, President Bill Clinton became the first president to mention anything about school uniforms in the United States State of the Union address. When talking about the state of our public school system, Clinton stated “I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (Clinton “State of the Union Address”) It was surprising to having the president mention something like this during his address; however, it sparked up some conversation. The New York Times article talks about how the President stated that he believed incorporating school uniforms will better the community of the school, “ If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined,” Mr. Clinton said, “and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (Mitchell). Despite his ideas, he left it up to the school officials on that change.


In 1997 there was the case of an appeal, Phoenix Elementary School District No. 1 v. Green, that had parents stating that they did not agree with the previous ruling in March of 1995 that they would be enforcing school uniforms all over,

“Testimony was presented at trial that the uniform policy reduced clothing distractions, increased campus safety, improved school spirit, leveled socioeconomic barriers, ensured that students dressed appropriately, and reduced the staff and faculty time required to enforce the dress code. The court concluded that the dress code was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical purposes, including promoting a conducive learning environment and securing campus safety”(Geddis “School Uniforms Reduce Distractions, Aid Safety).

The statements that they address as improvements were also improvements that advocates wanted as well. The biggest improvement that they wanted to see decreased in distractions to promote academic achievement, leveled socioeconomic barriers, and less student worried or concerned that they do not have the best clothes. This is something that the researcher is looking into to see if there were actually any growth on any of these topics.

An Education Weekly article, “Uniform Effects?”, covered how the researcher, as well as school officials, felt about some of the pros and cons surrounding school uniforms. There are many different arguments that school officials at Stephen Decatur Middle School give about school uniforms; nonetheless, researchers dispute what the school officials are saying. David L. Brunsma is a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He spent time studying the effects of school uniforms in school using the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. He made sure to look at the effects that uniforms had on the whole school and the individual students. He found that about 27 percent of elementary school by 2000 had some type of school uniform rule. Majority of those school are in areas with minority or disadvantaged students, which are like the students in Stephen Decatur Middle School.

School Official verse The Researcher

The principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, Rudolph Saunders, stated that the student tends to behave better when they have on a uniform,” ‘It’s like night and day,” Saunders says. “We have ‘dress down’ days, and the kids’ behavior is just completely different on those day” (Viadero “Uniform Effects?”). Although these school districts are convinced that uniforms have an impact on students’ discipline, Brunsma findings showed that “uniform policies don’t curb violence or behavioral problems in schools”(Viadero ).  In fact, his research shows how dermal having a uniform can actually be to students. The school is just based on what they are seeing without making sure this is really the cause. This is a factor of correlation does not imply causation. This is shown even clearer when Betty Mikesell-Bailey, “the school-improvement resource teacher at Decatur”(Viadero ), says that test scores have increased since the school required students to wear uniforms. However, Mikesell-Bailey could not prove how this was a correlation. Despite this, she still claimed that “[s]he’s fairly certain, though, that the policy has cut down on the teasing to which middle school children subject one another.” Brunsma made it clear that there was no correlation between uniforms and test scores. Brunsma further his argument by saying that uniforms do not “cultivate student self-esteem and motivation [or] balance the social-status differences”(Viadero). Uniforms actually cost a great deal of money, and kids can still bully other kids over the smallest thing, such as a hole in a shoe or even the type of pants they are wearing compared to others’. Brunsma argued that the uniform industry has been taken over by large clothing names like Land’ End Inc, which lead the school uniform industry since 1997, and French Toast, which Decatur middle school got their uniforms from. Students were clearly not a big fan of uniforms. They are arguing these uniforms can be uncomfortable and the have students lost individuality, “‘People can’t be who they are if they have to wear the same thing every day,’ says Alexis Richardson, who’s also in 7th grade”(Viadero). Despite this, school officials would say that uniforms help with being togetherness and recognizable to the school. Mikesell-Bailey stated that it was easier to recognize their students when they are outside, “‘When I see the uniform, I always stop, because I know it’s one of my children,” she says”(Viadero). Brunsma argues that the school should take into account the students’ point of view. He believes that if they looked into the history of uniforms, you can see how students would feel less than other kids without uniforms, “Some of his historical research suggests, for example, that school uniforms originated in England in the 16th century as a way to signal the lower-class status of some children”(Viadero).

They looked into a school with an optional school uniform policy in New Hampshire, the school, Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary School, stated that the few students that did not wear uniform, had a harder time being able to transfer the students into other schools where they could wear what they wanted, “We had seven very negative parents out of 454 families,” says Paul. “Those seven children never wore uniforms, which, from my point of view, kind of derailed us” (Viadero ). The school had to stop wearing school uniforms, even though it decreases the about of bully going on in the school.
Brunsma was very unsure as to how these facts were even put out. He felt that the school district’s arguments were very problematic for two reasons. He felt that it was wrong for them to look at just one school district because some schools can be the outlier. Furthermore, he believed that the school failed to mention the dynamics changed that happened in this school, “Brunsma says newer case studies looking at uniform-adoption efforts in schools in Baltimore, Denver, and Aldine, Texas, a suburban Houston district—all of which also point to positive effects—have an additional shortcoming”(Viadero). These were some of the schools that he was able to look at in his research.

Overall, it could be said that school uniforms work for different schools. In some school, we see that school uniforms changed what advocates hoped that they would. In other schools, we don’t quite see the correlation. Because there is not a clear answer, researcher and advocates disagree on this topic all the time. The key ideas that they disagree on are uniforms are less costly for low-income households, uniforms promote academic achievement, and having uniforms does not hinder student views on themselves. We see these ideas being pushed at the forefront when President Clinton gave his address and school began to look into the effects it had on their school. Nonetheless, research like Brunsma looks across school districts. This big difference that has been shown here is how over time, who are school districts focused on and who researcher focused on.

Work Cited 

Clinton Bill “State of the Union Address.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 23 Jan. 19996,

DeMitchell, Todd A.; Fossey, Richard; Cobb, Casey. “Dress Codes in the Public Schools: Principals, Policies, and Precepts,” Journal of Law & Education vol. 29, no. 1 (January 2000): p. 31-50. HeinOnline,

Geddis, Carol. “School Uniforms Reduce Distractions, Aid Safety – Education Week.” Education Week, Accessed 3 May 2019.

Mitchell, Alison. “Clinton Will Advise Schools on Uniforms.” The New York Times, 25 Feb. 1996,

“Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2019,

Viadero, Debra. “Uniform Effects?” – Education Week.” Education Week, Jan. 2005. Education Week,




No. 2: Not Enough

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In the documentary Backpack Full of Cash, there was a large display of all the things that students have already lost hold of. There was the cut back of music and art programs in which students were very upset about that. A student, Benny Ramos, from Youth United for Change expressed his feelings about those cuts. Ramos exclaimed “ how are we going to learn how to draw if we don’t have art class; how are we going to learn how to sing if we don’t have singing classes if we don’t have music” (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,7:32). 

The classes were not the only set back of these students experiences, but as well as the loss of counselors and school nurses that were crucial for students mental and physical health. Without these services, it was left up to the teachers to learn how to administer medicine or send children home. They can’t help everyone because of the population of the school. This lack of funding cost a student her life because they decide to send her home. They had to have a vigil because there was a 6th grader who lost her life due to having an asthma attack at school. There was sadness across the student’s and adult supporter’s faces.

Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 7:47

Thinking about the people who actually lost their jobs in this school system, one of the key point of views that was missed in the documentary was those who lost their jobs. These includes nurses, teachers of all subjects, and even counselors. Having the students talk about this problems show that they clearly impacted the student lives that they were supporting, but by not seeing them talk we are not sure about how they benefited from the students. Thinking about how they are not able to provide these opportunities to these students from now on, shows the inconsistencies of the public school system. Furthermore, knowing the public schools mostly consist of impoverished youth shows how they could really use some of these resources because they may not have access to them otherwise.